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You got it, baby - Affleck’s a rising star

SHARE You got it, baby - Affleck’s a rising star

When Ben Affleck gets excited, he shouts: "You got it, baby." Which, first time around, is somewhat charming. But by the third "baby," you begin to wonder if the 25-year-old American actor has been taking lessons in jive-speak. Then he lights his cigarette and suddenly he's a hoodlum on a street corner, stealing quick drags and cupping the cigarette in his hand, as if guarding it from a strong northerly wind.

Fortunately, we are in the Dorchester Hotel, in Park Lane, the poshest part of London, where nothing resembling even a draft disturbs the beautifully controlled atmosphere."It's a confusing business being an actor," he tells me later when trying out yet another persona, that of the thoughtful, sensitive guy. It's a confusing business, interviewing one. You never quite know who you are talking to. Matters are further complicated by Affleck having to play two roles on the promotional front. He not only stars in his latest film, "Good Will Hunting"; he co-scripted it, too, and has just won a Golden Globe for his writing. (The film has nine Oscar nominations, including best picture and best original screen-play.)

In America, however, people are as taken by the behind-the-scenes tale, a rags-to-riches story of how Affleck and Matt Damon, his best buddy from way back - and struggling actors both - wrote the script just for something to do.

"We thought we might end up with a video we could show people," says Affleck, who has the dress sense, facial-hair arrangement and lexicon of a slacker but the build of a bouncer.

The friends then proceeded to sell the script to a studio for $1 million and insisted on playing the lead roles. The rest followed the usual curve of a fairy tale - fame, good restaurant tables, hot party tickets. Modesty forbids him from mentioning he also got the girl: He now dates Gwyneth Paltrow, and I'm told he has pulled himself away from her London home to come and talk.

In truth, the rags-to-riches conceit has been overplayed. Neither Affleck nor Damon was panhandling; they were only "struggling" the way working, supporting movie actors struggle. Since completing the Hunting script, Affleck has starred in the Kevin Smith-directed "Chasing Amy."

But Hollywood is allowed its fanciful tales. They run through the film, too. Affleck and Damon play Chuckie and Will, a pair of construction workers, only Will is also a genius on the side, solving mathematical problems beyond the ken of Nobel Prize winners. Working-class heroes don't come cuter than these two, and it's a mark of the fine, witty script's achievement that it works so well despite carrying so many cliches.

Affleck agrees. "It's full of a bunch of stuff you've seen a million times before. But we hope the dialogue entertains."

The film is set in Boston and neighboring Cambridge, Damon and Affleck's home town. Shades of the co-writers' friendship slip into the Will/Chuckie relationship, but Affleck and Damon were raised good middle-class boys, sons of academics. Why then the shift to the other side of the tracks, to Irish South Boston?

"Nobody roots for middle-class kids," he says.

So, in an ideal world, "Good Will Hunting" would have been written by a couple of real, bright roughnecks? "Er, well . . ." He contemplates this all too quick redun-dancy. "I am familiar with that world - my dad was once a janitor."

Affleck's mother, who now teaches small children, wanted him to do something that helped others, he explains.

Affleck is letting loose - he is likeable, good company, though over-earnest at times. It's as if he realizes he's on to a good thing endeavors to rein in his high spirits.

He's also pretty smart and clearly understands the politics of Hollywood. He'd like to write some more; he says he and Damon are working on a second script. But the way to protect your writing is to become an acting star.

"It's perverse, but if you were starting out with the ambition to be a powerful screenwriter, it would make sense to get on as an actor. Actors - well, stars - have all the leverage now."

In the meantime, Affleck is enjoying the novel benefits of being a new star, a face. After "Good Will Hunting," we will next see him in a rich confection called "Armageddon," alongside Bruce Willis.

"I'm an oil driller hired by NASA to save the world from an asteroid," he says. "I land on it and drill a hole."

Happens all the time.

"You got it, baby," he laughs, a good, generous laugh.