STEVE INSKEEP, host:
When Ben Affleck turns a camera on Boston - and when I say Ben Affleck, I'm referring to the actor and celebrity, but also to the director of his first film.
When Ben Affleck turns the movie camera on Boston, he does not find stereotypical movie faces. The movie "Gone Baby Gone" features people who are worn, wrinkled, aged, ruined. A drug-addicted woman finds her 4-year-old daughter has been kidnapped.
(Soundbite of movie, "Gone Baby Gone")
Ms. AMY RYAN (Actress): (As Helene McCready) I just want my daughter back. I swear to God, I won't take no drugs no more. I won't even go out, cross my heart.
Mr. CASEY AFFLECK (Actor): (As Patrick Kenzie) All right, we're going to find her, Helene.
Ms. RYAN: (As Helene McCready) You have to - you promise?
Mr. C. AFFLECK: (As Patrick Kenzie) Yeah. I'm going to try. I will.
Ms. RYAN: (As Helene McCready) Promise - you have to promise me.
Mr. C. AFFLECK: (As Patrick Kenzie) I promise.
INSKEEP: The actress Amy Ryan is comforted there - just barely - by an inexperience private detective as played by Casey Affleck.
Ben Affleck directs his brother in "Gone Baby Gone," and Ben Affleck is in our New York studios.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. BEN AFFLECK (Actor; Screenwriter; Director, "Gone Baby Gone"): Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here.
INSKEEP: The camera, especially early on in this film, almost luxuriates in rundown neighborhoods and vinyl sighting and beat up people and wrinkled faces.
Mr. B. AFFLECK: There was something about the city of Boston that I find really beautiful in that there some people - real people who look broken and struggling and damaged, and in spite of that are kind of noble in the sense that they hold themselves erect even though they may have some broken elements. And I thought that that paralleled some aspects of the film which is that you don't see anybody here who is complete or, you know, all the way together in the way that you see folks in a lot of Hollywood movies and that they don't have any flaws.
INSKEEP: Are there a lot of real people in those shots that you just saw on the street?
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Yeah, those were all, you know, real people. We went to a lot of trouble to go around and shoot I guess what I call documentary filmmaking except that it wasn't exactly that. A lot of them we picked out and put in places. And we had all these tricks to get people to be unselfconscious, you know? Some of them we'd wait until people got bored and some of them I'd go out and distract them because there was the famous actor guy in the middle of the street and so people would kind of be looking at me or looking at the ruckus that was created by the actor there. And sometimes we'd hide the camera, but what we had to have was the people not feeling as though the camera was pointed at them.
INSKEEP: So you introduce us to this neighborhood and then start telling this extremely dark story. What drew you to this Dennis Lehane novel "Gone Baby Gone" where almost everybody in the end seems compromised?
Mr. B. AFFLECK: I guess there were a couple of things about it on the most basic story level. When I read the book, it was just a really compelling page-turner, you know? And it had all of these characters who you couldn't really pin down. There was no good and bad, and they were really unusual and interesting and well-drawn. And at the end, it had this beautiful morally complex ending that really left me wondering about the book for a long, long time, which was unusual. Underneath that, it was dealing with some sociopolitical issues that really resonated with me in terms of the cycle of poverty, abuse, and neglect, and how it had a cycle to it - from parent to child - and it was about addiction and all that stuff. So it was a kind of a big, rich layer cake to bite your teeth into.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Social political issues - without giving away the ending here, I think we can say that this girl - this 4-year-old girl is kidnapped from a home, and the home is so horrible, the mother is so horrible that you do wonder if perhaps she was done a service. Is that what you're talking about?
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Yeah. That - well, there's a lot of them. You're in this neighborhood and you see this girl is kidnapped and you meet the mother. At first you think she's this victim and then you get to know her, and she's just really foul and objectionable. She uses racist language, she's this terrible drug addict, and you see the squalor that the little girl lived in, and your heart goes out to her for where she used to live, not only in terms of where she's been taken to. So it raises all kinds of other questions about how we're living, how we're treating children.
Dennis Lehane, initially, you know, when I talked to him, wrote this because he had exposed himself to a lot of what happens to children in our society and ultimately felt like he wanted to write something that brought some of this stuff to light.
INSKEEP: Dennis Lehane is a name that's familiar, not just to many readers, but to many moviegoers now because he was also the author of a novel that became Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River." What was it like working with him?
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Dennis is a wonderful guy. He never made me feel second best by saying things like, you know, when I was making the movie with Clint.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: He was a little more experienced director than you were.
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Yeah, exactly. It would have been very easy for him to lord that over me.
INSKEEP: Both of his novels that have become movies are built, in one way or another, around a child abduction.
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Yeah, it's true, which may paint an unfair picture of his work because those are the only two of all his books that have that story on them that I think he has used that to kind of epitomize the perfect evil in some ways - the worst thing that can happen.
INSKEEP: Did it move you in some way to dig into such, well, depravity, let's call it that? There are a lot of depraved characters that you end up trying to sketch in this film.
Mr. B. AFFLECK: It did. I mean, there's - you can't work on something like this and become kind of as obsessively involved in it without focusing in some way at least on your own - whatever your own injuries are, even though mine kind of pale in comparison to what these are, you're still in the process of sort of going back and wondering about how your own youth impacted your adulthood because at the end of this movie you're left wondering about patterns of parenting. And for me, I wondered about my own patterns and what was left on me and what I might pass on to my own daughter.
INSKEEP: I got to tell you that as a parent it was difficult in places to watch this movie. I cringed more than once.
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Yeah, it really was. And it got hard to shoot the movie, you know? At first I thought about it like the aesthetics of it, you know, this is where we'll see the shot and this how we're going to design it and this will really be effective. And then we got to some of those sets and I was in a different place in my life. My child was born just a couple of months before we started shooting. And all of a sudden it was very much, you know, like, oh, I didn't want to be in some of these places and…
INSKEEP: And then you're asking, what are we going to wave around that missing child's teddy bear?
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Yeah, right. It's just - it was a whole other - you know, some things you can't understand until you've - your life has evolved to the point where you've experience something. And now you can put yourself in those shoes.
INSKEEP: Mm. Ben Affleck, it's been a pleasure talking with you.
Mr. B. AFFLECK: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure being on your show, and I really appreciate you having me.
INSKEEP: Ben Affleck directs "Gone Baby Gone" which opens today. When we spoke with this star, we found out he was star struck, and you can found out by whom at npr.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.