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Directed by Ridley Scott, and adapted from the novel by Eric Jager, The Last Duel is based on true events and follows knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) in 14th century France and his friend turned enemy Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) as they enter a trial by combat after the latter is accused of rape by Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer).
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Damon and Affleck, together with co-screenwriter Nicole Holofcener, speak in depth about the medieval drama, which marks a major reunion for the two men: their first writing collaboration in almost 25 years since their Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting.
“I think we just reacted to when we read the book, this woman, this heroic woman we’d never heard about, and [we thought], ‘How could you not make a movie about her?’,” says Damon. “And we had this idea about perspectives and thought that was also a really fertile territory to design a movie around.”
By perspectives, Damon is referring to how the film is broken up into three chapters, each tackling the events as they happened through the eyes of Carrouges, Le Gris and Marguerite. With this format, Affleck and Damon needed a female voice to carry this story and decided to team up with Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me) to take the lead on Marguerite’s perspective.
“I was very happy to be asked to join,” says Holofcener. “It was really fun coming up with stuff and getting rid of stuff and trying stuff. Her relationship with her mother-in-law was really fun for me to write. It was a horrible relationship, an abusive one and it was really sad. But the scene towards the end of the movie before the duel, that was really challenging, and we worked on that for quite awhile with Jodie to get that right.”
When it came to the writing, Affleck and Damon shared there wasn’t too much pressure trying to top their Oscar winning work on Good Will Hunting more than two decades later, joking that it was something they had “exploited” years ago when they filmed a Good Will Hunting 2 parody with Kevin Smith in the 2001 comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
“Kevin Smith soon after Good Will Hunting helped us with Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season,” says Damon. “So if you haven’t seen that we actually did do another Good Will Hunting,” with Affleck adding, “We exploited ourselves with that so we got over that [pressure] by exposure therapy.”
Meanwhile, when it came to casting the film, an epic Matt and Ben face-off could have almost happened, with Affleck initially considering the role of Le Gris, which eventually went to Adam Driver. However the two said they wanted to go a different route and Affleck instead took on the comic relief role of Count Pierre.
“It was already kind of jarring to see the haircuts,” Affleck notes. “Because the audience brings so much association they have with actors because of the increasing degree of familiarity, I think we thought people would be concerned that that baggage would be distracting if it was this Matt vs. Ben movie because we didn’t want people to be mindful of that.”
The duo also say that the opportunity to play opposing characters in a more lighthearted fashion on screen was more enjoyable to film.
Affleck jokes, “It’s a very heavy, intense movie, so you want to have time to breathe, and so it was nice to get the opportunity to torture Matt in those intermittent moments.”
Damon adds, “Also our characters despise each other so that was always fun [to shoot].”
Speaking to THR, the longtime friends also share some of their favorite performances of each other.
“Matt almost always causes me to forget that its him [that I’m watching]” Affleck notes. “[Whether] it’s Stillwater or a movie like The Good Shepherd, which I think is still one of my favorite performances of Matt because it’s so internal and constrained and subtle and contextual and nuanced.”
Meanwhile Damon adds that one of his favorite performances of Affleck is actually his role in The Last Duel. “I would definitely say the one in this movie is one of the best things Ben’s ever done,” Damon says. “Also there’s a movie he did last year called The Way Back, which I would strongly advise people to go check out. It’s a wonderful performance.”
The Last Duel is out now in theaters. Watch the video above for more of THR‘s interview with Damon and Affleck.
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Writers Guild of America