Matt Damon’s been doing the rounds to promote Stillwater (which recently premiered at Cannes), so we’re seeing assorted nuggets here and there, like Damon revealing that his daughter is afraid to watch Good Will Hunting because she fears that it “might be good.” This week, Damon appeared on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and he went a little further to discuss how his daughter enjoys roasting him. The Bourne star then pulled back the curtain on his experience with Jack Nicholson on the set of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, The Departed.
As Damon tells it, he learned a lot by watching the way that Nicholson works, and he’ll never forget how, the first time they rehearsed together, The Shining star declared, “You know, I never would have made it this far if I wasn’t a great f*cking writer.” Later on during the production, Damon realized how seriously he took that side-part of the job while going home at night and, while unable to sleep, coming up with additions to scenes that had been sparingly written for him. Here’s how one of those scenes expanded, although the full breadth of what Nicholson (wildly) wrote didn’t make it into the final cut.
“The scene was one-eighth of a page… It said, ‘Costello executes a man kneeling in the marsh.’ That’s all it said.” Damon told Maron while suggesting that a lot of actors would have looked at that for one day of shooting and maybe felt a sense of relief because it was a long movie, and they’d just go and get it done. However, “Jack was so excited and said [to me], ‘Wait until you hear what I did.'” Hmm. “He goes, ‘Well, it was an eighth of a page,’ and he goes, ‘I’ve seen that before, so what I did is I made it a woman… and I put Ray [Winston] in the scene with me.'” Oh, that wasn’t all, not by a long shot. Damon continued with this telling anecdote:
He goes, “We’re gonna keep in this same shot, I’m not gonna add any time or money to the schedule. But I shoot her in the back of the head, and she falls over. Now, you could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, I turn to Ray and I say, ‘Geez, she fell funny.’ Now, that’s a very sinister line. It suggests that I’ve done this before. There’s a way that people fall.
“Now you could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, Ray reveals an axe that he’s holding behind his back. He’s gonna chop her up. So Ray starts to step forward…
“Now you could end the scene there, but if you leave the camera rolling, I say, ‘Wait, I think I wanna f*ck her again.’ Now that’s a very sinister line.”
At that point, Damon explained, “I’m like, ‘Jesus.'” And Nicholson continued:
“You could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, Ray gives me a look and after a long pause, I go, ‘Ahhhhh!’ Like I’ve got him. Now, you could keep the camera rolling, Ray says to me, ‘Francis, you really ought to see somebody.'”
Oh boy. As Damon sees it, Nicholson’s additions only added one minute to the production time, and these rewrites didn’t cost producers any more money. And obviously, not all of this made it into the movie because “what ended up being in the movie, I think, was he shoots her, he says, ‘Geez, she fell funny,’ and [Ray] says, ‘You really ought to see somebody.'” Still, there’s a lot of additional (and disturbing, and absurd) emotional breadth to what Nicholson added. This resonates in an unspoken way, especially if one were to, say, go rewatch the movie while imagining Marty’s face after seeing these Nicholson rewrites. You know the assignment… enjoy!
(Via WTF with Marc Maron)