Ottawa Citizen

Matt Da­mon’s search for a Promised Land

Ac­tor tack­les en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues with Of­fice star in his lat­est movie

- BOB THOMPSON

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.”

 ?? ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ/GETTY IM­AGES ?? Ac­tors Matt Da­mon and John Krasin­ski are funny guys — but their new film about a slick sales­man, Promised Land, is hardly a com­edy.
ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ/GETTY IM­AGES Ac­tors Matt Da­mon and John Krasin­ski are funny guys — but their new film about a slick sales­man, Promised Land, is hardly a com­edy.

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