Matt Damon picked up a pen again to write Promised Land, but it took some prodding by his co-writer, The Office star John Krasinski, on the story about natural gas mining in the U.S. Damon sat down with Movie Fanatic to talk about why it took so long to write again, after winning an Oscar for the screenplay that gave us all those stellar Good Will Hunting quotes, his future project with buddy Ben Affleck and whether he will direct... as he was supposed to with Promised Land.
As teased in the Promised Land trailer, Damon plays an employee of a natural gas company sent to a small town to buy acres of land from residents with the purpose of mining for natural gas. The term for digging for the resource is called fracking and it is a divisive subject at the moment with people on both sides as passionate as can be... all shown through Damon's latest film.
Movie Fanatic: Did it take John Krasinski to get you writing again?
Matt Damon: It did. You know, people have said, “Why haven't you written for so long?” And it's because a lot is required. He was doing the show (The Office) full-time and I was making other movies, so it was every minute of our free time we were writing. It really takes somebody who's as tenacious as John because my time gets absorbed, as most parents do by their kids. And John was literally willing to sit at the kitchen table with me while the kids were running around. We'd take little breaks and play with them.
Movie Fanatic: Was it different writing with John versus your co-Oscar winner Ben Affleck?
Matt Damon: No. Like writing with Ben, I can't look at the screenplay and know I wrote that line or he wrote that line. It just becomes a fusion where you're both writing and revising together. It's like it's already a living thing. I couldn't have written this without him and he couldn't have written it without me, and that's what's great about having a writing partner. Something really wonderful comes out of the collaboration.
Movie Fanatic: Is it similar writing with John and Ben because you share certain professional traits?
Matt Damon: Yes, I think because we're all actors. I think the way we write is to get up -- we're walking around, we're improvising. We're playing all the different characters. And then pretty soon the characters start to talk back at you because you start to realize how'd they answer certain things, and that's when it gets really exhilarating. And that was the same writing with both guys.
Movie Fanatic: Promised Land deals with the explosion in natural gas mining in the U.S. and makes both sides of the environmental impact heard. It’s a very real film, but is still uplifting. Is that a tough balance?
Matt Damon: We just talked about wanting it to be a pro-community movie, a pro-democracy movie. Because the issue itself is polarizing, right? People feel very strongly on both sides, but we didn't want it to be a big downer at the end. That's not the way John and I are in life. We wanted people to leave with some sense of hope. We wanted to end with the idea that where we're going, “We can all go together and it can be a better place.”
Movie Fanatic: He directed Good Will Hunting and now Promised Land. What makes Gus Van Sant such a perfect director for Matt Damon-written scripts?
Matt Damon: Besides being Gus [laughs]? He's such a humanist, and this story needed that. I mean, the performances in Gus' movies, from his little movies to his bigger movies, always have that feeling of being captured. He just has a way of getting real human behavior out of the actors. Gus just has a way of putting everybody at ease and filming the real world. And that's what we really wanted for this, was to feel like a moment in time in the country -- where we are now, where we are today.
Movie Fanatic: You were supposed to direct, but were just too busy. Do you regret it?
Matt Damon: I would've liked to have done it, of course, but I love working with Gus and I learned a ton. I learned more this time because I had prepared it as a director, and so I saw all the things that he did that I was going to do, and then there were things that he did that I wasn't going to do that I hadn't thought of. You know, John and I joke that my best contribution as a producer was firing myself [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: How different was Gus’ vision as opposed to yours?
Matt Damon: It is the full expression of this screenplay that we wrote. It is exactly what we wanted. When I was going to direct it, I would write my shots on my script and I would hold onto my shot list, but there was no need to put it in the script. And then when Gus was going to direct it, he'll think of things that just elevate the material.
Matt Damon: You got a project [laughs]? I'm where I was. This was exactly the size and scale of what I wanted to do. This was about the exact budget of Good Will Hunting, adjusted for inflation. And that's about the size of what I want to do the first time out. Like Ben did it with Gone Baby Gone because you don't want to just take on too much the first time you do it. It's an all-consuming job.
Movie Fanatic: What about reuniting with Ben?
Matt Damon: We're developing a few things. There's one Whitey Bulger project that we were looking at, but it's all going to be script-dependent because we're trying to figure out how to tell that story.
Movie Fanatic: Ben’s directing that… are you ready to be directed by your old friend?
Matt Damon: Sure!
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