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Interview with Matt Damon and Minnie Driver!!!

And from an East Coast Guy, we got this interview with Matt Damon (about Good Will Hunting) and Minnie Driver. I love this sort of thing. If you ever get a chance to interview cool people, feel free to send the interview this direction. Tis very very cool!!! I find Matt Damon's comments on how he and Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting absolutely fascinating. And I hate that I can't see GOOD WILL HUNTING till sometime next year. ARGH!!! Apparently it's just brilliant.


Q. How do you and Ben work together? Do you improvise?

A. Yeah, we improvise. We kind of stand up and act out the scene and we use tape recorders - for like every hour that we improvise we get like 30 seconds of dialogue that we'll write down and keep. Then we'll probably rework that. We really go moment to moment as actors - that's what's interesting I guess. [pauses] You guys are like the real writers. You take like a blank page and impose a structure on something - I know I can't do that. I know I can't do that because I was an English major - I've written papers for years, and I'm just not good at it. It drives me nuts - I pull my hair out in front of the computer watching the cursor blink. This is more improvisational through acting.

Q. Let's switch the subject to Harvard -

A. Actually, I heard you guys panned my movie.

Q. Which one? [I breathe nervously since I panned The Rainmaker]

A. Good Will Hunting, I think. Doesn't matter - I do my best.

Q. [anxiously moving on] Well, the hilarious quote in Good Will Hunting about Harvard is that "You're getting an education for $150,000 that you could be getting for $1.50 in overdue library fees." How do you really feel about Harvard and what did you take away from your experience?

A. Let me tell you, I loved Harvard. It was like a huge, huge part of my life. I still have time left and I want to go back when I get a chance. The line was just kind of you know, just a way of like showing the class dynamics in the film. It's interesting because I grew up in Central and we are proprietary about our city - we kind of view Harvard students in a different light. I always had an underdog complex growing up, even on an unconscious level. But, my time at Harvard was amazing. I still keep in touch with all my college friends.

Q. How did you actually come to the decision to drop out?

A. Actually, I got work - I started working when I was 19. It was this thing on cable for TNT called Rising Son. That was my second semester sophomore year so I left. Then School Ties came the second semester of my junior year and I left and then the movie suddenly got postponed. So I lost that semester but did the movie the following fall of what would have been my senior year. And, a year later, in the spring I left to do Geronimo. What was happening is that I would keep coming back, and I would almost get done with the semester and then I would be yanked out. But I thought it was serving me well, and everyone at that point was saying Geronimo was going to be a big hit, so… [laughs]

Q. Were you involved in the Harvard theatre scene at all?

A. Oh yeah totally. The last play I did at Harvard was Burn This. I did it in Winthrop House. I did a shepherd play directed by David Wheeler. I did a play over at the North Theatre Company. Yeah, we did a bunch of plays here. But I really would have done more - I knew people who were doing like 2 and 3 shows a semester. I would have done that if I would have been guaranteed to stay there the whole semester. But a lot of times I wasn't, so they'd say "Well, this show is going up in a month" and I knew I wasn't leaving that month, so I'd do that show. But college theater is fun - doing student directed stuff is great because everyone gets in there together.

Q. You wrote Good Will Hunting as a short piece at Harvard. How did it grow into the screenplay for the movie?

A. I started it in this class for Anthony Kubiak taught - it's a class all you Harvard guys should take because he's just an awesome teacher I think he's still there. And he told me to keep going with it. It was essentially a paper that I wrote for him - an end of the semester project. I handed it in and it didn't really go anywhere, but it had a couple of these characters. He told me that I should keep writing it - it was supposed to be a one act play. I kept telling him that I couldn't end it, but he would say that it was a full-length thing and you should really write it into a full-length piece. So he really encouraged me to do it. I showed it to Ben when I went out on Spring Break in the spring - in the spring clearly figuring it was Spring Break - but this was all before I auditioned for Geronimo.

Q. How does your friendship work with Ben?

A. Well, we grew up together, and I think we just look at the world in the same way. He's the funniest guy I know and the best actor I've ever met. Um, I just admire him greatly. You gotta admire a close friend of yours.

Q. Would you have given up the chance to play Will Hunting in order to get the movie made?

A. Never.

Q. You were the only one who could play the role "the right way"?

A. Oh yeah, that was all part of the deal. The only reason we wrote it was to get jobs! We were like totally unemployable and we knew it. That's the frustrating thing about being an actor - it's like you're just not controlling your own destiny. And I felt like I had given up college, and all these great experiences, and all my friends that had graduated - I had missed out on a lot and here I was back at square one living in L.A. It was really like a horrible feeling.

Q. But were there any conflicts between you and Ben over who got to play Will Hunting - the "perfect hero" who dominates the movie?

A. Oh no, because I had created Will in Kubiak's class so I kind of said "I don't want to do a movie unless Ben is in it too." So Ben's like "Who I do I play" and I'm like "You play Mercutio but you don't die." [laughs] So he was like "Alright, that sounds cool." And he read it and liked it and we both kind of decided that this was something we could do together. We didn't write it for like a year - we didn't touch it and one night we were just sitting there. We were kind of spitballing and then it took off.

Q. How did the script finally get made into the movie?

A. Well, what happened is we left Castle Rock [after the movie deal collapsed] and we realized that we had a limited amount of time to get this thing set up somewhere because there was a lot of money against it. But the movie was being sold on two kids nobody knew. They were all like, "Well, you're pretty much screwed."

Q. But it's not true that nobody knew you - people had seen both of you in movies before.

A. Well, not really. Courage Under Fire hadn't come out - I actually was just starting to lose weight for it. And, people knew enough to be like "Yeah, people have employed these guys before" but Ben's last movie was Mallrats and mine was The Good Old Boys for TNT. People certainly weren't like "Let's let these two knuckleheads headline our movie." And they certainly weren't gonna pay lots of money for it and then give away the two best parts to us. It was Kevin Smith who read it because Ben was doing Chasing Amy and he gave it directly to Harvey Weinstein. Those guys at Miramax bought it the day after Harvey read it.

Q. What was Minnie's contribution to her part as an actress?

A. She was just like, wow, like totally, like wow - absolutely amazing. The character itself, I'm sure you can see, is kind of like a device. It's certainly read a lot more that way on the page than how it appears on the screen. And Min is just an extraordinary actress - she's like the best actress I know. She just - everything from ideas to "let's do this" to "let's try this scene here" - the rehearsal process was amazing just to watch her work. I mean we're two guys so how are we gonna write a female character? It's really tough to do. It's like writing stuff down that girlfriends have said to us and stuff from stories. And then we gave it to the best actress we could find and said "Please do whatever you want with it." And with that freedom - Robin Williams is like that too - a great actor can find the right moments and bring something to the confines of that role. She's just so extraordinary, just so real.

Q. Well Minnie claimed that Claire Danes was the first choice for the role. Did you have any choice over who was cast?

A. Oh yeah, we did. We read with the prospective women. When Minnie came in and read, it was a tough room there were five guys. And when she left, every guy in the room had like tears in their eyes. It was just clear around the room that we would never get a better actress than that. I mean, we all knew who she was. I mean it was intimidating enough when she walked into the room and get this. We started doing this scene in a movie where we get in a huge fight and she did it three times in three different accents. She did it in an English accent, an American accent, and an Irish accent. It was just like extraordinary in each one. And finally, she's doing it in this Irish accent and it's the third time she's doing it - she starts the scene and I like totally blanked. After four and half years of trying to get this movie made, I didn't know where I was, who I was, or what was going on. And she's standing there with this Cheshire cat smile thinking "Would you like to join me in the scene or are you gonna stand there with your tongue hanging out?" I was like "Uh-uh, can we start again" all dorky and stuff. But she's just tremendous.

Q. You've gotten to work with Coppola, Van Sant, Spielberg. Anybody else that you really want to work with?

A. Oh yeah, there are some really incredible actors. I think the best actor in the country is Morgan Freeman. I think he and Robert Duvall - it comes with their age and experience. They can make things happen without doing much. I'd obviously love to work with both of them.

Q. Do you think there's a big difference between the actors of the past generation - Duvall, Brando, DeNiro, Hoffman - and actors of the current one?

A. Oh yeah, Brando for example. When he was my age, he was like the hardest working guy. He had a discipline that was unmatched. But now, because he gets away with everything - I mean the mistakes he made influence young actors. The younger guys are like "Oh all I gotta do is like get fat and go to Fiji." I mean that's just not true. What's true is just look at the young Marlon Brando and how he worked and what he did. He busted his ass - and Robert Duvall, for example, is still like that. That's why I think Duvall is such an amazing actor. He's in his 50s and he's still doing it. I hope that the ethic hasn't been lost, because that's what defined actors and made acting great in America. We had these great teachers and these students who busted their asses - I think they're still some good guys out there.

Q. How else did you get your training?

A. Well I looked at it kind of as a trade - the only way to get better was to apprentice yourself to the masters. I think the masters of today are in films - people like Duvall, Denzel Washington, Mickey Rourke, Jon Voight, Francis McDormand, Terry Kinney, Sam Shepard, Minnie, Robin, Stellan Skarsgard - and I like just get to watch them. I feel like I grow exponentially when I watch them. There's actually an acting teacher at Harvard named David Wheeler who I think is the best acting teacher in the country. Pacino goes to him every time before he plays a role and talks to him about it. He teaches a class called "Introduction to Acting" for undergraduates - he got his hands on me when I was 17. I took every class that he offered and he placed me in a couple of plays. He's just extraordinary.

Q. Ok, let's just play a little word association game. When I say a word, tell me the first thing that enters your mind.

A. Sure. [chuckling]

Q. Chris O'Donnell

A. [pauses with a devilish grin] Pass.

Q. Press junkets

A. Work

Q. Denzel Washington

A. Extraordinary relaxation and class.

Q. The Vanity Fair cover

A. Oh God, oh boy. Uh, uh - smiley?

Q. Three million dollars

A. A lot more money than I got [laughing]

Q. Gus Van Sant

A. Brilliant

Q. Saving Private Ryan

A. Next year's best picture.

Q. Hollywood

A. Dangerous

Q. The Dalai Lama

A. Persecuted

Q. Super Bowl

A. Patriots [laughing]

Q. Academy Award

A. Optimistic [looks at his hands nervously]



Q. You've said that your character in the movie, Skylar, is "more intellectually than emotionally driven." How would you characterize yourself in those terms?

A. The other way around. Definitely, definitely. It's hard, you know, because you are an actor, but I was afforded a really extraordinary education which encouraged an intellectual approach. So what happens is that the best thing I can possibly do with a character is forge with the emotion and then deal with the way the emotion is executed - which in this case was more intellectual.

Q. Rumors abound so why not put them to rest: are you and Matt an item?

A. [smiles nervously] Yeah… [squirms] You know I can't stand the thought that it may detract from my work. You know the thought of people thinking "Oh, that's really good because they're in love with each other." I've been trying to play it down an enormous emount, but there comes a point where you really can't.

Q. What about the role of looks in Hollywood? How did you get your first big break in Circle of Friends playing an awkward, unattractive character?

A. Solely through the vision of director Pat O'Connor. I was definitely not the ostensible right actress for the part physically, but he really saw I had the capability as an actor. It's in the job description that you can present yourself as something else. In Hollywood, if the part is written as 5'6" and blond, unless you're Nicole Kidman or Julia Roberts, they will not see you. They will say "You're physically wrong for the role" instead of thinking that you can transform or deliberately characterize a part.

Q. Do you have any desire to work with women? In all your films, you're constantly surrounded by men…

A. Oh God, I'm so used to it. I'm very comfortable in the company of men. I went to a coeducational school where there was absolutely no division between boys and girls. I had it ingrained from a very early age that there was no difference. I'm dying to do films with women - actually, I find it strange to keep being cast as the object of men.

Q. So, what genre would you love to do at some point that doesn't have you as the romantic interest?

A. Actually, I just did a period film this summer called The Governess. But it's not exclusively romantic, and it's very twisted and it's really about someone just growing up. I also did an action film called Hard Rain coming out in January with Morgan Freeman and Christian Slater. That was my foray into the action genre - which I could probably live without.

Q. Is it important to you that your films do well commercially? What stops you from going out and making something dreadful like The Lost World?

A. Oh, I read for The Lost World - don't think I didn't! [laughing] Four women read for that part and I was right there next to Julianne Moore [laughing]. But only if it's something like that. There are just some movies that are just absurdly bad. I mean I read the script for Anaconda and was just laughing hysterically.

Q. But is there some point where you worry about commercial viability as well as artistic value?

A. Well, you'd like to be in a film that does both - Good Will Hunting, for instance, has the chance to make a good deal of money. You'd like the film to make money in the right way.

Q. Chris O'Donnell?

A. Oh God… [she squirms violently] Nightmare…

Q. Hollywood?

A. Nightmare

Q. English football?

A. My favorite.

Q. American football?

A. Loathsome.

Q. Stanley Tucci?

A. Extraordinarily talented.

Q. Being bypassed?

A. [laughs giddily] My past…

Q. Soap operas?

A. Potentially inspiring.

Q. Gus Van Sant?

A. The best.

Q. The Spice Girls

A. Oh God, the worst…

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