Action Hero by numbers
Ben Affleck on challenges playing an autistic person with unique gifts in The Accountant
If you have never seen a movie with an autistic hero, neither has Ben Affleck.
And that was a big reason for his taking the title role in The Accountant.
Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a mathematics genius with autism spectrum disorder who freelances for the world's most dangerous and criminal organisations.
More comfortable with numbers than with social interactions, he finds himself having to protect an accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) who finds a huge discrepancy in her employer's accounts and makes herself a target.
With his mild demeanour and his pocket protector, Wolff comes across as a conventional pencil pusher, but appearances are deceptive. The stakes are raised when he starts looking into the books of the company and the body count starts to pile up.
The Accountant, which opens here tomorrow, also stars J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor.
Affleck is casually dressed in a sweatshirt and is unusually low-key for our interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Maybe the early morning hour has something to do with it.
The 44-year-old actor is in the midst of reprising his biggest role to date, as Bruce Wayne aka Batman in the upcoming Justice League.
"It shoots in Iceland in a couple of weeks, so I have no time to waste," said Affleck, who is sporting a beard for the role.
"I have to grow (this beard) out for my last scene in Justice League. If you look at the Justice League teaser, I have a beard in that, and I have to do a scene that cuts into that scene, so I have to grow my beard back out."
Aside from "it's very exciting and you are really going to love it", he insists he has to stay mum about the film.
But the two-time Oscar winner is more than happy to talk about his character Wolff in The Accountant.
Playing a man with a narrow emotional range who says very few words was not easy.
"It was frustrating because I tend to be pretty expressive verbally and this character is not very verbal. So I had to try to communicate by other means," he says.
"You have to find a way to identify with any character that you are playing, but he lives a life where he really wants human connection, and I know that feeling."
A lot of research went into developing Wolff and he and director Gavin O'Connor met with autistic people and various experts to learn about the condition.
"What surprised me the most in the research was the wide variety of people involved," said Affleck.
"I thought if you were autistic, that would mean that you have a certain set of traits and certain ways of behaving and certain limitations.
"But I found that the people were so different from one another.
"That's why spectrum is a good word, because it's a very diverse group.
"They were very generous of spirit and very self-aware...and that was kind of moving and inspiring, and made me want to make sure I got the performance right and that we made a good movie so that they would be proud of it."
Being a respected director himself, does he find it difficult to be directed and to fulfil another director's vision?
"I have to pick people that I really respect, otherwise it would be frustrating," said Affleck.
"It's really liberating to work with a good director.
"I don't have so much anxiety I have to take on. If the set goes down, it's not my job and I can just go to my trailer and wait until they figure it out.
"It's a very heavy responsibility to be directing 300 people and getting the movie done on time and on budget."
Besides cooking the books for unsavoury clients, Wolffe also has a set of unique skills - he is proficient with firearms and hand-to-hand combat.
The action scenes in The Accountant are intense and character-driven and Affleck credits O'Connor with the attention to detail they required.
"I had to do extensive rehearsals and workouts with this stunt crew, and learn some of the martial arts techniques so that I could wrap my head around it, and then memorise all the steps to all the fights like a dance.
"I am not wearing a mask in this movie, so it's hard to stick a stuntman in there because you can tell.
"So it just meant that there would be extra work for me, but that was good motivation to stay in shape.
"It made me wish that I had studied martial arts from a young age, because it's really a lot of fun."
Affleck has always been vocal about politics, and as we talk about the current political situation in the US with the upcoming presidential election, we ask him about the rumours that he is running for office.
"I think it's an appealing idea to be a public servant and to be in politics," he replies.
"The reality of it is that it is just so much about raising money.
"I think that is sleazy and your job actually becomes a full-time fund-raiser. I can't imagine a worse job than that; it just seems like my idea of hell."
Affleck, who has two daughters, Violet, 10, and Seraphina, seven, and a son, Samuel, four, with his ex-wife, actress Jennifer Garner, finds parenting challenging yet fulfilling.
He says: "When you have children, the most important thing in your life all of a sudden is outside of you.
"It's an incredibly vulnerable feeling because you are so worried about wanting them to be protected, safe and grow up healthy."
The world, he says, "can seem really, really scary".
"Parenthood is just an enormously complicated thing and I certainly haven't figured it out. It's just trial and error as far as I can tell."
The M Match-up: Silly Kendrick Vs Smart Kendrick
Anna Kendrick can do anything as an actress.
In Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, she plays a fun-loving party girl. In The Accountant, she's a whip-smart accounting clerk.
Question is, which Anna Kendrick is the best Anna Kendrick? The Silly or the Smart?
Kendrick plays Alice, a fun girl who is going through a tough time after getting ditched at the altar. Her best friend (Aubrey Plaza) tries to cheer her up by getting them a free trip to Hawaii as escorts.
Here, she's Dana Cummings, who is so smart that she manages to hold the interest of her super-genius accounting colleague (Ben Affleck).
Aside from that, Dana also dresses smartly and appreciates fine art.
ROUND ONE WINNER: SILLY ANNA
While Smart Anna is mostly there just to admire Affleck, Silly Anna has her own thing going on.
Our girl isn't setting the world on fire. She gets fired from her waitressing job after drunkenly table dancing. Her next option is to be a fake wedding date for a stranger, and she messes that up, too.
Dana has a respectable job as an accounting clerk in a cutting-edge robotics company. She's utterly believable in the role, possibly owing to the fact - the fun fact - that Kendrick's real-life mum is an actual accountant!
ROUND TWO WINNER: SMART ANNA
No contest. Smart Anna has a real job while Silly Anna has no job.
Zac Efron? Boyfriend? What girl could say no? The High School Musical alumnus plays Dave, a ne'er-do-well in the F&B industry with a notorious reputation for ruining family parties. Has a good heart, but dumb.
Affleck looks handsome in his smart suits and close-cropped hair, but he's incredibly weird. Though he seems like a mild-mannered number cruncher, he's actually a total badass with a secret lair filled with weapons.
ROUND THREE WINNER: SILLY ANNA
We'll take fun little Efron over creepy Affleck any day.
Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates isn't the world's greatest flick, but our Silly Anna is great in it.
No. 1 Men
Hollywood loves mathematics nerds. Some blow the world away by coming up with theories behind the existence of the universe, and others use their skills to cheat at blackjack. Here are some actors who have played maths whizz characters in movies.
The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)
The Imitation Game (2014)
The Theory Of Everything (2014)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Good Will Hunting (1997)