Affleck is born to photographer Tim Affleck and his wife, Chris, a schoolteacher. Three years later Affleck gets a little brother, Casey.
From an early age, Affleck shows an interest in acting. After appearing in a Burger King ad, he lands the part of C.T. Granville on the PBS miniseries The Voyage of the Mimi. The 13-episode educational program follows the crew of the Mimi exploring the ocean. "I was [a kid] when I did this science show," he tells Entertainment Weekly in 2007. "Sometimes I think I grew up too fast."
Affleck and pal Matt Damon graduate from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in 1990. There, he tells Details, the two spent their time "underage drinking, pot smoking and all the attendant shenanigans." After a few transfers, he drops out to pursue acting with roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and School Ties before landing his first substantial part in the cult classic Dazed and Confused.
After Damon's creative writing teacher at Harvard encourages him to hold on to the play version of Good Will Hunting he wrote for class, Damon brings it to L.A., not knowing what to do with it. He shows it to Affleck: "[Affleck] took a look at it and he said, 'Well, we should really write this together,'" Damon recalls in an interview with Rough Cut Online. "So we just started writing this thing one night. And it just tumbled out."
Affleck works with director Kevin Smith in 1995's Mallrats, then makes an impression in Smith's cult hit Chasing Amy as a comic-book illustrator pursing his elusive lesbian love, played by Joey Lauren Adams. "I'm horrible – stiff, uncomfortable, pasty, chubby, weird-looking, terrified," Affleck tells Entertainment Weekly of his performance in Mallrats in 2007.
Affleck and Damon debut the film they co-authored, Good Will Hunting, about a troubled math prodigy who is a janitor at MIT. Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein buys the project for almost $1 million. "We never expected anyone to see it, which was why [it] was successful," Affleck tells EW. It is nominated for nine Oscars and wins two, including Best Original Screenplay, which Damon and Affleck happily collect. "This is a little overwhelming for two guys who never won a raffle," Affleck tells PEOPLE.
Affleck gets the first of many action roles, starring opposite Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler in the blockbuster Armageddon. "A lot of it really hasn't sunk in," says Affleck, who also had to get used to his new popularity with female fans. "The pinup aspect is part of the game," the actor tells PEOPLE. "I think you're naïve if you want to be an actor and you don't expect that people will see you that way. Hey, young guys, pinup guys, that's what sells."
Affleck teams up with on-again, off-again girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love. By January, the relationship cools, but the two remain friends. "Women want to take [a] guy and make him different," Affleck tells USA Weekend. "I can bend real far, but then it snaps back." Affleck signs on to star in Bounce, opposite Paltrow, after they break up. "Ben worships Gwyneth and Gwyneth worships Ben," screenwriter-director Don
Roos tells PEOPLE in 2000.
Affleck and Damon premiere their HBO reality show Project Greenlight, meant to help talented screenwriters get the green light. "We have been the beneficiaries of very good fortune," Damon tells PEOPLE. "So one of the reasons we're doing this is because it's karmically appropriate for us to use our position to give someone else an opportunity." As an actor, in June 2001, Affleck takes on his biggest role to date as a dashing Navy pilot in the World War II blockbuster Pearl Harbor.
Inspired by 13-year-old Joe Kindregan, Affleck joins the fight to find a cure for ataxia-telangiectasia, a rare genetic disease that causes neurological deterioration and usually proves fatal by age 20. "It seems particularly unfair when something happens to a kid who hasn't had the chance to experience life yet," Affleck tells PEOPLE. Besides raising awareness and money, Affleck also lobbies Congress for additional research funding.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): MARTHA COOPER/CORBIS OUTLINE; Miramax/ZUMA; EVAN AGOSTINI/LIASON; EVAN AGOSTINI/LIASON; MICHAEL GRECCO/BRAVO; CHRIS USHER/APIX