Casey Affleck on #MeToo and bowing out of the Oscars: 'I think it was the right thing to do'

You haven’t heard much from Casey Affleck recently, and that’s exactly what he wanted. In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the Oscar winner retreated from the limelight after his controversial win at the 2017 Academy Awards.

“I’ve just been spending the rest of the time with my kids and my girlfriend and just trying to squeeze in a little bit of life,” he tells the Associated Press in a candid Q&A. With his new movie The Old Man & the Gun out this fall, it means getting back on the press circuit and revisiting issues that haven’t gone away.

In 2010, two women who worked on Affleck’s film I’m Still Here filed sexual harassment suits against him. The lawsuit resurfaced during his awards campaign for Manchester by the Sea, although it didn’t disrupt it one bit. Affleck won dozens of accolades, including the coveted Oscar for Best Actor, but his win put a spotlight on harassment in Hollywood well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal disrupted the industry.

Although Affleck maintained no wrongdoing, he skipped the 2018 Oscars (the previous year’s Best Actor winner is historically invited to present the Best Actress award the next year) given the current climate and implied it was his choice. He reflected on the decision to step away.

“I think it was the right thing to do just given everything that was going on in our culture at the moment,” he said. “And having two incredible women go present the Best Actress award felt like the right thing.”

Affleck was asked if #MeToo and #TimesUp caused him to reevaluate anything from his experience on I’m Still Here or the atmosphere on set.

“First of all, that I was ever involved in a conflict that resulted in a lawsuit is something that I really regret. I wish I had found a way to resolve things in a different way. I hate that,” he replied.

Affleck settled the suits out of court for an undisclosed amount.

He continued: “I had never had any complaints like that made about me before in my life, and it was really embarrassing and I didn’t know how to handle it — and I didn’t agree with everything, the way I was being described … the things that were said about me. But I wanted to try to make it right, so we made it right in the way that was asked at the time. And we all agreed to just try to put it behind us and move on with our lives, which I think we deserve to do … I want to respect them as they’ve respected me and my privacy. And that’s that.”

One of the women claimed that Affleck got into bed with her without her consent while she was asleep. The other alleged Affleck pressured her to stay in his hotel room and “violently grabbed [her] arm in an effort to intimidate her into staying” when she refused, according to the complaint.

Casey Affleck in July 2017 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Getty Images)

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been listening a lot to this conversation, this public conversation, and learned a lot. I kind of moved from a place of being defensive to one of a more mature point of view, trying to find my own culpability,” Affleck said. “And once I did that, I discovered there was a lot to learn. I was a boss. I was one of the producers on the set. This movie was [shot in 2008, 2009] and I was one of the producers. And it was a crazy mockumentary, [a] very unconventional movie. The cast was the crew and the crew was kind of the cast, and it was an unprofessional environment and, you know, the buck had to stop with me being one of the producers … I have to accept responsibility for that and that was a mistake.”

He continued: “And I contributed to that unprofessional environment, and I tolerated that kind of behavior from other people … I wish that I hadn’t. And I regret a lot of that. I really did not know what I was responsible for as the boss. I don’t even know if I thought of myself as the boss. But I behaved in a way and allowed others to behave in a way that was really unprofessional. And I’m sorry.”

Affleck wants to be a role model for his sons he has with ex-wife Summer Phoenix: Indiana, 14, and Atticus, 10.

“I have two boys so 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 them to own their mistakes when they make them,” he said.

He also discussed how he plans to create a safe working environment moving forward.

“I think that, there’s been a lot of talk about new things in regards to the workplace … I have this production company [Sea Change Media], and this very, very smart woman runs it with me and she’s been way ahead of the curve on all of these issues,” he noted. “But 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.”

He added: “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.’ 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. And we do that at our production company and I try to do it at home, and if I’m ever called upon by anyone to help in any way and contribute, I’d be more than happy to.”

So does Affleck think he was treated “abominably” through all of this, as his Manchester by the Sea director, Kenneth Lonergan, suggested?

“Whether I have or haven’t, I think that there are people in the world who deal with much greater hardship than that,” he replied. “And they do so without complaint. So I don’t think I need to say anything else about it.”

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