Bill Simmons’ highly anticipated HBO show, “Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons,” premiered on Wednesday night with some big-name gets to kick off the series.
First, Simmons and Charles Barkley went back and forth comparing current pro basketball to the era Barkley played in.
Then Simmons had a conversation with Ben Affleck. Affleck rarely does these kinds of interviews anymore. But it’s obvious Affleck agreed because he and Simmons are huge fans of Boston sports. So Affleck had no trouble venting on the whole “Deflategate” controversy, which has landed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a four-game suspension to start the 2016 NFL season after losing an appeal in April.
But Simmons also touched on Affleck’s recent comeback to major stardom, with a best picture Oscar win for the movie he directed and starred in, “Argo,” and playing the new Batman in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the upcoming “Justice League” movie. (He will also show up as the Dark Knight later this summer in “Suicide Squad.”)
Affleck said the move to the director chair, which started with the acclaimed “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007, was inspired by the hits he took after being the center of a tabloid-crazed relationship with Jennifer Lopez and suffering box-office disappointments. But it took a jab from a comic to make Affleck realize how down and out he was.
“I was the lowest rung of cool and talented that you could possibly be in the public consciousness at that time,” Affleck told Simmons. “I was so uncool that I was literally a punchline of the stand-up act on United Airlines performed by, what’s the name of the dude who was in ‘Bull Durham’?”
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He’s referring to Robert Wuhl, a comic who is best known for starring in movies like “Bull Durham” and the Michael Keaton-era “Batman,” as well as the HBO series “Arliss.”
“I was a punch line in Arliss’ straight-to-United Airlines video-stand-up bit,” Affleck said. “So that guy has to look around and go, ‘Who is below me that I can s— on?’ And he picked me and did a whole bit that I saw on United Airlines once, and I was like, ‘That’s it, it really doesn’t get much worse than this.’ And that’s where I found myself when I thought ‘Hey, I want to take up directing, which is for people that are taken seriously.'”
Affleck is likely referring to Wuhl’s 2006 short film “Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl” (ironically, made by HBO Films), in which Wuhl comments on facts and myths in American history by basically doing a stand-up act in front of a college classroom.
Wuhl goes on a tangent at one point about the classic Western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” which was directed by John Ford. Wuhl boasts that Ford won four Academy Awards, but noted:
“Not that Academy Awards are the be-all and end-all of everything. I mean Ben Affleck’s got a f—— Oscar for God’s sake … Let’s put things in perspective a little bit here.” (Watch the joke at the 5:26 mark.)
Wuhl was referring to Affleck’s best-screenplay win with friend Matt Damon for their 1997 “Good Will Hunting” script.
Affleck has certainly taken that time in his life as motivation. His work as a director has found acclaim and now he’s reportedly working on a Batman standalone movie that he will write and direct.
Simmons even brought up the rumor that Affleck was offered to direct a “Star Wars” movie. And though Affleck didn’t admit he was, he didn’t deny it, either.
“It wouldn’t be polite to talk about the jobs you turn down,” Affleck said. “But I had a lot of offers.”
Watch the complete first episode of “Any Given Wednesday” below: