Photos of Ben Affleck's back tattoo were first snapped in December 2015, though he later claimed the ink was fake

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March 14, 2019 08:44 AM

Ben Affleck is coming to the defense of his massive back tattoo.

On Thursday’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the actor, 46, opened up about the ink — a full-color picture of a phoenix taking flight, which completely covers his back.

Affleck earned a lot of attention for the tattoo last March when shirtless photos of him at a beach in Hawaii surfaced, snapped as he and costars Charlie HunnamOscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund trained for their new film Triple Frontier.

The comments were, as Affleck saw it, “not so much positive.”

“It’s not something that I sort of kept private, It wasn’t like I was doing photoshoots or whatever, we were two hours north of the city on an island in Hawaii and we didn’t know the paparazzi were there,” Affleck told DeGeneres of the shot. “So they got a picture of my tattoo. And sentiment ran … you know, against.”

DeGeneres played into that, joking that it was a phoenix “rising from your ass.”

Still, Affleck stood by the tattoo, explaining that it “represents something important to me.”

“It’s meaningful to me, I like it,” he said. “I love my tattoo. I’m very happy with it. Luckily, I’m the one who has it.”

Ben Affleck and Ellen DeGeneres
Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.
Ben Affleck
The Image Direct/BackGrid

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Photos of Affleck’s back piece were first snapped back in December 2015, when he was on the set of Live By Night. glimpse of the tattoo had been seen earlier in the summer, but that was the first time it was visible in its entirety.

While PEOPLE reported at the time that the inking was the real deal, Affleck later claimed it was just a temporary thing.

“[It’s] fake for a movie,” he told Extra’s Mario Lopez in March 2016. “I actually do have a number of tattoos but I try to have them in places where you don’t have to do a lot of cover up they get sort of addictive, tattoos, after a while.”

According to a source, Affleck had gotten the tattoo done after his split from Jennifer Garner in 2015 while he was still living in a guest house on the family’s Los Angeles compound. “They had a huge tattoo machine at the house for days,” the insider previously told PEOPLE. “It took hours and hours to finish.”

Ben Affleck
Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.

Affleck’s exes have been among those who have criticized it.

In a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair, Garner hinted she wasn’t the biggest fan of the ink. “You know what we would say in my hometown about that? ‘Bless his heart,’ ” she told the publication.

“A phoenix rising from the ashes. Am I the ashes in this scenario? I take umbrage,” she added. “I refuse to be the ashes.”

Even more bluntly, Jennifer Lopez — who was previously engaged to the actor — said the tattoo was “awful.”

“It’s awful! What are you doing?” Lopez said during the “Plead the Fifth” segment on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.

RELATED: The Stars of Netflix’s Action Film Triple Frontier Accept the ‘Sexiest Cast Alive’ Title

The criticism aside, Affleck told DeGeneres that he’s in a good place after a rocky few months that saw him return to rehab for continued treatment in his ongoing battle with alcoholism.

“There’s temptation to get like — I could depressed, I could be like, ‘I’ve been through a lot. That was hard, this was hard,’ or I could be kind of embarrassed. But I have to say, I feel so good right now,” Affleck said on Thursday’s episode. “I’m in such a great place, kids are healthy, life is good. So whatever it took for me to get to this place, I’m grateful for.”

His new movie, Triple Frontier, is now out on Netflix. Directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin CallAll Is LostA Most Violent Year), the film follows a group of five retired Special Forces operatives who reunite to pull off a heist on a South American drug lord.

Charlie Hunnam, Ben Affleck, Garret Hedlund and Chuck Roven
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty

To prepare physically and mentally, the male leads worked with real-life Special Forces members. Affleck told PEOPLE it was a humbling experience.

“They trained us and took us out to these firing ranges and put us through these exercises and then stayed with us as technical advisors on the film,” Affleck shared. “Interestingly it wasn’t so much about, ‘You’re gonna do this many push-ups and run this many miles and hike with a pack,’ as much as it was about trying to be to simulate the degree of excellence these people have in their chosen field which was being warriors.

“It was a little bit like walking onto a basketball floor with LeBron James, and him saying, ‘You’ll look like me in two weeks!’ So we tried our best but I think all acutely aware of how much we fell short. And how extraordinary they are.”

The Ellen DeGeneres Show airs weekdays in syndication (check local listings).

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