“How do ya like them apples?” almost didn’t make the final cut of Good Will Hunting. Director Gus Van Sant left it out and when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck noticed the omission, Affleck was quick to plead, “Gus, at least let an audience see it. I think it will play.” And so he did and it did.
15 years ago today, Good Will Hunting was released in theaters. Affleck and Damon subsequently won Best Original Screenplay, Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor and the film was nominated for seven other Oscars, including Best Picture. They, along with director Gus Van Sant, producers and crew members, reminisce with Boston Magazine about their launching pad to fame.
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.
Damon conceived Good Will during his final year at Harvard. He then handed it off to Affleck and they continued to flesh out the script together. Their agent shopped it around and created a bidding war. Castle Rock Entertainment initially picked it up for $600,000. As exciting as this could possibly be for two struggling actors, Affleck and Damon intended to star in and direct the film and Castle Rock wasn’t willing to take the gamble. The studio gave them a limited window to find a buyer for the film, at a higher price. If they couldn’t, Castle Rock would retain the rights and move on without Affleck and Damon. Weinsteins to the rescue. They bought the script and eventually agreed to attach Van Sant to direct.
Van Sant: 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.
Still, it wasn’t until Williams signed on that the film really took off.
Williams: 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.
Once shooting began, it took just nine weeks to get the film in the can. Affleck nailed his monologue at the construction site on the first take, but couldn’t quite believe it was over.
Affleck: It was like a lot of things, where the buildup is bigger than the event itself, and the event is over pretty quickly. I had been thinking about the scene and how it was gonna play out, and then reading it out loud, and writing it, and rewriting it, and rehearsing it in my mind over years and years. It was just kinda like, “Is it over?” It’s just hard to almost internalize the fact that, okay, we’re going to wait four years, and it’s gonna be over in five seconds. Kind of like losing my virginity.
The film opened as a limited release that same year to qualify for the Oscars. As we know, it was nominated for nine awards and Damon and Affleck won for Best Screenplay – watch the clip here. Followed by Williams taking home Best Actor in a Supporting Role – watch the clip here.
The film changed Affleck and Damon’s young lives forever. 15 years later, they continue to have great success. Both are receiving critical praise for their work this year on Argo and Promised Land respectively, but Good Will will always hold a special place in their hearts.
Affleck: When I look at my own career, my life, and particularly directing, it’s all rooted in this experience. Realizing that the actors need to take responsibility for their performances, and that there is no right answer and that it’s just about discovering things. All that came from Gus.
Damon: I don’t think there could ever be another movie that I felt that way about. Because of what it meant for our lives, because of that time in our life. Another movie couldn’t occupy that much of my heart and soul at this point in my life. A movie could never change my life like that again.
The Good Will Hunting 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, featuring 90-minutes of new special features, including retrospective interviews with cast & crew, is now available. Pick up your copy today.
Read more about the cast and crew’s favorite scenes, in this related article from Boston Magazine.