There's never been a film quite like The Accountant. It's an action movie, a mob assassin thriller, a character study and a martial arts story all rolled into one. There's a remarkably restrained romance in there too.

But these disparate elements are not what makes the film unique - that has more to do with the fact that the title character - an ass-kicking maths genius played by Ben Affleck - is autistic.

It's rare for a mainstream popcorn movie embrace such a hot button topic.

"For me the tricky thing was, you know, there's a sort of political issue to autism," Affleck tells TimeOut during a sitdown in Los Angeles. "Or Asperger's, or 'on the spectrum' or whatever, there's politically different schools of thought of how one even refers to it, so the issue's a little bit fraught."


That didn't stop Affleck and his collaborators from leaning in to the subject matter, which involved a large amount of research.

"A lot of reading, and then some talking and visiting and meeting the people who were willing, people who knew up front that this was research for a movie. People were very open and very willing to share and talk about their experiences, private experiences, love experiences and I found that people wanted to share because they wanted to be understood."

Although he makes no claims to being an expert now, Affleck says the research opened his eyes.

"I didn't come away with a deep, full understanding of autism, but I came away with a fuller conviction, a sort of humanist sense that we're all so much more a like than we believe. Because they were all in search of a connection with one another.

"And some people with autism are just more ... hindered from making that connection that others. But the want is still there, the want to have a relationship, the want to have a friend, the want to communicate. And that was what was really moving about the research."

Affleck's character, Christian Wolff, is also quite possibly cinema's first deadly accountant. Raised by a stern military father who responded to the young Christian's autism symptoms by training him up in a variety of martial arts, Wolff's affinity for numbers lead him into the field of accounting.

Although he has a storefront office and is given to helping Mom and Pop types with their taxes, Wolff's true accounting forte is the incredibly complicated ledgers of international criminal organisations. Which naturally brings him into contact with some pretty nefarious characters, few of whom are any kind of match for The Accountant.

Affleck is quick to point out that Christian Wolff is not intended to be the most representative autistic character ever committed to screen.

"We're seeing a high-functioning person. I wanted to make sure that people understood that this isn't meant to be all autistic people. The people I talked to were happy to see that there's somebody in a movie who's very functional, who can do a lot of things, even special things. That doesn't mean to diminish or to say that people who are less functional don't exist.

"Most people [I spoke to] were kind of like 'Look, don't worry about it, we're all kinds of people, we function at all different levels, we're into it, we think it's cool.' Some people were like 'Oh you're doing an autistic superhero movie', and I kinda got inspired by that idea and of finding the special and the cool about the character so it would be something that people with autism might be into, especially kids."

These days, Affleck is almost as well-known as an Oscar-winning director as he is as an actor. He says it's not hard to leave that side of himself behind when he's working under another director.

"It's like a blessing, a weight lifted off your shoulders. I can be on the set and the water pipe could explode and the unions could be rioting and I'm like 'I'll be in my trailer. Good luck figuring it out!'"

One of the more potent themes running through The Accountant concerns recognising one's own good luck while it's still front of you.

"I actually happen to be very good at that," says Affleck. "Much better in my older years. I know that I have three great kids and I'm really lucky and they have the best mom in the world, and I'm really lucky that I get to work in this great business.

"I look around in my life and I see a lot of these things, everything's not exactly how I would want it to be, it's not perfect. I'd like the political situation to be different than it is and things like that but you know, the more I look around and see it, how much good fortune I have, the more it makes me grateful."

Who: Ben Affleck
What: The Accountant
When: In cinemas from Thursday