SANTA MONICA, Calif. — On the morning of the Academy Awards, Ben Affleck was at my hotel door. He entered with neither the swagger of Bruce Wayne nor the bravado of Batman, just with a quiet apology for postponing this conversation, planned for the day before, when he said he’d come down with a migraine.
“It would have been a delirious interview,” he said through a hangdog smile. “I don’t know that it would have been good for either one of us.”
This is a feverish, perplexing time for Mr. Affleck, 43, as strange as seeing him stuff his brawny, 6-foot-4-inch frame into a cramped room, flop into a chair and stretch his legs across my bed.
Consider the contradictory strands of his life and career that are coinciding for him, and you may find yourself envying, pitying and disliking him all at once.
He is about to star in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” whichWarner Bros. will release on Friday, March 25. The superhero grudge match is the studio’s $250 million moonshot, painstakingly engineered to begin a new, multifilm franchise that is based on the DC Comics characters and to compete with the movies its rivals at Marvel have been making for nearly a decade.
For Mr. Affleck, the dual role of Batman and his wealthy, womanizing alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is a straight-ahead bid for marquee-idol status after the 2014 thriller “Gone Girl,” which cast him as a dysfunctional husband caught in a complex revenge plot.
But this popcorn fare is also a somewhat bewildering choice for someone with an increasingly prestigious reputation as a filmmaker in his own right, one who directed and starred in “Argo,” which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2013. While fans of superhero movies always grouse about their casting, the selection of Mr. Affleck for “Batman v Superman” seemed to arouse an especially vehement and personal animus when it was revealed in 2013.
The comic-book blockbuster has shone an intense spotlight on Mr. Affleck following the announcement that he and his wife, Jennifer Garner, plan to divorce after a 10-year marriage. Amid a torrent of tabloid reports alleging bad behavior, infidelity and questionable tattoos, he finds himself at maximum attention at an especially humbling moment.
“It never seems like a great time to have your privacy invaded,” Mr. Affleck said warily. “Obviously this is a particularly hard time.”
Then, the day before this interview was to take place, he was hit with a bombshell. Vanity Fair magazine published an interview with Ms. Garner, in which she discussed the dissolution of their relationship. Speaking of Mr. Affleck, she told the magazine: “I always say, ‘When his sun shines on you, you feel it.’ But when the sun is shining elsewhere, it’s cold. He can cast quite a shadow.”
In person, Mr. Affleck was friendly and funny, but also soft-spoken and vulnerable. At times he seemed anxious and out of sorts, as if waiting for some other shoe to drop.
Despite vowing not to, he did eventually address Ms. Garner’s Vanity Fair profile.
And though he said he could not pinpoint why he chose to play Batman right now, he did offer a broader theory on the parts that currently appeal to him.
When he watches other movies that strain to make their protagonists likable and valorous, Mr. Affleck said: “I find that boring. Instead, I think it’s interesting how we manage the best version of ourselves, despite our flaws and our weaknesses and our sometime tendencies to do the wrong thing.”
He has also realized that for all of his Hollywood success, some part of him will always feel like a relentless striver who must prove, through his work, that he has a right to be there.
“That never goes away,” he said. “All these habits that we develop, that help us at some point, they have flip sides. In this case, it’s hard to turn that feeling off.”
Addressing himself, he added, “It’s O.K. to just chill for a second.”
That another film incarnation of Batman would follow soon after Christopher Nolan’s morose, much-praised “Dark Knight” franchise, which concluded in 2012, is the result of “Man of Steel,” the director Zack Snyder’s commercially successful but tepidly received 2013 retelling of the origin of Superman.
In sizing up a possible adversary for Superman to fight in a sequel, Mr. Snyder said he found himself irresistibly drawn to Batman, particularly one who is older and more seasoned than in past movies.
“I wanted a Batman who had been Batman for 20 years,” he explained, “a war-weary Batman.”
“When you start thinking about the actors in that range, we came to Ben pretty quickly,” Mr. Snyder said, noting Mr. Affleck’s muscular build and lantern-like jaw. “He’s a big guy. I’ve always been a fan of a large Batman.”
Mr. Affleck, his hair now streaked with gray, and his forearms bulging through T-shirt sleeves to reveal hints of red-and-yellow tattoo ink on one biceps, said he was not interested in a “down-the-middle version” of the hero.
But he was won over by Mr. Snyder’s presentation — further emphasized in a revision of the script by Chris Terrio, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Argo” — of Batman as a vengeful vigilante still haunted by the murders of his parents. Having seen the devastation already brought to Metropolis, he is driven to extremes by his fear of the further havoc Superman could wreak.
“He’s living in this gray zone,” Mr. Affleck said of his Batman. “He’s more broken, not slick. He’s filling the hole in his soul with these increasingly morally questionable nighttime excursions — fighting crime as well as by being this playboy.”
With a chuckle, he added: “You wonder, is this healthy?”
Mr. Affleck’s “Batman v Superman” co-stars spoke respectfully about his portrayal of a melancholy caped crusader. Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, said: “There’s some real pain buried in there, in the soul of this Batman, yet it’s covered with scar tissue. There’s some bitterness, which, if dealt with poorly, can go down a bad road.”
Jeremy Irons, who plays Bruce Wayne’s loyal aide, Alfred, said that beneath all the special effects and high-tech trappings of the film, Mr. Affleck seemed drawn to the mythical, larger-than-life qualities of the title champions.
“They do represent big, emotional ideas that stand behind America as a country,” Mr. Irons said. “I think a man like Ben needs to feel that he’s not just earning parts, but he’s actually telling a story that is worth mentioning.”
Mr. Affleck said he took the role partly to please his 4-year-old son, Samuel, who is already a loyal Bat-fan.
“He knows that I am Batman,” Mr. Affleck said. “It’s a mixed blessing. He also thinks that for some reason — I don’t know if it’s the color combination or whatever — that the FedEx guy is the Joker.”
“Whenever there’s a FedEx delivery, he’s like, ‘Dad, the Joker’s outside,’” he continued. “The burden’s on me to go out there and give the guy an extra 20 bucks to pantomime a whole Adam West kung fu battle.”
But Mr. Terrio, the screenwriter, suggested that there were deeper connections between Mr. Affleck and Bruce Wayne, a man who is essentially playing a role in public but who becomes someone different in the safety of his Batcave.
“There is performativity in Ben’s life, as there is with any person who is a public figure,” Mr. Terrio said.
“You have to go on talk shows and be a charming person and seem at ease in the world,” he said. “But if you’re a serious artist who thinks carefully about things, as I think Ben is, then there has to be the cave side to you, where you go home, and the world is not so effortless and charming and black and white.”
“Argo,” about a C.I.A. operative who seeks Hollywood’s help to rescue Americans in Iran, was also a story about a character reckoning with false fronts and deception. “You need to, sometimes, take a moment to remember who you are, before you go back to your family,” Mr. Terrio said.
Duality persists in Mr. Affleck’s world and his career, where he has simultaneously become an in-demand actor and an accomplished filmmaker, having directed movies like “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,”and won an Oscar for writing the screenplay of “Good Will Hunting”(shared with his lifelong friend Matt Damon).
To promote “Batman v Superman,” Mr. Affleck took a hiatus from postproduction work on “Live by Night,” which he directed, stars in and adapted from Dennis Lehane’s period crime novel. He stars this fall in the thriller “The Accountant”; has already filmed a Batman appearance for“Suicide Squad,” another DC superhero movie; and resumes the role in Europe this spring to film “Justice League,” an ensemble adventure that also features Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash.
(As for any further Batman movies, Mr. Affleck said, “If there comes a point that I want to do Batman, and there’s a script and it works, then I’ll do it.”)
Warner Bros., which will release “Live by Night” and “The Accountant” (and also handled “Argo” and “The Town”), said that Mr. Affleck’s comic-book duties were not any kind of quid pro quo for the films he directs.
“We’re in the Ben Affleck business,” said Sue Kroll, president for worldwide marketing and distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures. “He needs to be able to do what he needs to do to thrive as an artist. His schedule is clearly a very aggressive one, and we have him very busy.”
Mr. Affleck brushed off his professional relentlessness as “high-class problems,” then added, more soberly, that he often finds himself walking a self-imposed boundary between working too much and feeling that he is not working enough.
In those idle moments, he said: “I get antsy. I’m my own worst enemy in that way.”
Slapping his hand in his palm for emphasis, Mr. Affleck added, “You’ve got to realize, this line of work, it’s rooted in a feeling of needing to audition all the time.”
From his formative working days, when he was vying for parts in “School Ties” and “Dazed and Confused,” and he and Mr. Damon were struggling to make “Good Will Hunting,” he said: “It’s all freelance. There’s no tenure. You’re dancing for your next meal. And that feeling stays with you.”
When he is writing and directing his own movies, Mr. Affleck said he feels “so much anxiety every day on the set.”
“The urge of making it good and trying to make sure that it works, that you’ve done the most interesting version that you can — it’s like a neurosis that drives me to work every day,” he said.
The relief of a project like “Batman v Superman,” for all its complications, Mr. Affleck said, is that he is simply another director’s actor.
“If there’s clearly some problem over there,” he said, “I’m just so happy to leave those people to it and be able to go home when my scene’s finished.”
Home would hardly seem like a refuge for Mr. Affleck right now, not while the particulars of his relationship with Ms. Garner are being publicly dissected, and not after Ms. Garner’s Vanity Fair interview, which, for all its affection toward him, depicts him as an absent and enigmatic husband. “I’m still the only person that knows some of his truths,” she said in the article. (She denied that Mr. Affleck had broken up their marriage by trysting with a family nanny.)
Mr. Affleck said at first that he does not publicly discuss his family for the sake of his three children and “because it ends up being in the record somewhere, in the great miasma of junk on the Internet.”
Asked if Ms. Garner had made that impossible by sharing intimate details of their lives, he said: “Jen’s great. She’s a great person. We’re on great terms. I just saw her this morning, so that’s the reality that I live in.”
Whatever anyone might conclude from her interview, Mr. Affleck said Ms. Garner and their children plan to visit him during the filming of “Justice League” so they can vacation in Europe as a family.
“She felt like she wanted to discuss it and get it out there and get it over with,” he said, “so she could say, ‘Look, I already talked about it — I don’t want to do it again.’”
He added: “It’s fine. She’s allowed to talk about it.”
Still, there would seem to be a point at which Mr. Affleck’s recent string of morally compromised screen characters — deficient spouses in “Argo” and “Gone Girl,” even a caddish, love-’em-and-leave-’em Bruce Wayne in “Batman v Superman” — becomes inseparable from how audiences perceive him. Beyond that threshold, perhaps, Hollywood can see him only as his bad-boy facades, rather than as the person he says he is out of view of the cameras.
At the Golden Globes in January, the host, Ricky Gervais, introduced Mr. Damon as “the only person who Ben Affleck hasn’t been unfaithful to” — a gag that Mr. Affleck said did not trouble him.
“It’s the way Ricky Gervais perceives me, I suppose,” he said, laughing. “Whatever. I’ve had jokes made at my expense before. It’s part of the deal.”
Mr. Affleck acknowledged that he cannot portray questionable characters onscreen and come away from them as cleanly as some of his peers.
“Denzel Washington can play almost anybody — mass murderers — and you go, ‘But he’s all right!’” he said. “There’s something so appealing about him, and I don’t think I have that.
“You have these qualities that you’re born with. Some of them are good, some of them people don’t like. And you just have to live with it.”
When our conversation was seemingly at its end, Mr. Affleck and I stood up to say our goodbyes. But then, without prompting, he said he wanted to add a further point about his pride in “Batman v Superman,” and how it outweighed “the other stuff, my personal life stuff.”
“The whole lesson of my career has been that what’s really important is the work you do,” he said. “Even in the tough spots, if your movies are good, people will see them. And if you’re not good, you can’t get away with it.
“Eventually it catches up to you. Both ways, good and bad.”