Ben Affleck Says Playing a Recovering Alcoholic in The Way Back Was ‘Cathartic’
“The potential for a movie like this is to really inspire somebody, to move somebody,” the actor said at the Los Angeles premiere of the upcoming film
Ben Affleck hopes that others will find his new film The Way Back, which echoes his own experiences with alcoholism, just as powerful as he does.
“There are some things about this character I really could connect to — being a recovering alcoholic, going through family strife, a divorce,” Affleck, 47, told PEOPLE while speaking to reporters on Sunday at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie.
“You try to bring your own life experience to the parts that you can, use your imagination on the other parts,” he continued.
He also noted that “one of the beautiful things about a movie that allows for expression of genuine feeling” is that it has the potential to make an impact.
Calling his experience making the film “cathartic,” Affleck said he hopes audiences can walk away feeling uplifted by the very human story.
“The potential for a movie like this is to really inspire somebody, to move somebody,” he said. “Sometimes you do movies, you go, ‘Okay, it’s a thriller. They’re thrilled. And then they go home and they’ve forgotten about it.’ My goal with this was to make something that would feel enduring and lasting.”
“Not everybody is going to come in and think it’s great,” he added. “But for those who do, and for those who may be moved by this, the idea that you can face hard things and get better, I’m really proud of that.”
In the drama, from Warrior director Gavin O’Connor, the actor plays Jake Cunningham, a former basketball phenom who, for reasons unknown, walked away from the game. Years later he’s asked to coach the basketball team for his alma mater. In building the underperforming group’s spirits up, Jack is forced to wrestle with his own demons and face his alcoholism which has destroyed his life.
Affleck previously told PEOPLE that although The Way Back does mirror his own experiences, he didn’t make the film to become a spokesperson on alcoholism.
“Frankly,” he said, “I would have preferred to deal with that part of my life privately but that’s not the way my life is.”
In opening up about the reasons why he drank and his sobriety, Affleck hopes to take another step towards erasing the stigma — and shame —surrounding the “addiction issues that have touched so many lives.”
“It’s liberating and kind of freeing not to have a secret or to feel shame about something,” he added.
“I’d like people to get a sense of hope seeing this,” he said. “Not false hope. Nothing saccharine or cloying because there’s a lot of suffering around addiction but I also think it’s important to know you can get better. I know a lot of people who have changed their lives dramatically and become happier, healthier people who’ve experienced all kinds of adversity.”
“It’s more motivating to reach towards something positive than to run from something negative, and more impactful to look at the rewards you get from sobriety and how life can get better,” he said of his own path. “That’s more helpful and more inspiring.”
The Way Back opens March 6.