After a few years as a tabloid headline, Ben Affleck is winning respect as an actor and a director in his latest film The Town.

Making one good film as a director can be a stroke of luck. Certainly many struggle to come up with a second. Not so for Ben Affleck.

After suffering a career downturn as an actor, with misfires including Gigli and Surviving Christmas, the 38-year-old has come into his own behind the camera - first with Gone Baby Gone starring his brother Casey, and now with the more audience-friendly heist thriller, The Town, which also features his own best performance in some time and has gone from acclaim upon its launch at the Toronto Film Festival to the top of the American box office.

Initially he was only going to act in the film. Once he read Chuck Hogan's crime novel Prince of Thieves, however, he couldn't resist its many dimensions.

"There was a love story, there was a character story and then there was this genre story, this classic heist movie,"

Ultimately he relished the chance to take on numerous tasks, also adapting the film together with two co-writers.

"People always look at the acting and writing, but there are other things which I am really interested in which nobody cares about or which nobody thinks I am any good at - the photography and editing," notes Affleck. "They are all parts of the process of film-making. Directing is a way of being able to steer the ship of those things a little bit more, but it is a collaborative effort. There were 300 people in this crew and look at the cast I had! You hope you create an environment where you get great performances and in this case I did."

Indeed, who wouldn't be interested to see the first major film with Mad Men's Jon Hamm in a prominent role as a smartass detective, or Gossip Girl star, Blake Lively, roughing it up as a drug-addicted single mother, or Jeremy Renner in his follow-up to this year's Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker.

As Affleck's heavily tattooed criminal buddy in the movie, Renner has been likened to James Cagney and some are saying he is the new Sean Penn.

In many ways the movie is as much about their relationship as it is about Affleck's bank robber wanting to leave his criminal ways behind. His official love interest in the movie is Rebecca Hall's bank manager, whom he first encounters as he almost scares her to death disguised in a skeleton mask while robbing her bank.

The reality of the situation suited his approach. Affleck's interest was in examining the lives of bank robbers in Boston's's Irish-Catholic Charlestown, an area which the film's opening statistics tell us is the bank-robbery capital of America.

"I looked up people on the internet who had committed these crimes and I found out where they were in prison. I called the prisons and I asked if I could come in and talk to them. And they allowed me to come in and sit down and ask questions - and not just about bank robbery. You can imagine you have a gun and you point it at someone and say, 'Give me your money!' But what kind of life did they lead? What did their apartment look like? What kind of car did they drive? What was the music they were listening to? Where did they spend their money? What was their attitude towards this? What did it feel like to do this? Were they bad people, horrible people? Those questions were important to me to ask before making this movie, and so was talking to the FBI. It was equally important to talk to the Department of Justice and to the Boston Police and going to the neighbourhood people, who lived in this environment when all this stuff was happening. I understood a lot from the book, but I had to personalise my understanding by talking to people first-hand."

Interestingly, Affleck's directing hero is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel). The Mexican maestro provided some of the inspiration for Gone Baby Gone and now for the gritty urban environment - and one remarkable car chase - Affleck creates in The Town.

"The car chase in Amores Perros with the guys in the truck with the dogs, I saw that and thought this is what should be in my movie. It feels real. You get the sense they are really driving through the city and you identify with the characters and that's what raises your heart rate.

"You invest in them and it makes the action stuff twice as good and twice as moving and if you don't have that you can do all the visual explosions that you want, but you don't care about it. You always felt like the characters were really making those turns. It wasn't contrived."

Who: Ben Affleck, director and actor
What: The Town also starring Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall
When: Opens at cinemas on October 14