Ben Affleck landed his first individual Screen Actors Guild Award nomination – are the Oscars next?

Few actors have done as much to reinvent their acting personas over the last two years as Ben Affleck. After scoring some of the best reviews of his career for 2020’s “The Way Back” – a performance that stayed on the fringe of last year’s awards conversation thanks to his Critics Choice Award nomination in Best Actor – Affleck backed up the praise with lauded supporting work in 2021 features “The Last Duel” and “The Tender Bar.” The result has left Affleck trending toward his first-ever Oscar nomination for acting following wins as a screenwriter (for “Good Will Hunting”) and producer (for “Argo”).

Those rooting for Affleck received a boost on Wednesday thanks to the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The actor grabbed his first-ever individual nomination from the actors guild, landing among the supporting actor nominees for “The Tender Bar.” Affleck previously received three ensemble nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning with the casts for both “Shakespeare in Love” and “Argo” (he and the cast lost their bid for “Good Will Hunting”).

“Ben is a really good actor. This is the best part he’s been given and he got a chance to show what he can do,” “The Tender Bar” director George Clooney said of his star when the drama started screening in October. “I just had to get out of the way.”

Based on the memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer J.R. Moehringer, “The Tender Bar” is about a young boy who grows up on Long Island in the late 1970s and early 1980s with aspirations of becoming a writer and encouragement from his affable uncle, Charlie (Affleck), a local bartender.

Speaking recently in an interview with Entertainment Weekly conducted by Affleck’s longtime friend Matt Damon, the actor said he knew the role of Charlie “was kind of mine to screw up.” 

“I couldn’t imagine there wasn’t a long line of people that wanted to take this part, so I really respected [Clooney’s] confidence and faith in me, and I wanted to do well for him,” he said of his director. “I wanted to do it for myself.”

Affleck has stayed in the Best Supporting Actor conversation for months thanks to both “The Tender Bar” and his comic and villainous turn in Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel.” But it’s no surprise “The Tender Bar” has edged ahead for awards voters – even if Affleck’s work in “The Last Duel” has generated more memes and tweets. It’s a warm-hearted performance in a cozy family drama, and the character allows Affleck to play into both his inherent charm and good-humored cynicism. 

“We’ve worked together before, we’ve had great success before,” Clooney, a producer on “Argo,” said of Affleck. “I really like him. He doesn’t get offered the kind of parts that show off the kind of things he can do. I want him to be my uncle. He’s really good in this film. But he’s that guy. He was the first guy on the set, he knew everybody’s lines. He was really excited to do it.”

That Affleck landed among the SAG Awards nominees is notable – especially since he was included over widely presumed locks such as “Belfast” stars Ciaran Hinds and Jamie Dornan and even rising contenders such as “West Side Story” co-star Mike Faist. It wasn’t all good news for his candidacy on Wednesday – Affleck missed the BAFTA Awards longlist in the supporting actor category, while Hinds, Dornan, and Faist all made the cut – but it puts the actor in an enviable position, just days after “The Tender Bar” hit Amazon Prime Video. That wide availability can anecdotally only help, as can Affleck’s recent media blitz.

“I want to do the things that would bring me joy. Then we went and did ‘Last Duel’ and I had fun every day on this movie. I wasn’t the star, I wasn’t likable. I was a villain. I wasn’t all the things I thought I was supposed to be when I started out and yet it was a wonderful experience,” Affleck told Damon. “And it was all just stuff that came along that I wasn’t chasing.

“My only thing is that now I live in fear every time I do another movie, I’m like, Do I still feel that, am I still good? I’m afraid it’s going to go away, you know? Because it’s elusive,” he added. “But I’m happy now. I’m feeling it now. And I do think I’ve gotten better. I think people generally get better with the age and experience.”

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