Oscars: Matt Damon on the Financial Risks of Making 'Manchester by the Sea,' Advice for Host (and Frenemy) Jimmy Kimmel

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Matt Damon, with producer Kimberly Steward, says the film was sunk until she stepped in: "We were dead in the water."

"I just want him to live up to my extremely low expectations," Damon jokes as he also shares his thoughts on attending the ceremony as a producer as opposed to an actor.

In his career, Matt Damon has earned Oscar noms for lead actor (Good Will Hunting, The Martian), supporting actor (Invictus) and has won one for original screenplay with Ben Affleck (Hunting).

But with Manchester by the Sea, the 46-year-old has his first producing nomination, along with Kimberly Steward, Kevin Walsh, Lauren Beck and Chris Moore, for a film he once planned to direct and star in. Damon spoke with THR about making the movie on budget, how the awards have changed since his 1998 win and why Ben Affleck always will choose him over Jimmy Kimmel.

How did you first get involved with the project?

John Krasinski had this idea and talked to me about it over dinner. We decided I would direct and he would act. I had done a play of [Kenneth Lonergan's] in London in 2002, so we pitched it to him [to write]. He loved the idea but was busy, so we had to go to the back of the line. That was fine because Kenny wanted to do it. A few years later this script arrived. It was rough, it was long, it was meandering, and it was absolutely brilliant. His next draft was essentially the one we ended up shooting. At that point, I had this heart-to-heart with Kenny and said: "You have to direct this. This clearly got its claws into you. Why don't I star and you direct?" Then, because of my schedule, we had to push, and I didn't have an opening for another two years. Kenny was ready to go, so we decided on Casey Affleck to star.

What was the tipping point in getting Manchester by the Sea made?

When Kimberly Steward came on with the financing. When we started looking at setting it up with Casey, WME said, "Look, where Casey is right now in the business, you can only get X and you need Y to make the movie." And they were right. Everybody we went to, it was just as they laid out — not enough money to make the movie we wanted. We were dead in the water. Then Kimberly arrived on the scene. She's making movies with auteurs, and this was her first big gamble. To bankroll this movie at $9 million in today's market was a big risk, but she fought through all of that because she really believed in what it could be.

How has the Oscar-going experience changed over the years?

With Good Will Hunting, that was kind of the start of campaigning. I went through that experience and then didn't go again for years. Then I was nominated as a supporting actor but didn't really participate a lot. Then, last year with The Martian, I ended up at a bunch of these cocktail parties and it was just so grotesque. It had been accepted that there was a whole season and we all were expected to treat it almost like a political campaign. It felt like it had gotten out of control. It seemed like that Harvey Weinstein, full-court press [worked]. Now I'm wondering if those days are over. I certainly hope they are.

Do you have any advice for host Jimmy Kimmel?

Evidently, he said that he doesn't care at all who wins as long as I lose. I tried to get on his Oscar show last year. I mean, I was nominated; he still didn't let me on. Somebody asked me, "Do [you] want him to do bad?" I just want him to live up to my extremely low expectations.

Ben Affleck went on his show recently. Have you asked Ben to choose between you and Jimmy?

No, it's just self-evident whom he's chosen. I mean, I know he had the fling with Jimmy — they made the music video together and they had some good times — but I've been there for 37 years.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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