Matt Damon Interview For ‘Promised Land’
Directed by two-time Academy Award nominee Gus Van Sant, ‘Promised Land’ is from an original screenplay written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, based on a story by Dave Eggers. Alongside Damon and Krasinski, the cast of ‘Promised Land’ includes Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Academy Award nominee Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild), Scoot McNairy (Monsters), Titus Welliver (The Town), and Academy Award winner Frances McDormand.
In the film, Matt Damon plays Steve Butler, a corporate salesman who arrives in a rural town with his sales partner, Sue Thomason (McDormand). With the town having been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, the two outsiders see the local citizens as likely to accept their company’s offer, for drilling rights to their properties, as much-needed relief. What seems like an easy job for the duo becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by another man (Krasinski) who counters Steve both personally and professionally. ‘Promised Land’ is released on December 28th in the US and April 19th in the UK.
For me, ‘Promised Land’ is very much an exploration of modern-day identity. It asks a lot about that identity and how values may have evolved or changed….?
Matt Damon: Yeah, we wanted to ask those sorts of questions. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been for all of us in the US, and for many places around the world. How would our parents or grandparents have handled what we face in our day and age? How are our grandchildren going to fare? Those are tough questions for anyone to deal with. I really hope people are moved by it, and recognise the people. It’s not meant to give you any answers, it’s actually just meant to catalyze some conversation and reflection. It really asks more questions than it answers. But they’re important questions, I think, that we all need to be asking right now. And I hope it’s entertaining, I hope people laugh, I hope people get choked up (laughs), I hope people love these characters as much as we do. I think it’s a relatable story with characters we all can recognize as people we know.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character in the story, Steve?
Matt Damon: Sure. My character, Steve Butler, he’s sort of a contemporary everyman. He left the farming community where he grew up because that town was dying and he migrated to the big city, as so many people do, in search of more opportunities. The story, it’s about a pair of salesmen who go into a town and how they’re changed by the town and how the town is changed by them. In a nut shell that’s kind of what it is. The plot follows Steve and Sue as they try to persuade the McKinley community to lease the drilling rights of their farmland to Global Crosspower Solutions, which Steve and Sue work for, and which – valued at $9 billion – is one of the largest energy corporations in the country. The townspeople have divergent opinions about whether this is a good thing or not. In a lot of cases, these leases are the only thing keeping a family farm from foreclosure. This is a complex issue that’s dividing a lot of communities right now. What better setting for us as storytellers to ask questions about who we are as Americans? Steve believes in what he’s doing, getting people to lease their land for potential gas wells, because he wants to keep communities afloat.
Aside from America’s natural gas industry and fracking, were there any other contemporary issues you looked at to use as a backdrop to explore the same themes and character studies?
Matt Damon: Yeah. We had talked about transposing the story and using a different kind of backdrop to use the same themes. We toyed with the idea of a mining versus salmon issue that John had heard about in Alaska, so we did some research on that, we talked about setting the whole thing there. And then John researched and came upon natural gas as a great way to kind of explore American identity – because the stakes are so unbelievably huge with that. We also looked at coal mining, oil drilling and wind energy.
How did you find the writing experience with John Krasinski?
Matt Damon: John has got this incredibly fast brain (laughs). So the writing would come quickly and we would laugh together. It reminded me of writing with Ben Affleck, a very similar feeling and above all else a lot of fun – I’d forgotten just how much. During the week, John and I would go back to our jobs and pore over what we’d written during our down-times, scribbling notes and ideas before reconvening on the weekend to revise and revise and revise. My wife said to me, “You had such a great time that even if it never gets made, it was worth it because you remembered how much you love writing and you had this incredible creative experience with John.” It was a lot of fun writing with John.
Frances McDormand jumped on board the project when it was an initial draft. How was it working with her?
Matt Damon: We had sent Fran the earliest draft of the script, when it was still a windmill movie, and she committed to it then. Aside from John and me, she’s been with the project the longest. Her performance as Sue is so layered and nuanced. The character is a single mother who is on the road a lot. After several years together as a team, she and Steve relate to each other like siblings; there’s a competitive element there, but you also see the affection and the fondness. Many times, I would be playing a scene with Fran and sense something strong happening. Then, watching the dailies, I could take the opportunity to see the distinctions in every single take she did. Fran is fantastic.
I understand there’s an interesting story on how Gus Van Sant joined the project to direct?
Matt Damon: Yeah, I was about to go on a plane for a family holiday. I just emailed Gus and I told him that I’d co-written something, and that I thought it was really great and I was going to direct it but I couldn’t for logistical reasons. He emailed me back like a minute later, just before they told us to turn off our phones (laughs), and he said, “I’d love to read what you’re writing.” So right there I sent him the whole document, right there on the runway. And we flew down to Florida and landed two and a half hours later, and when I turned my phone back on there was a message from Gus saying he wanted to direct the movie. That was pretty great!
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