USA Today

For Ben Affleck, laughter might prove to be the best medicine to mend a broken heart and halt a career slump. As the host of ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the US, he didn’t just promote his film ‘Jersey Girl’, which opens on March 26. Affleck brazenly skewered his tabloid-monopolising break-up with ex-fiancée Jennifer Lopez, who briefly appears in ‘Jersey Girl’ as his wife.

Call it a case of goodwill hunting. The celeb-obsessed gossip press lately has painted him as a sad, lonely gamble-holic whose romance withered under the glare of the spotlight. But in skits about gay marriage and ‘Gigli’ and his opening monologue, in which he goofed on “Bennifer”, the 31-year-old Oscar-winning scribe of 1997’s ‘Good Will Hunting’ came off as a likable good sport eager to move on with his life.

The actor is so keen to restore the sheen to his image that he shaved off his goatee before attending ‘Jersey Girl’s’ premiere last week in New York. Those urging a makeover included Harvey Weinstein, the honcho behind Miramax, which is releasing the film.

“There was a general consensus from the marketing people,” Affleck says. “They said (he puts on a New York-y accent), ‘You have to look like how you do in the movie. Otherwise it’s weird for people.’”Early reviews have assured that ‘Jersey Girl’, directed by Affleck’s buddy Kevin Smith (‘Chasing Amy’, ‘Dogma’), is not another ‘Gigli’, the summer flop that co-starred Lopez as a lesbian hit woman. That’s especially good news because the actor’s last release, the holiday thriller ‘Paycheck’, also failed to cash in.

Though it is a bittersweet experience to have ‘Jersey Girl’s’ early scenes reflect his relationship with Lopez, Affleck welcomes its arrival. “I’m really proud and pleased of Kevin and his work. It is done on a high professional level. ‘Gigli’ was such a disaster of a movie. What created it was an excess of publicity for me and Jen. There was a rising tide of animosity against us that crested on that movie. It was hard for people to distinguish between our relationship and the movie.”With ‘Jersey Girl’, “we can end that chapter on a positive note with fond memories.” Though he has been choosy about selecting his forums to promote the film, Affleck has faced most questions about the split head-on with a fair amount of personal insight.

“It is just a flip side of why you become an object of attention,” he says of the pair’s status as a media target. “The undercurrent is the same thing: envy, resentment. As an emotion, hate is something very close to love. It became such a story with the media telling how Ben and Jen do this or do that. Familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe it became too cutesy.” What goes up must come down, especially when you are a celebrity, he says. “People have a sense of drama. They want another act. Where is the fall? It was nothing that I was complicit in. It was something that was happening around me.” Affleck also knows that such attention, which also got in the way of an earlier romance with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, is inevitable for a high-profile person. “It’s a pattern that happens. Like a big Tom Cruise backlash. Or when I saw a teaser for ‘The Beach’ (with Leonardo DiCaprio) after ‘Titanic’ and everyone was booing.” “I could say I won’t date anyone famous in the future. I imagine I’ll be reluctant. But I can’t govern my personal feelings in some objective, Machiavellian way.”

Careerwise, the ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Pearl Harbor’ star is swearing off action blockbusters. Which means he won’t be wearing ‘Daredevil’s’ crime-fighting suit again. “I can’t imagine doing another action movie. I’m not interested.” Instead, Affleck is seeking out new challenges, like the holiday comedy ‘Surviving Christmas’, due out on November 19. “It’s the kind of script you would normally expect someone like Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell or Eddie Murphy to be in. Instead, it’s me trying my hand at comedy.” Observing Smith, whose wife and four-year-old daughter inspired ‘Jersey Girl’, as he wallows in domestic bliss has had a positive effect. “I’d like to settle down at some point. I’ve other friends who have done it. My brother (actor Casey) is about to have a baby.” But he is in no rush. “I hope I know enough to know when it is right.”