I told Academy Award-winning actor Ben Affleck tonight that he was overrated.
And then he spit on me.
Affleck was my ninth celebrity interview in just minutes amid the flurry of red carpet arrivals for the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s annual awards gala.
When I first saw Affleck walk toward me, he looked every bit of his 6 feet, 2 inches tall. In a perfect Hollywood moment, the gray on the ends of his hair seemed to sparkle.
“Hello, Desert Sun,” he said as his publicist steered him my way.
That’s when I dropped my bomb: “I’ve heard great things tonight about your directing, that it’s overrated.”
What I really meant was what Tony Mendez — the real-life CIA agent at the heart of “Argo,” who was presenting Affleck and his cast with an award — told me: That Affleck’s skills as a director are underrated, often overshadowed by his acting. Flustered, I touched his arm and told him immediately that wasn’t what I meant.
Affleck looked at me: “No, that would be awesome if you were like, ‘I’m hearing you’re overrated.’”
Fortunately for me — and the 14-year-old me who adored him in “Armageddon” — he had a sense of humor.
Affleck laughed when I asked about directing an actor who he has a close relationship with — you know, himself. “I don’t know about easy, but at least I knew he wasn’t going to complain, you know what I mean? He got the part because he was sleeping with the director.”
Then Affleck told me that his father, Timothy, moved to Indio when Ben was 16 years old. He lived there for about 20 years and worked “for many, many years” as a counselor at the ABC Recovery Center.
“I came out to LA when I was about 18, and I used to drive back down and visit him,” said Affleck, now 40. “I used to like to drive by the place where Jimmy Swaggart got arrested with that prostitute. I was like, ‘Dad, where did that happen?’”
It was about this time that Affleck popped a mint into his mouth, chewing it as he casually continued talking — and the smallest drop of spit came flying out and onto my chin.
My mind muted out his words for a moment as I thought: “Ben Affleck just spit on me. His saliva is on my face.”
I forgave him (really, it was Ben Affleck, who wouldn’t?), as he described the Coachella Valley in a way that reminded me why he won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his screenwriting.
“In truth, I really like the community. I like Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio. I have memories of driving down here in the summers to see my dad and rolling the window down and it feeling like a blow dryer, you know, on your arm,” he said.
“It has this wonderful romance to me of, like, all those pictures you see of old gas station rest stops on the side of the road in the 1950s. There’s a feeling of an older America here that’s past in a lot of places but that I really find romantic.”