‘The Way Back’ – featuring Ben Affleck – will be released in movie theaters nationwide later today (March 6). The big-budget film (produced by Warner Bros.) tells the story of a high school basketball phenom who walks away from the game, a college scholarship and a promising future. Following the tragic loss of a child and beset with substance abuse issues that ultimately cost him his marriage, Affleck’s character hits a low-point. When he is unexpectedly asked to coach at his downtrodden Alma Mater, the former star player reluctantly accepts before using the opportunity as the motivation needed to resurrect his life and confront his demons.
A press junket in New York City on Friday February 21st afforded JWS the chance to spend a few minutes with the Hollywood star. We used the time to talk about his inspirations for the redemption story, his beloved Boston Red Sox and the possibility he may one day direct a 30 for 30 for ESPN (he’s close with Jimmy Pitaro).
Howie Long-Short: Surprisingly, Affleck’s inspiration for this role did not come from Terry Francona or Bill Belichick, but from “a drama coach.” The 2x Academy Award winner said his high school drama teacher “had the capacity to make [his students] believe that [they] could do things that [they] weren’t sure [they] could do.” It’s a skill most certainly “applicable to sports; to achieve something exceptionable, [one] has to believe that it is possible.” Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock that the Boston sports fan failed to mention the Patriots head coach. He believes QB Tom Brady – not Belichick – is the man most responsible for the team’s two decade reign atop the NFL.
While Affleck’s inspiration for the role came from an old mentor, his ‘piss and vinegar’ sideline demeanor is admittedly more reflective of 3x NCAA national champion Jim Calhoun. He said he “looked at a lot of tape [of the former UCONN coach] and was surprised at how much [outlandish] coaching behavior is permitted. [The referees] will let guys yell, scream and curse for quite a while before they throw them out. I didn’t realize coaches had that much leeway.”
Speaking of leeway, while the star actor believes John Henry is entitled to some after presiding over an organization that has captured four World Series titles over the last 15 years, Affleck wasn’t prepared to give the baseball team owner a pass on trading 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts. “I haven’t heard good rationale for why [the Red Sox] let him go. I don’t even know what the argument is. I know it’s a business. I know it’s complicated and that reality isn’t always what [fans] want, [but I wish he was still with the team].”
The first of the Red Sox four titles occurred in 2004 after the team came back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS. The historic comeback was the focus of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary entitled ‘Four Days in October’. Affleck says that Bill Simmons asked him to direct the film and that he’s “always regretted not doing it.” If the opportunity arises to tackle another Boston sports story in the future, it doesn’t sound like he would pass again. “Sports make for great drama. It’s why there have been so many great movies – from Hoosiers and Slapshot to Coach Carter, The Natural and Rudy. Sports movies that are good really stay in your mind and in your heart.”
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