This Famous Director Saved ‘Good Will Hunting’
Photo via View Eskew Productions
Good Will Hunting came out in 1997 and put actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on the map as Hollywood’s new golden boys. The movie made more than $200 million at the box office and earned the late great Robin Williams his only Academy Award.
It also apparently almost didn’t get made, according to its stars. Damon recently interviewed Affleck for a cover story in Entertainment Weekly, and the movie that put both actors on the map came up. There was a point where it wasn’t going anywhere, and Damon revealed that director Kevin Smith was the one that saved it.
“Kevin also saved Good Will Hunting,” Damon said. “This is not a small side note. He is the reason Good Will Hunting got made. We were dead in the water. All the offers had expired.”
“I promised him I would thank him if we ever got an Oscar and promptly forgot,” Affleck added. “And then I told him, ‘If I ever win again, I swear to God I’m going to thank you.’ Forgot again.”
Damon also credited Williams with helping the project get off the ground, as well as Francis Ford Coppola. But it was ultimately Smith who took the script personally to Harvey Weinstein, who historically loved the movie so much he put all his studio’s weight behind it.
Before they were movie stars, Damon and Affleck were old family friends (their mothers were both in education). As kids, they would talk about wanting to be actors and work summer jobs together to save money for audition trips. As the older one, Damon went to Harvard for a year and was assigned a final project for his drama class. He wrote a 40-page script that eventually became Good Will Hunting.
When Damon moved to Los Angeles, sleeping on couches, he worked his college project into a full-fledged movie-ready script with Affleck. The original movie was more of a thriller, but when it was picked up by Castle Rock (before Miramax), that studio wanted to focus more on the relationship between Damon and Williams.
It garnered nine Academy Award nominations in a year that year and competed with movies like Titanic and L.A. Confidential. Affleck and Damon won the Academy Award for best screenplay, becoming the youngest to do so.
“Ben and I talked about it recently,” Damon told Boston Magazine in 2013. “We were younger than we felt. I was 22 and Ben was 20 when we first started writing it. And then it came out when I was 27 and Ben was 25. I mean, Ben’s still the youngest writer to ever win an Oscar for screenwriting. I’d be the youngest if it weren’t for Ben. Fucking asshole.”
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