Matt Damon talks ‘all-consuming’ ‘Promised Land’
Already an accomplished actor and an Oscar-winning screenwriter, Matt Damon was set to make “Promised Land” his directorial debut. Damon co-wrote the film with co-star John Krasinski, and he also serves as a producer. So maybe directing was one job title too many. “John and I joke that my best contribution as a producer was firing myself,” Damon says with a laugh.
Instead, producer Matt Damon hired his “Good Will Hunting” and “Gerry” boss, Gus Van Sant, to direct actor Matt Damon in the film. “I would’ve liked to have done it, of course, but I love working with Gus and I learned a ton,” he says. “I learned more this time because I had prepared it as a director, and so I saw all the things that he did that I was going to do, and then there were things that he did that I wasn’t going to do that I hadn’t thought of.”
Which isn’t to say that Van Sant’s vision for the film, about a natural gas huckster (Damon) suffering a crisis of conscience during a visit to a small town. “It is the full expression of this screenplay that we wrote. It is exactly what we wanted,” Damon insists. “When Gus came on to direct it, he’d think of things that just elevate the material.”
Aside from getting the chance to collaborate with Van Sant again, Damon had motivations closer to home to keep him out of the director’s chair. “The reason I didn’t direct this is because I finished a movie where the last six weeks of it were in Mexico and my kids had started school, and so I was commuting back and forth from Mexico City every two weeks or so, and I just had been away from them longer than they or I was comfortable with,” he remember. “I realized that I was going to have to go into pre-production two weeks after I got home, and I just said I can’t. It’s just too much. And so that was really why I bowed out.”
That still leaves a directorial debut in Damon’s future. “You got a project?” he asks, chuckling again. Damon says he finds himself where he was at the beginning of the “Promised Land” process, looking for the right sized film to take on. “Just a little movie about people. Like Ben did it with ‘Gone Baby Gone,’” he says. “You don’t want to take on too much the first time you do it. It’s an all-consuming job. Somebody like Gus or Soderbergh makes it look easy because they’ve been doing it for so long, but it’s really all-consuming.”