Robin Williams

How Robin Williams delivered the perfect ending to ‘Good Will Hunting’

The 1997 film Good Will Hunting, directed by Gus Van Sant, first arose as a college project that Matt Damon was writing for his playwriting class at Harvard. By the time it arrived in its final form, co-written with Damon’s friend Ben Affleck and starring none other than the legendary Robin Williams, it was starkly different and became one of the best films of the 1990s.

The film told of a young undiscovered genius, Will, who works as a janitor at MIT having recently been released from jail. When Will solves a challenging maths problem with ease, he arouses the attention of a professor at the school. However, Will is also plagued by the trauma of his past and focuses his life on drinking and fighting rather than fulfilling his potential.

Robin Williams’ character, the psychology teacher Sean Maguire, is tasked with helping Will with his inner problems and largely succeeds. It was Williams’ character who delivered one of the film’s most iconic moments right at its conclusion, when, after receiving a letter from Will saying he is turning down a lucrative job offer, he merely looks up and says, “Son of a bitch, he stole my line”.

Discussing the film’s end with Vanity Fair, Damon recently said: “Robin would open the door and come out and find the letter, and I was right next to Gus Van Sant, next to the camera. I would say – because we wanted [it to look like] Robin heard my voice – ‘Sean if the professor calls about that job, tell him I’m sorry. I had to go see about a girl.’ So I’d say that.”

He continued: “And what was scripted was that he just takes a moment and realises I’m gone. But in true Robin fashion, we did like 60 takes. We just left the camera rolling… and he did something different every single time. I remember when he said, ‘Son of a bitch, he stole my line,’ I grabbed Gus’s shoulders, and I felt him tense up. We both knew. We were like, ‘holy shit, what a line; how did we not think of that?’”

Williams showed his true genius and his ability to improvise during those final moments of the film, and it gave the movie the perfect ending. It’s unsurprising to hear Damon speak of both his and Gus Van Sant’s excitement when they watched Williams do what he does best, as they knew that he just couldn’t have performed a better line to bring Good Will Hunting to a close.

Damon concluded, “That was great. Obviously, the whole movie was leading to that line, and clearly, we thought this whole thing out.” Affleck then chimed in, sarcastically noting, “Just like we planned it.” While they might not have had that ending always in mind, the pair must have known that by getting someone like Williams on set, there was always going to be the added potential for magic to occur.

Ben Affleck & Matt Damon Reflect on Their Careers Together | Vanity Fair

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