Matt Damon’s search for a Promised Land
Actor tackles environmental issues with Office star in his latest movie
Matt Damon flashes a naughty grin in a Beverly Hills hotel suite as he admits to seeing other writers besides Ben Affleck.
“We have an understanding,” says Damon, who shares a screenwriting Oscar with Affleck for their collaboration on Good Will Hunting.
His new script buddy is John Krasinski, who plays Jim Halpert in the NBC sitcom The Office.
When Krasinski hears about Damon’s thoughts on the subject a little later, he offers his own assessment: “If Matt and Ben are the bromance, then I am the mistress,” he says.
They are funny guys. Their movie is hardly a comedy, though. They wrote and star in Promised Land, which opens across Canada on Jan. 4.
In the drama, Damon plays a slick salesman for a global natural gas company who arrives in a small town with his pragmatic partner (Frances McDormand).
As they try to cajole the area farmers into signing over their drilling rights, an aggressive environmentalist (Krasinski) and a respected teacher (Hal Holbrook) warn the locals of the devastating impact caused from retrieving the natural gas through the fracking process (named for the deeply embedded hydraulic fracturing of rock by pressurized fluid).
Confrontations develop as the two sides bicker over the issue of commerce versus the environment.
“What we really wanted was to take a snapshot of the American identity because fracking is so polarizing right now,” Damon says of the potentially hazardous drilling method.
What Damon and Krasinski didn’t want was Promised Land coming across like a propaganda vehicle for the environmental side of the debate. “We didn’t want to have all the answers because that’s not what the film is about.”
Indeed, the original screenplay, written by Dave Eggers and Krasinski, dealt with wind farms, but was abandoned. Instead, Damon and Krasinski (Eggers had to drop out) started developing the film around the fracking controversy, which was starting to surface as a contentious concern.
After lots of script sessions at Damon’s house in Los Angeles — “John would show up on weekends” says Damon, “but he never did the kids’ diapers” — they sent their completed screenplay to the Oscar-winning McDormand, whose role was written especially for her. “When she said she was in, we knew we were on the right track,” recalls Damon.
With a ready-to-shoot screenplay in hand, Damon prepared to direct and star in the movie slated to be shot in the rural areas outside of Pittsburgh. That’s when reality hit him.
The actor had just completed consecutive movies, and he was finishing a gruelling promotional tour in mid-December last year for We Bought a Zoo. As timing would have it, he’d have to leave his wife and two young kids again in early January 2012 to start Promised Land preparations.
Shortly after that realization, he called Krasinski to tell him he had to withdraw as director. “It was a tough call to make,” says Damon, whose film funding counted on him directing. “I was telling John with one decision, we lost the director and the money to make the movie.”
Amazingly enough, it was Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant to the rescue a few days after, when Damon described the situation to him in an email.
“After I said I would direct, I thought maybe I should read the script,” says Van Sant, who had faith in Damon’s writing ability, as did the movie’s backers in Van Sant’s directing talents.
In fact, Damon continues to be impressed with how efficient Van Sant was; filming on a 30-day schedule with a budget of only $18 million U.S. The director also cut six weeks off of Promised Land’s post-production.
“We had 48 days and the same amount of money for Good Will Hunting,” reports Damon of his acclaimed 1997 indie movie.
In many ways, Damon rates Promised Land on the same level thematically.
“The movie asks a difficult question,” Damon says of his latest project. “Do you take your daughter to the whorehouse when times are tough?”
He’s less serious-minded about Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming HBO movie airing in May, Behind the Candelabra, which is about the life and times of Las Vegas performer Liberace.
Damon plays Liberace’s lover, Scott Thorson, who eventually filed a $113-million palimony suit against the ostentatious piano player, portrayed by Michael Douglas.
The story covers their clandestine relationship in the 1970s, which required some nudity and some Damon-Douglas kissing moments.
So what was it like to smooch with Douglas?
“Only Catherine and I know for sure, and we don’t kiss and tell,” says Damon, referring to Douglas’s wife, Catherine ZetaJones.
Damon says that he was puzzled by the recent suggestion that he would be co-starring with The Bourne Legacy star Jeremy Renner in a new Bourne movie.
“I don’t know about that,” says Damon who insists he won’t return to the franchise without his Bourne director Paul Greengrass.
“And it’s really a question of how do you bring the character back?” continues Damon of his Bourne spy who finally discovers his identity in 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum.
“Is there another movie that’s as good as the other three? If Paul (Greengrass) and I felt there was, we’d do it, but we just haven’t cracked it yet.”