Matt Damon Talks Directing Debut & Frances McDormand Joins Cast
Just a couple of months ago, we learned that Matt Damon was looking to get behind-the-camera for a future project that he co-wrote with with "The Office" and It's Complicated star John Krasinski, after developing the idea with author Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). Damon and Krasinski are also said to start in the untitled film about a salesman who arrives in a small town only to have his whole life called into question, and now The Business (via The Film Stage) has word that Almost Famous and Burn After Reading star Frances McDormand has also joined the cast of the gestating film. Read on!
Coincidentally enough, though Damon and McDormand have never worked together, each of them have worked with the Coen Brothers and Cameron Crowe independently. Damon was forthcoming about the actress' role in the film, but he was much more willing to talk about the filmmaking process and some of his thoughts about directing. First, the actor simply said:
"I just love the whole process of filmmaking and talking to actors and because I’m the writer also, I get to collaborate with these directors that I work with and I really enjoy the other side of the camera. I’m in front of the camera in the first one I’m directing. It turns out if you write, direct and act for free, you can get pretty good creative terms for your movie.”
But that's not the juiciest but of this fantastic interview with Damon. As an actor, he's been able to work with some of the finest directing talent around like Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg and plenty more, and that's been one of the greatest gifts an aspiring director can receive. To illustrate this point, Damon had a great story about a conversation he had with the late Anthony Minghella who directed him in The Talented Mr. Ripley. The actor recalls:
"Years ago, the first time I met with Anthony Minghella and we were talking about 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' and I was sitting and talking to him and I had just done 'Good Will Hunting' and 'The Rainmaker' and 'Saving Private Ryan' but none of them had come out and he started asking me all these questions about the directors. He started to ask about [Steven] Spielberg and [Francis Ford] Coppola and started to ask about Gus Van Sant and I was like giving him the one-eye I think because he just won like 100 Oscars for 'The English Patient.' He was the toast of the town and here he was asking about how these other guys worked.
He smiled and he said, 'You don’t know this yet but we all live on an island and we don’t get to visit each others islands. We just kind of make it up as we go along and that’s why I think actors make such good directors because you get to go to all these different islands. You get to see inside all these different processes and take what works for you and put it in your own process.' And so that made a lot of sense to me and so I’ve been thinking about these last twelve or thirteen years as a chance to apprentice myself to these incredible people and I’ve learned a bunch from each of them."
Even though filmmakers get a chance to watch each other's work every now and then, there's still no easy way to see how they actually direct their cast and crew to get the job done. An actor, especially one of Damon's stature, has worked with and sees firsthand how the magic happens. One thing Damon says that all the great directors seem to have one particular thing in common:
"They’re all highly collaborative and they know they understand it’s a dictatorship, albeit a benevolent dictatorship. So they will make the final decision. As a result, their egos, they’re not threatened at all by ideas. “In fact they are really solicitous of everybody they’ve hired, every department. An idea can come from anywhere and it’s about creating an environment where ideas can really get expressed and they can sit there and cherry pick which ones they think will work and which ones won’t. At the end of the day they’re the arbiters of taste. So they all come with a plan, but they’re completely willing to ditch it if a better one presents itself.”
So with nearly 20 years of big screen experience under his belt, Damon pretty much has the longest and best apprenticeship for which an aspiring filmmaker could ask. But with all that time observing, Damon seems to be ready to get behind the camera, but he knows there's pressure for his debut. He says, "I feel like there is more riding on this one then there will be on the second one that I direct because you only kind of get one chance to make a first impression, so that I think about a little bit, but again those aren’t thoughts that are necessarily helpful or that will make for a better movie.” For an actor of Damon's caliber, it's great to hear just how self-aware and even nervous he is about directing his fellow actors, not to mention staying in front of the camera with them simultaneously. Of course, if it turns out anywhere near as good as writing partner Ben Affleck's work on films like The Town, then he's got nothing to worry about.