LOS ANGELES: Casey Affleck has been mostly absent from the public eye for the past year, but in the wake of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements and with a new film coming out this fall, he is for the first time addressing lingering questions about earlier harassment allegations.
The 42-year-old actor, producer and director is taking responsibility for the "unprofessional" atmosphere on the set of 2010's "I'm Still Here" that led to civil lawsuits from two women who worked on the film. He also spoke to The Associated Press about what he's learned from the #MeToo conversation and what he's doing at his production company to bring new voices into Hollywood.
During Affleck's best actor campaign for "Manchester By the Sea" in 2016, the spotlight was turned back on the civil lawsuits filed by a cinematographer and a producer who worked on "I'm Still Here" for breach of contract. One of the women also sued for sexual harassment, and both described an uncomfortable atmosphere on the set of the unconventional mockumentary.
"It was an unprofessional environment ... the buck had to stop with me being one of the producers and I have to accept responsibility for that," Affleck told the AP of the making of "I'm Still Here," which he produced and directed. "I contributed to that unprofessional environment and I tolerated that kind of behavior from other people and I wish that I hadn't."
He added: "I behaved in a way and allowed others to behave in a way that was really unprofessional. And I'm sorry."
Although the lawsuits were settled out of court, Affleck's name in 2016 and 2017 became associated with a long list of men who have abused power in Hollywood. While Affleck has addressed the lawsuits, including in an AP interview from July 2017, he also has not spoken publicly since #MeToo and Time's Up overtook the culture ten months ago.
In that time, Affleck also opted out of presenting the best actress award at the Oscars — traditionally the responsibility of the previous year's best actor winner. Instead, Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence handed the trophy to Frances McDormand.
"I think it was the right thing to do just given everything that was going on in our culture at the moment," Affleck said. "And having two incredible women go present the best actress award felt like the right thing"
Affleck said he's been learning a lot in the past few years listening to the conversation and has moved away from a place of defensiveness to one of finding his own culpability.
"I think bigger picture, in this business women have been underrepresented and underpaid and objectified and diminished and humiliated and belittled in a bazillion ways and just generally had a mountain of grief thrown at them forever. And no one was really making too much of a fuss about it, myself included, until a few women with the kind of courage and wisdom to stand up and say, 'You know what? Enough is enough,'" Affleck said. "Those are the people who are kind of leading this conversation and should be leading the conversation. And I know just enough to know that in general I need to keep my mouth shut and listen and try to figure out what's going on and be a supporter and a follower in the little, teeny tiny ways that I can."
Of his decision to do an interview now, Affleck said, "If I'm not promoting a movie, I'm not going to do any press, so that's why you haven't heard from me."
He's also taking these lessons both to work and home to his two sons, who are ages 14 and 10.
"I want to be in a world where grown men model compassion and decency and also contrition when it's called for, and I certainly tell (my sons) to own their mistakes when they make them," he said.
Over the past year, Affleck has been spending time with his kids and girlfriend, and hard at work on various projects, including "The Old Man & The Gun," a kind-hearted film where he plays a cop trying to track down an older bank robber, played by Robert Redford. He also has directed a film, "Light of My Life," a father-daughter story co-starring Elisabeth Moss which he said some people will see soon.
"The Old Man & the Gun," his third collaboration with director David Lowery, will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival before opening in theaters on Sept. 28.
"(Lowery) always assembles a really nice group of people around him," Affleck said. "It sort of makes its way into the movie. It's such a nice experience to watch one of his movies."
At his production company, Sea Change Media, he said he and his development partner Whitaker Lader are looking to shepherd filmmakers with stories that aren't well-represented in Hollywood.
"It's nice to be able to take the teeny tiny bit of experience that she and I have and use it to help other people get started," Affleck said. "There's really no better feeling than that."