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Ben Affleck: ‘I’m not very present’ outside of work

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Ben Affleck has become as much associated with family as with his acting in recent years, thanks to his seven-year marriage to fellow celeb Jennifer Garner and their three children. The clan, which includes daughters Violet, 6, and Seraphina, 3, and 7-month-old son Samuel, is constantly photographed in picture-perfect scenarios from 4th of July parades, to neighborhood breakfast outings, to beach vacations together. But in a new interview with Details magazine, Affleck doesn't pretend that family is the only thing that matters.

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"Anytime you think, 'I'm wasting my time here,' the first thought you have is "I could go home and be with my kids,'" he explains, after being asked about "conserving his resources" for his brood. "Now, you may go home and be with your kids and very quickly start thinking, 'I wonder what's on the work front?' Because running around after three kids is very trying. Now everything has to compete with being with my family. I don't want to be a stay-at-home dad. Work is very important to me. I like to work. So does my wife. But I need my work to mean something to me in order for me to not be home with them."

[Related: Ben Affleck spends a very pink day with Violet and Seraphina at a fashion party]

When the 40-year-old does get the chance to unplug and just be at home with the family, he admits he has trouble focusing on just the little ones. "I'm not very present in the rest of my life. My wife's very patient. She does everything," Affleck confesses in the magazine's October issue. "If I have time, I try to spend time with the kids, even if just to be a physical presence, the bath, whatever. But my mind's always going, 'How are we going to light that shot tomorrow? What's the master shot for that scene? Is there even going to be a master?' Just ruminating endlessly," confesses Affleck, who previously directed "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," and stepped behind the camera again for the upcoming drama "Argo," in which he also stars. "Because for me—I wish it was discipline or being a great artist. But it's just anxiety."

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Though the phrase "Jen and Ben" now automatically translates to Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, there was another ultra-famous Jennifer in his life a decade ago … Jennifer Lopez. Together, the couple, dubbed "Bennifer" by the media, catapulted to Hollywood royalty, making daily headlines both for their relationship, and eventually for the famous failure of their 2003 on-screen collaboration, "Gigli," the film that introduced them to each other. It was both a box-office bomb and critical dud and became the butt of late-night talk show jokes. The couple broke up a few months after the movie's release, an event that garnered even more publicity for Affleck.

[Related: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner's family fun in Puerto Rico]

"In our culture, we get very much into short- handing people. And I got shorthanded as That Guy: Jennifer Lopez, movies bombed, therefore he must be a sort of thoughtless dilettante, solipsistic consumer blahblahblah. It's hard to shake those sort of narratives," the "Smokin' Aces" actor shares. " If you were looking at that one-liner on me in 2003, which was definitely the annus horribilis [laughs] of my life. I made a bunch of movies that didn't work. I was ending up in the tabloids. I don't know what the lesson is, except that you just have to find your compass."

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While Affleck admits there are some movies he did that he liked and others he didn't, what he hated was the constant media coverage. "I just said, 'I don't want to do it anymore. This is horrible. I don't want to be in this spotlight, this glare, in this way. It's tawdry, it's ugly, it's oppressive, and it's inane. So I'm going to try to get away,'" Affleck explains. "And most of the way I did that was by not acting. I said, 'I'm going to steer myself toward directing. I'm going to do something that takes me toward a place where the work that I do is reflective of what I think is interesting dramatically.' People bring up 2003, and I get it. Jennifer Lopez, and 'Gigli,' and all this s*** just kind of blew up. But, you know, in 2003, Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois! Okay?"

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There's another partner Affleck will be forever linked to, of course: his "Good Will Hunting" co-star, co-writer, co-Oscar-winner, and childhood friend Matt Damon. Thanks to the success of the 1997 movie, the two 20-somethings shot to fame together and became a single entity to much of the public. Fifteen years later, however, not everyone remembers that.

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"When I was doing 'The Town,' I'd tour the actors around Boston. I was with Blake [Lively], and I saw Matt's childhood home. And I said, 'Oh yeah, that's where Matt grew up.' And she said, 'Who?' And I said, 'Matt Damon.' And she said, 'Oh my God! You know Jason Bourne?!' She really didn't know," the Cambridge, Massachusetts native recalls. "And I thought, 'There it is. The first age of people who are adults who missed the whole Matt- and-Ben propaganda campaign!' Mostly, it just made me feel old."

The October issue of Details hits newsstands on September 18.

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