Looking for Casey Affleck? Head to the park. It’s where he’s doing some of his finest work — and spending a hell of a lot of time.
“My son got into flag football so I started coaching it,” says the actor and father of two. “I coach his team and then the parents of his friends asked me to coach their team. I coach three flag football teams and a baseball team.”
The last time we saw Affleck, 43, on screen, he was a burnout saddled with raising a nephew he didn’t want after his own kids died in a house fire. The sublimely quiet performance earned him a best actor Oscar for Manchester by the Sea. But it was just a performance. Despite his introverted public persona — so much for that Ocean’s 11 loudmouth — Affleck is incredibly present in his children’s lives and specifically on the sidelines of their various games. In fact, Affleck explains that he has eschewed blockbusters to ensure he has time with his sons, Indiana, 15, and Atticus, 11. He didn’t want to show up after they were already out of the house. He wanted a major role in their lives.
But don’t think that his turn as a dad is a conventional leading man part. The actor who plotted a murder as a sociopathic teenager in Gus Van Sant’s 1995 classic To Die For, the guy who gunned down Brad Pitt in 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, isn’t what you’d call a cool dad. He says he lectures his sons, annoying them constantly. “Here’s a tip,” he laughs. “If you’re driving in a car with two kids and you turn around and see they’re both wearing headphones, you’re talking too much.”
Still, that’s not going to convince Hollywood’s most notoriously reserved star to stop talking.
“I could talk about my kids all day. Being a parent has taught me more about myself and about life than any other experience I have ever had. I want to soak up every minute of it. It’s a priority I’m happy I have,” says Affleck, who will debut Light of My Life, an exquisite yet grounded film he wrote about a father and daughter navigating a post-apocalyptic world this summer. He says the science fictional elements are sort of a metaphor for his anxieties as a parent. (Not-so-much the flag football playcalling anxieties. More the bigger stuff.)
Affleck spoke to Fatherly about being a nearly full-time youth sports coach, how parenthood changed his career, and how his sons influenced his new film.
I’m told you are quite the dedicated coach. Are you, like me, all about winning?
I’m that coach inside, but I try to contain it. I love doing it. I was never into football when I was a kid. My son got into flag football so I started coaching it. I coach his team and the parents of his friends asked me to coach their team. I coach three flag football teams and a baseball team.
Coaching to me is incredibly rewarding. To have the kind of relationship with your kid in a different way is really great. They come home and they critique my coaching style. They write plays for me. They do it with me. It’s an extra little bonding experience. Also, I get to know other kids. When you’re the coach, they give you a kind of authority you don’t deserve. There’s a lot of trust and respect. There’s a mob of kids over here at the house all the time. They don’t always listen, but when you’re their coach, it’s a different relationship.
When I talked to you a few years ago, you were wary of even revealing your first son’s name. How have you kept them out of the spotlight? I mean, look at your brother Ben Affleck. He gets it so bad.
He does get it bad. If you’re two celebrities who are married, that is just gossip and fodder and crack. It’s double trouble. Jennifer Garner being so famous and Ben… they just get the worst it. I hate it for my nieces and nephew. It’s so intrusive. It’s so awful. They manage it really well. They talk to the kids about it and explain it. With my kids, I think it helps that the paparazzi don’t care about me that much, which is amazing and thank God for that. I was really vigilant early on about protecting my private life and making choices that would keep me out of the spotlight. I didn’t do that much press. I wouldn’t talk about my kids. But my kids now give me career advice. They’re old enough.
Like what tips do they give you?
My son told me I had to get a verified Instagram account. My heart sank. I need all the help I can get. My son is 15 and knows what it is. At a certain point, you can protect from the world but then you have to move into the world with them. To me, that has meant allowing them to be online with the rest of the world.
In terms of your career, did your Oscar change things for you in a major way? I know you’re particular about what you work on.
You can be very picky and still end up in things that aren’t great. There’s no formula. I would like to rethink my strategy of being so picky. I don’t put being successful or being in a great movie ahead of everything else in my life. This summer, I wanted to spend the summer with my 15 year old. I didn’t want to be away all summer, no matter how good a project it was. It’s been tough. I’ve had to let go of a lot of professional experiences that I really wanted. I wanted to be at home more. Winning the Oscar didn’t change anything. It’s not me being regretful.
Do your kids care that you’re an actor? Have they seen your movies?
They have very little interest in watching the movies I do. They care about when I talk to them about movies. That way they can understand that I actually do something. Some parents work in banks or in schools. I act. It’s a little harder for younger kids to grasp. I ask for their advice all the time on what projects to do. When the movies come out, they’re not that interested. They don’t go to the movie theater that much. They like plays. I took my youngest kid, at 11 and two of their friends, to the sound stage when I was shooting this movie. They lasted about four minutes. They went to the hallway and played tag.
Let’s talk about the new movie, Light of My Life. The opening scene with Anna Pniowsky, who plays your daughter, is so intimate, so sweet, especially when you’re telling her the bedtime story you made up on the fly.
It was pretty easy and relaxed. For one thing, Anna is just naturally a great actress. She’s relaxed on camera. She has a lot of emotional intelligence and depth that is apparent. But also, like with any scene, the scene begins the first minute you meet them. Anna and I — I love her to death. We got along so well. She’s such a sweet kid. But the time we got into shooting that scene, she was in a groove.
This movie is about an apocalyptic future, but it’s mostly about being a dad. Could you have written it before you had kids?
I wouldn’t have written the role if I wasn’t a dad in real life. It’s about being a parent to me. All the science fiction stuff, the action, that was secondary. My experience with being a parent… that’s what it’s all about. The dynamic with me and Anna is stuff I draw on from being a dad.
How did your kids influence the development of the film?
My oldest son came to a reading of a scene and he gave me two pages of notes. They were the best notes that I got from anyone. I’ll save them forever. At the end of every movie, I make a t-shirt for everyone on the crew. On the back of the shirt, I put all his notes. Some of it was from his point of view. Some of it was objective stuff about storytelling. There’s too many moments where I’m like this or like that. They were sophisticated suggestions.
So you’re basically saying, you benefitted from child labor.
Yes, for sure. I’ll put something extra in his allowance.
On a not wholly unrelated note, I’m curious how you, as a celebrity father and well-known guy, work to ensure that your children don’t become entitled. I think it’s something a lot of parents worry about. I know I do.
Oh man. Just the fact you care is 80 percent of it. But I have to give credit to their mom. Their mom has done the best job and has an innate understanding of how to raise good kids.
I’ve been in places where there is extreme poverty. Seeing those kids can really give you a great perspective on parenting — suddenly their finicky eating doesn’t seem like such a giant problem. Our culture of fear and hyper-vigilance and media saturation can be an obstacle to giving them roots and letting them go a little bit. You have to trust that they’ll be ok.
I think that’s dead on. I also think it’s hard not to overthink and under-do.
The thing the effects them more than anything is how you live. If you’re on your phone 24 hours a day, they will be too. If you’re an entitled person, they’re more likely to be that way.
And you can’t indulge their every demand or whim, which is pretty damn hard.
My son said he should start thinking about getting a car. I told him to start thinking about getting a job. I’m not the parent that will buy them a car. They will have to earn it like I did. They give me that look like, ‘Give us a break!’ and I wonder if I am being too hard.
I do want them to hang out with me when they’re older and when they have kids.
What do you do that totally, utterly humiliates your kids? Every parent has at least one of those behaviors.
I’m overwhelmed thinking about all the embarrassing things I do. The things that make me suddenly cringe are all the dumb things I’ve said and done as a parent.
Here’s a good one: My son had a birthday party. There are these kids over here. It’s the best party I’ve had in my house in ten years. I found out that 15 year olds are really fun and I wanted to hang out. I said, ‘Let’s play some ping pong’ and I got the look. My son just looked at me like I was the least cool person he’d ever seen. He wanted me to give them space. I was trying to fit in.