Good Will Hunting: An Oral History
Fifteen years after the release of the movie that made them stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck—along with the rest of the cast and crew—reflect in their own words on how a long-shot film by two unknowns became one of Hollywood’s biggest success stories.
Affleck: Kevin said, “I read it on the toilet, and I stayed on the toilet the whole time because I was so into the script.” We had a lead that Harvey might do it from Kevin, and then we just attacked. And he said yes, and it really felt like a miracle.
Damon: I still remember the phone call with Harvey. He had two notes on the script that were excellent, both very minor things. In one of his notes, he said, “I don’t like the chess thing”—there was a thing where Will played chess—“take that out.” And he goes, “And the blow jobs gotta come out, guys.” And we were like, “Okay, we found a home.”
Weinstein ended up buying the movie from Castle Rock for more than $1 million in 1995. Damon and Affleck started to meet with a new batch of potential directors, including Gus Van Sant.
Affleck: We met with Mel Gibson, and Braveheart had just come out, and was as hot as could be. But we hadn’t seen Braveheart and Harvey was like, “YOU HAVEN’T SEEN BRAVEHEART? FUCKING LIE TO HIM AND TELL HIM YOU LOVE BRAVEHEART.” So the first thing we said was, “We just want to tell you how much we loved Braveheart!”
Moore: Mel Gibson developed it for a few months. Matt at one point said directly to Gibson, “Look, man. We’re getting too old. If this keeps going by, Ben and I can’t play these parts. Is there any chance you’d just let it go?” And to Mel’s credit, he said, “I totally understand what you’re saying.” That was a real stand-up thing to do.
Gus Van Sant (director): I was in New York, and Miramax sent the script to the hotel. Usually when I read a script, after a few pages, I put it down—but this kept me going.
Moore: Gus was not as established as he is now, and so Harvey wasn’t jumping on the Gus bandwagon. It wasn’t because he didn’t believe that Gus could make a great movie, it’s just Harvey is a marketer and knew Mel Gibson is a lot different than having, you know, Gus Van Sant.
Van Sant: I got in touch with Ben Affleck because I knew [Ben’s brother] Casey—we did To Die For. Ben and I had a meeting at Denny’s on Sunset here in L.A.
Affleck: Denny’s was sort of normal for us. Where else would we go? We didn’t even have any frame of reference of what famous people were supposed to do.
Damon: At that point we moved back to Boston. But for a year, the movie didn’t get made because Gus and Harvey fell out over final cut. So we’re living in Davis Square, Gus Van Sant wants to do our movie, but we can’t do it. We’re pretty crestfallen at that point. Then Harvey put Lawrence Bender on the movie as a producer.
Van Sant: So Lawrence Bender became the super producer and all of a sudden I was just on it. Lawrence said, “Okay, you’re doing it.” And I was doing it. But the moment where Harvey really wanted to get the movie done was partly due to Matt being cast in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, by Francis Ford Coppola.
Whitesell: That was the period of time when Grisham was the biggest thing in Hollywood. It validated the fact that Matt was a leading man.
Damon: I sent Harvey a fax that literally said, “Dear Harvey, I am the Rainmaker.” He called me and he was like, “What does that mean?” He thought I was getting a lawyer or something. I was like, “No man, I got the Coppola movie, they cast me as the lead.” And Harvey goes, “THE GRISHAM MOVIE? THOSE THINGS MAKE $100 MILLION!”
Affleck: Matt told you the story about “I am the Rainmaker”? I can’t believe Matt would tell that story about himself. That is what happened, but Harvey didn’t then green-light the movie. I think he was buoyed by it, but Robin [Williams] really was the rainmaker.
Damon: Robin had just done Jack with Francis Ford Coppola. When he read the script and really liked it, his one question for Coppola was, “Who are these guys?”
Robin Williams (Sean Maguire): That used to be the joke, “I want to see some ID.” I read it and went, “This is really extraordinary.” The Sean character had such history that I was going, “Where did it come from?” I found out later that it’s based on Matt’s mother and Ben’s father, kind of a synthesis of the two.
Moore: Robin signing on definitely was the linchpin for the movie getting made.
After landing Robin Williams, the team spent a hectic few months in early 1997 scouting locations in Toronto and casting actors in New York. They rounded out their Southie foursome with Ben’s younger brother, Casey Affleck, and the actor Cole Hauser. While in Toronto, however, they realized that they would need to shoot some scenes in Boston to capture the city’s character.
Moore: The biggest role that we spent a lot of time casting was the Skylar role.
Lawrence Bender (producer): We were casting in New York, auditioning all these girls. And in walks Minnie Driver.