Good Will Hunting: An Oral History: Online Extra
Photo courtesy of Miramax
Magazine stories, like films, often end up with a lot left on the cutting room floor. Here are some additional juicy moments from our conversations with the cast and crew of Good Will Hunting, where they talk about getting the Red Sox footage into an R-rated film, how they stole the film’s title from a friend, and their ongoing beef with Mindy Kaling.
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon actually didn’t have a title for their movie until they started pitching it around Hollywood.
Ben Affleck: The title is written not by either of us but by a friend of ours named Derrick Bridgeman, who we went to high school with. We couldn’t come up with a title. Matt wanted to call the character Nate. I never liked the name Nate, but we didn’t have another name and I just thought like We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And when it came down to selling the movie, we still didn’t have a title. And our friend Derrick had written a script of his own called Good Will Hunting about a black kid in Roxbury who had a white woman photographer who takes his picture and then the picture becomes famous. She wins the Pulitzer and then it becomes a famous thing, and then at the anniversary exhibition of her work, the kid shows back up. Anyway, we loved the title and finally we were like “Derrick, can we use your title? We’re putting the movie on the market and if we sell it we’ll give you $10,000.” He was like “Yes!” and we forgot all about it and later on after we sell the movie—the first phone call after it came out in the news—was from Derrick being like “I’m coming to L.A.!” So Derek came out and we wrote him a check even before we had our check. And he got a part in the movie. He plays one of the students at Stellan’s MIT class who asks the question.
Damon, Affleck, and actors Casey Affleck and Cole Hauser all lived in a four-bedroom apartment in Southie while they filmed the movie.
Missy Stewart (production designer): South Boston adopted the whole crew in a way that was so beautiful. It was before the paparazzi. We were sort of left alone and we did our work and we became a part of that neighborhood. Wherever we went, they knew us. We would talk about what would make it more Boston. Gus made a good point when we were casting extras and all the small roles that we really needed people with Boston accents. They couldn’t fake that.
Dorothy Aufiero (Boston production supervisor): I have a very strong accent, and I do remember I was on the tech scout, and at one point, Gus Van Sant was behind me. He was mimicking me. He was muttering to himself in my accent. He was intrigued by it; it was endearing.
Damon: Ben and I and Casey and Cole Hauser rented a place in South Boston and it was great. Nobody knew who we were, we just went to work every day.
Aufiero: One of the jobs that fell on me was trying to find a place for Matt, Ben, Casey, and Cole. I ended up getting them a really nice four-bedroom condo right near Castle Island. I remember there were a few antiques around the place. I asked them: “What do you guys think?” And Casey was like, “I don’t know. There’s some really nice stuff in there, what happens if anything breaks?” That shows these are the type of guys they are.
Affleck: We were all living together, and Matt hooked up with Minnie [Driver], and she ended up dating Matt. I was still with my high school girlfriend Cheyenne, who went to Brookline High, and she and Minnie kind of made friends and hung out, and we had a nice time. We would work all day and come home, stay up late talking about it, flushed with excitement of what we were doing. We were just stupid enough to think that people might see the movie and might like it, and to wonder about what that would do for us, for our careers.
At the time of Good Will Hunting’s release, Major League Baseball did not allow their footage or logos to be featured in R-rated films. In order to make the film authentic, producers Su Armstrong and Chris Moore worked to convince the Red Sox corporate office to allow the characters to wear Red Sox gear and use the clip of Carlton Fisk’s home run in the film.
Su Armstrong (executive producer): They wanted to get a Boston Red Sox scene in the movie. But there was a caveat with Major League Baseball that they would not authorize an approval of the merchandise or logo in a film that was R-rated. And with an R-rated movie, the rule of thumb is “three ‘fucks’ and you’re an R.” You could rip someone’s head off, but you couldn’t say ‘fuck’ three times. So we were trying to doctor the script to take out all the ‘fucks.’ We were like “Look, this is the vernacular of Boston.”
Chris Moore (co-producer): I spent hours with different people inside the Red Sox organization showing them footage, inviting them to the set. I said “It’s totally insane not to show this scene where Carlton Fisk hit the home run, you gotta let us do it. Look, once you see a cut of the movie, we can cut the scene out. And we can cover up all of the Red Sox logos that show up all over the fucking movie.” It would have cost us a ridiculous amount of money, but I give Harvey [Weinstein] credit. He went ahead and let us shoot it all knowing that he might have to pay visual effects to cover up all of the Red Sox stuff.
Signing Robin Williams to play the role of therapist Sean Maguire was the lynchpin for getting Good Will Hunting made. But being on set with Williams meant dealing with his antics…and sitting through dozens of takes.
Stellan Skarsgard (Gerald Lambeau): Gus Van Sant casts who he trusts. And then he gives the actors space to grow. And the way he puts the material together is brilliant, of course. The material he had after shooting Good Will Hunting, he could have, especially with Robin Williams, made him into an absolutely farcical character. Or something really dark and sad. So basically the mixture that you see is from the editing. And that goes for all the characters, it’s the director’s choice.
Gus Van Sant (director): Matt’s pretty easy with decision making. He can just do one take and if he thinks that you’re happy with it and you say you are, he’s just willing to go on to the next scene. Ben was a little more nervous about walking away from a scene without trying it a few times. Robin was the most nervous about walking away. Robin would need at least seven takes. Because I think, for him, he wanted to make sure you had choices of a humorous one, a serious one, different colors in each take.
Robin Williams (Sean Maguire): The process was so easy. That’s how Gus shoots, and it’s also the way the camera is so non-invasive you just forget it’s there. He watches, he sits by the camera, which is kind of old-school, I don’t think he uses video playback very much, which was wonderful. He sits there and is literally almost part of every scene.
Van Sant: Each scene that we shot we would do the whole scene from beginning to end from whatever angle we had chosen, and sometimes the camera was moving, so we would have to walk it out. In order for the camera crew to actually accomplish that, the actors had to play the scene without us shooting it. It was important to get the timing of the lines in sync with the camera. So when we did that, Robin would do his character not as Sean, but other characters instead, like he would do it as Janet Reno. And then Matt was spurred to do his character as something else. So he would pick like Donald Duck or something. So we’d have Donald Duck talking to Janet Reno in lines from Good Will Hunting. But for whatever silly reason, we never actually rolled on those. I should have rolled on every one of them, because I would have had all of Matt and Robin’s scenes as these characters.
One of the film’s most famous scenes, the moment where Will’s character asks the Harvard grad student “Do you like apples?” was actually cut from the first edit of the film.
Ben Affleck: Gus cut it out of the first cut. So we saw the movie and it wasn’t in. And I remember going, “Gus, at least let an audience see it. I think it will play.” And it was just one of those things where when you’re in the quiet of an editing room it’s hard to tell what things have impact. So he screened it and it ended up being in the movie.
Both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were proud of their film, but neither anticipated the response it would get after it was screened with an audience—or how things would play out in the wake of the film’s release. Both Damon and Affleck found that fans conflated them with their onscreen personas, and when Oscar nominations were announced, they faced rumors that suggested they hadn’t written the script.
Damon: It wasn’t until I saw the film that it occurred to me that it could be perceived that I did more work on the movie than Ben. I remember I was home watching “Saturday Night Live” and they had me and Ben depicted and for a second, I was thrilled. I was like “Oh my god, this is it. We made it. We’re characters on Saturday Night Live.” But they were depicting Ben as a Neanderthal, and me as a really smart guy. And I’m like, Guys, that’s the movie. So, I mean, that stuff had to be really hurtful for him because it’s completely untrue.
Affleck: It took a while for me to realize that people conflated us with our characters. I’ve had people say “Wow, you’re pretty smart,” as if they expected this real sort of dummy, a guy who was even less intelligent than Chuckie, who I actually think is kind of a smart character, just not in a traditional sense. So it was a double-edged sword. The movie landed in such a pronounced way that the only impressions that people had of us were from the movie. They didn’t have any real life things to counter that with. And that probably didn’t do me a lot of service going forward over the next six or seven years.
Damon: Mixed up in the Oscars thing were rumors that we didn’t write the screenplay. I mean, one of the camps of another nominated screenplay started a rumor about us the week that the ballots went out. And I was so upset. I remember my publicist called me and said “You have to do an interview about this,” and I said, “No, no. I refuse to do an interview about this. I said they didn’t ask Woody Allen if he wrote a screenplay.” That’s insane.
Affleck: The kind of ugly thing that happens when studios jockey for their horses around the award season. I remember that right when the Oscars came up, there were a series of rumors. I think we got more worried about that than we should have.
Su Armstrong: There are so many people who still say, “Did they write the script?” And I categorically say “Yes they wrote the script.” The script was on Ben’s computer, and we’re talking 15 years ago, and his screen had smashed so he couldn’t see anything. It was quite a dilemma to find a computer technician to get the files off the computer to make amendments. I can assure everybody that it was nowhere else but on Ben’s computer.
Matt Damon: Even later, I just remember somebody telling me that the premise of [Mindy Kaling and Brenda Wither’s play, Matt and Ben] is that the screenplay falls out of the sky. And I just remember thinking, Well, just fuck everybody.
The commercial success of the film, coupled with its two Oscar wins (for best original screenplay and best supporting actor) helped launch the careers of Affleck and Damon.
Gus Van Sant: I thought that people were going to really like it, but except for the usually lottery ticket hopes I wasn’t saying to myself, “Oh this is definitely going to be an Oscar film.” Because I had made so many films that had never really garnered any attention from the Oscars.
Missy Stewart: We all went to the Oscars, which was the first time for all of us. You know it was just nuts. It was really nuts. And I knew we were up against the big boat. I remember because Celine Dion played this giant music number from Titanic. It was an amazing lineup that year, with Titanic and L.A. Confidential.
Damon: When we were shooting Good Will Hunting, the Oscars were on. And Gus came over, and we filled out all the predictions and had a pool. We were sitting there drinking beers, watching the Oscars, and Robin didn’t come over because he was calling Billy Crystal backstage to give him joke ideas. We went from that to the next year, we were in the front row, and Billy sang a song about us in his opening. It was like: “Ben and Matt, Matt and Ben.” I just remember feeling like it was completely surreal. It was beyond.
Affleck: I remember talking with Gus about success, and he was like, “Well, the thing with fame is that once it happens, you can’t undo it.” And I never forgot that. And it proved to be not only literally true but also kind of prescient and profound.
Damon: There was so much from that time that I think it took me years to process. It just took a long time for my subconscious to grind through it all. The entire world changed for me, the way the world and I interacted completely changed. There’s no other way to describe it. And there would be no way to prepare for it. So I feel like I was probably in some stage of semi-shock…like literally a traumatized state. A shrink would probably be able to label it better.
Correction 1/2/2013, 7:20 p.m.: Regarding the Red Sox film clip, the home run was by Carlton Fisk. We regret the error.
Correction 1/3/2013, 4:30 p.m.: Regarding Major League Baseball’s policy on footage and logos featured in R-rated films, this existed at the time of the film’s release, not prior. We regret the error.