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By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Ben Affleck is storming through the Hollywood awards season with his movie "Argo," and no-one could be happier than his old friend Matt Damon.
"Argo," which Affleck directed, produced and stars in, won best drama movie and best director awards at both the Golden Globes on Sunday and the Critics Choice last week. It is also nominated for seven Oscars.
The story of the rescue of U.S. diplomats from Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has put Affleck back in the spotlight after a grueling period 10 years ago when he became tabloid fodder while dating Jennifer Lopez, and the couple starred in 2003 romantic comedy flop "Gigli."
Damon, with whom Affleck shared a screenplay Oscar for the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting," talked with Reuters about his friend's success.
Q: You must be so proud of Affleck.
A: "I'm just thrilled for him. I'm really happy. I'm not at all surprised, because I've known him for so long and I know how talented he is."
Q: Ben went through a rough patch in the early 2000s when the media was merciless with him, his career and his personal life. Was it rough to watch from the sidelines?
A: "It was tough to watch him get kicked in the teeth for all those years because the perception of him was so not who he actually was. I always felt a knee-jerk need to defend him. It was just upsetting. It was upsetting for a lot of his friends because he's the smartest, funnest, nicest, kindest, incredibly talented guy. And the perception of him was the opposite. So that was tough."
Q: When did that perception change for better?
A: "It's taken him a long time. It wasn't one thing that got him out of the penalty box. He had to dig. He did a lot of really good work over a long amount of time. The last movie he did ("The Town") was a great movie. And the movie before was a great too ("Gone Baby Gone"). Finally people now are ready to go, 'Wow, he's at the very top of the food chain.'"
Q: The two of you came up together in your careers, and won a screenplay Oscar together. How is it that you escaped the media scrutiny and he didn't?
A: "Ten years ago he was in a relationship (with actress Jennifer Lopez) and he was on the cover of Us Weekly magazine every week. Nobody was more aware of it than him. I talked to him about it back then. He said, 'I am in the absolute worse place you can be; I sell magazines not movie tickets.' I remember our agent called up the editor of Us Weekly, begging her not to put him on the cover any more: Please stop. Just stop! And she said, 'My hands are tied. He's still moving magazines all through the mid-West. Sorry.' So he was aware of what was happening as it was happening."
Q: Do you think "Gigli" deserved to be vilified in that way that it was?
A: "There are a lot of movies that cost more and made less than 'Gigli.' But for some reason, people think 'Gigli' is the biggest bomb of the last decade and it wasn't. There's a narrative that gets attached to all this stuff and Ben knew it. He had a millstone around his neck and that's it."
Q: As Ben goes through this awards season, what are you feeling?
A: "Now I'm just thrilled. I'm watching him go through it and it's great. He deserves everything that he's going to get. Just for going through what he went through, he deserves it. But he deserves it because he made a great movie." (Reporting By Zorianna Kit, editing by Jill Serjeant and David Brunnstrom)