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Matt Damon on his new film, Stillwater, and why there’s ‘no diplomacy’ between him and Ben Affleck

People like Matt Damon. Whether he’s playing Jason Bourne, Mr. Ripley, Private Ryan or Will Hunting, Damon is an actor that moviegoers are more than willing to invest their time in — making him one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.

His latest film, Stillwater, directed by Tom McCarthy, is no exception. It premiered at Cannes to a five-minute standing ovation, which brought Damon to tears.

“That kind of snuck up on me a little bit,” he said in an interview with Q guest host Eli Glasner. 

“I said to Tom [McCarthy], ‘Maybe I’m getting old because this is really emotional.'”

Damon’s character in Stillwater is an absentee father named Bill Baker. A Trump-supporting, gun-carrying, oil-rig worker from Oklahoma, Bill travels to Marseille, where his daughter is in prison for a serious crime.

WATCH | The Trailer for Stillwater

“He carries a lot of pain and shame around the ways in which he’s failed his daughter,” said Damon. “He feels some level of responsibility for where she finds herself now, which is four years into a nine-year sentence for something that she didn’t do.

“The story follows this guy trying to repair that relationship.”

To get into the character of Bill, Damon spent time with roughnecks in the American South.

I understand this character. [But] he’s not somebody I would agree with if we’d sit down and have a political conversation.– Matt Damon

“They were wary at first because these are the kind of guys that Hollywood movies look down their nose at a lot of the time,” Damon said. “They were like, ‘What are your intentions? You say you want to play [a] roughneck. What kind of movie are you making here?’

“I think that once they saw the script and they talked to Tom and to me, they realized that our intentions were pure and that we were really trying to get it right. And then they could not have been more helpful.”

Damon said the roughnecks helped him understand the character of Bill, though they don’t share much common ground politically. 

“I understand this character,” he said. “[But] he’s not somebody I would agree with if we’d sit down and have a political conversation.

“Kenny Baker, the roughneck who was kind of my main point of contact, we probably don’t agree on anything about politics, but he’s my friend. Like, I really, really genuinely like him. He’s a good man. We have differences, but that’s the great part about my job is I get to parachute into other people’s lives.”

‘There’s absolutely no diplomacy,’ Damon says on working with Ben Affleck

As Damon’s performance in Stillwater generates awards buzz, he’s getting ready to release The Last Duel in October.

He co-wrote the medieval-era film with his childhood best friend and Good Will Hunting collaborator, Ben Affleck, as well as Nicole Holofcener.

Damon and Affleck won the Oscar for best original screenplay for Good Will Hunting in 1998, leading to this memorable acceptance speech.

Damon said writing The Last Duel was “an entirely different experience” from their first film.

Good Will Hunting took us a really long time because we didn’t know what we were doing,” he said. 

“We didn’t understand structure, really. We wrote thousands of pages. Now we’ve got the benefit of 25 years of making movies and telling three-act stories in two hours…. The process was so much more streamlined and we kind of walked away feeling like, ‘Wow, we could actually write more together.’ Because what kept us from writing in the past was we never thought we’d have enough time.”

Good Will Hunting took us a really long time because we didn’t know what we were doing.– Matt Damon

Damon and Affleck famously became friends in Boston when they were 10 and eight years old. From an early age, they were both obsessed with making it in show business.

This 40-year friendship fuels their chemistry as writing partners.

“When I’m writing with [Affleck], there’s a reservoir of common knowledge that is so vast,” said Damon.

“If I’m trying to help him understand the way I’m seeing a theme, I can just call on something that happened on the school bus in 1983, and he’ll know.”

Damon added, “There’s absolutely no diplomacy” between them.

“Diplomacy is a total waste of time when you’re trying to make something,” he said. “You’ve got to just cut to the chase. Like, ‘Man, that sucks.’

“We trust each other enough. We know that it’s not a reflection on how either of us feels about the overall talent of the other person. We all have good ideas and bad ideas.” 

WATCH | The trailer for The Last Duel

Damon has 90 acting credits, 25 producing credits and four writing credits to his name on IMDB. He has the kind of career that actors dream of, but it’s not one that was planned.

“If I had any strategy, it was about trying to work with the best directors that I could work with,” he said. “It’s not a guarantee; we’re all capable of making some stinkers.

“This was beyond my wildest dreams. My dreams were kind of exceeded with Good Will Hunting. So everything after that was kind of gravy.”

Hear the full interview with Matt Damon near the top of this page.

Written by Jane van Koeverden. Produced by Catherine Stockhausen.

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