The Way Back director revealed Jennifer Garner helped make sure Ben Affleck's film still got made after his relapse in 2018

By Alexia Fernandez
March 04, 2020 08:05 PM

Ben Affleck‘s film The Way Back had an early cheerleader on the sidelines — his ex-wife Jennifer Garner.

The director of the film, Gavin O’Connor, spoke to 34th Street Magazine, a student publication at the University of Pennsylvania, about the actress’s influence on the film after Affleck, 47, relapsed in 2018.

“So, what happened was, just as we started prepping the movie, Ben fell off the wagon,” O’Connor told the publication. “So he ended up going to rehab, and I didn’t know if the movie was over. The studio certainly thought the movie was over.”

But Garner, also 47, stepped in to help make sure the movie went forward.

“His ex-wife Jennifer Garner called me up, and told me that when he went to rehab, he took a basketball with him,” O’Connor said. “She said, ‘Gavin, he’s asking you, please don’t pull the plug on the movie, he really wants to do this.'”

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner
Angela Weiss/FilmMagic

O’Connor said Affleck “had about a week of detoxing” before he was able to meet with the actor to discuss the film and its future.

“We spent half a day together and figured out a way to do this that will work for him, because most importantly he needed to recover and needed to get his sobriety on track,” O’Connor said. “That overtook everything. And then he got out the day before we started shooting. So we had a very raw, vulnerable guy showing up for our first day of shooting.”

The Way Back follows Jack Cunningham, a former basketball all-star struggling with addiction and attempting to find balance by becoming a coach at his former high school’s basketball team.

Affleck told PEOPLE at the film’s Los Angeles premiere over the weekend that playing the role was a “cathartic” experience.

Ben Affleck in The Way Back
Richard Foreman

“There are some things about this character I really could connect to — being a recovering alcoholic, going through family strife, a divorce,” Affleck said. “You try to bring your own life experience to the parts that you can, use your imagination on the other parts.”

He also noted that “one of the beautiful things about a movie that allows for expression of feeling” is that it has the potential to make an impact.

“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.”

The Way Back opens March 6.