In the 90s, brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax was the leading promoter of independent cinema. Before its founders fell out of favor thanks to #MeToo, this studio propelled the careers of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino or the duo formed by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. These two great friends wanted to be actors but were also aware of the enormous quality of the script they had written together. Its title was Good Will Hunting, and it would take more than twenty years for Affleck and Damon to write together again, for the recent The Last Duel.
Good Will Hunting proved to be a great success among critics and audiences alike, and earned Affleck and Damon the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but the truth is that its inception was difficult. Although everyone at Miramax was convinced that the quality of the script was indisputable, the producers weren’t sure that the writers could also play the lead roles, friends Will and Chuckie. Damon and Affleck weren’t popular enough, and Miramax was hell-bent on casting other actors. Luckily, as Affleck recalls during an interview for Entertainment Weekly, someone come to their aid.
Kevin Smith is a great friend of the duo and has collaborated with them on films such as Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. He then blindly trusted the talent of Affleck and Damon, and did everything possible to spread that trust to executives like Jonathan Gordon or the Weinstein themselves. “Kevin saved Good Will Hunting,” says Damon. “We were dead in the water. And we would’ve lost it. It would’ve been made with other people in it, and we’d still be really angry I’m sure.”
“We would have been the writers, but we wouldn’t have been the actors.” Affleck adds. “And the whole thing was we wanted to be actors. And he got it to Jon Gordon and got people to believe in it.”
Smith met with the producers and convinced them that Affleck and Damon would do a great job beyond writing. Affleck felt indebted to him ever since: “I promised him I would thank him if we ever got an Oscar and promptly forgot. And then I told him, ‘If I ever win again I swear to God I’m going to thank you.’ Forgot again. So I owe him very much, and he did that. He believed.” Affleck’s appreciation for Good Will Hunting also extends to the late Robin Williams, who played Will Hunting’s mentor in the film.
Affleck recalls thinking that Williams was to prestigious an actor at the time to be so close. “At the time, he was the biggest star in the world. He was leveraging an awful lot. [But] he never seemed condescending or worried or impatient. He just came into it with this collaborative spirit, embraced it. And it was more him going, ‘How was it? What do you think? I think we should do it again tomorrow. I’d be [like], ‘Robin, you did it 40 times. And they were all great!’” recalls Affleck, whose acting work has been highly praised in recent months thanks to The Tender Bar and the aforementioned The Last Duel.