Robin Williams

Robin Williams Had Matt Damon In Tears On The First Day Of Filming Good Will Hunting

“Good Will Hunting” is one of the greatest movies of the late ’90s, and that means something coming from me because I’m a complete nostalgic sucker for the movies of that decade. If you’re weary about trusting a stranger’s opinion on the internet, and I can’t blame you, the Academy agreed with me and gave the movie nine Oscar nominations. Not bad for a small film that was competing with “Titanic.”

So much about the film is good. The gritty way the characters talk to each other, the complex relationship between Will (Matt Damon) and his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck), and the bumpy ride we take with Will from a scared, closed-off kid to a man willing to forget his abusive past and embrace a loving future. Who doesn’t love watching the brooding bad boy blossom?

In an interview with Boston Magazine, Damon reveals he began working on the script in 1992, during his last year at Harvard. He would later recruit his friend, struggling actor Ben Affleck, to help him flesh it out. The script went through many revisions and the two unknown actors’ insistence that they play the lead roles didn’t help sell it. Although the writing was praised by producers and agents, it hung in limbo. Producer Chris Moore told Boston Magazine that superstar actor Robin Williams agreeing to do the film “was the linchpin for the movie getting made.”

Although most often associated with comedy, Williams already had a few serious roles under his belt before joining “Good Will Hunting,” like “Awakenings” and “Dead Poets Society,” and his portrayal of Sean would add another formidable weapon to the already well-stocked arsenal of the film.

And it was this casting that would lead to Matt Damon crying on the first day of filming.

On the rocks

Damon and Affleck worked on the script for years before they felt it was ready. Eventually, Castle Rock Entertainment bought it for $600,000, but wanted the original script rewritten. In that same interview, Damon recalls Rob Reiner explaining that the script actually included “two movies…and [they were] fighting each other.”

Along with the character-driven film, “Good Will Hunting” was blended with an “Enemy of the State”-type arc that had this genius kid hunted by the government for his smarts. Reiner told the guys they had to “pick one” of these stories. Luckily, Damon and Affleck had the good sense to drop that whole “government hunts boy genius thing” and focus on Will as a character.

When they were in the process of rewrites, the next obstacle was finding a director. Being young and ambitious, Damon and Affleck threw their inexperienced hats in the ring, and were met with blank stares from the studio executives. You can’t blame them for trying, after all — they were no name struggling actors who randomly decided to write a script and actually managed to sell it. I’m sure they were feeling pretty good about themselves at the time, but the studio wasn’t about to turn the project over to them completely.

Damon and Affleck grew tired of the constant rewrites and creative roadblocks at Castle Rock, so they began to look for other production companies. They reached out to Kevin Smith, director of “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy,” who passed the script on to Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. It floated in purgatory for a while. Mel Gibson even had the script for a couple months and considered directing it, but that wouldn’t lead anywhere, either. Eventually, Williams joined the cast and Damon proved himself leading man material in “The Rainmaker.” Once Weinstein felt like the project could actually succeed and earn some money, he hired Gus Van Sant, known for “My Own Private Idaho,” to direct the project.

In 1997, Five years after Damon started writing the film, shooting finally began on “Good Will Hunting.”

The first day

After years of rewriting and practicing scenes in their apartments, Damon and Affleck were finally going to see the world they built come to life. Understandably, the first day of shooting was an emotional one for them:

“…I remember we started crying, because it was a scene between Robin and Stellan [Skarsgård.] And when Gus called action and we watched these guys — I mean accomplished actors — do our scene verbatim, we had waited so long for this to happen. I remember just sitting next to Ben and I had tears rolling down my cheeks because I was just so happy and relieved that it was really happening.”

Affleck tells Boston Magazine he remembers the day a little differently, saying, “We tear[ed] up a little bit,” or maybe he’s just not as quick to admit he cried like a baby. Either way, the initial day of shooting was a big deal for both young men and having a legend like Robin Williams embody one of your characters must be a huge moment by itself.

Williams wasn’t shy about praising Damon and Affleck’s work. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he called the script “extraordinary” and a “gift.” He also questioned why such an amazing story took five years to get made. The actor loved the script so much he took a massive pay cut when he accepted the role. In the late ’90’s, Williams easily pulled $20 million for every movie he did, but he agreed to only $5 million for “Good Will Hunting.” When asked about this huge pay cut, Williams simply said:

“I had to…they would have made this movie without me…it’s too good not to be made.”

If a Hollywood star like Williams takes a huge salary cut because he is that much in love with your script, you know you’ve made it.

Although they obviously spent a large amount of time perfecting the script and the story, Damon and Affleck understood the power of Williams’ ability to enrich their world with his own humor and intelligence.

‘He stole my line’

“Good Will Hunting” has a lot of great lines — “How about them apples” and “My boy is wicked smart” are two of my personal favorites — but William’s portrayal of Sean is a goldmine of great lines. Most of them were written by Damon and Affleck, but the comedian added his own flair to two scenes in the movie.

During one of his court-mandated therapy sessions, Sean tells Will about his deceased wife’s nasty little habit of farting in her sleep. The whole thing was ad-libbed by Williams on the spot and it’s hilarious, earning wheezing laughs from Damon. At one point, you can even see some shaking of the image because the camera operator couldn’t contain his own amusement. Williams suavely transitions from sharing authentic laughter with Damon to a heartfelt moment where he explains the imperfections of those we love are what make them real, calling them “the good stuff.”

Williams also added a little something to the ending. Earlier in the movie, Sean recounts a time when he left his friends hanging to pursue the woman who would eventually become his wife. He remembers telling them, “Sorry, fellas, I got to go see about a girl.” At the end of the film, Will has finally decided that he deserves happiness, which leads him away from South Boston for the first time in his life to pursue the woman he loves in California. He leaves Sean a note explaining he’s going “to go see about a girl.” Williams looks up with a proud smile and says, “Son of a b****. He stole my line.”

Damon remembers doing several takes of the scene, the comedian saying something different every time. When Williams came up with the line that is in the movie, the actor remembers “…[grabbing] Gus. It was like a bolt, it was just one of those holy-s*** moments where, like, that’s it.”

And he was right. It was the line that would make the final cut.

Robin Williams was also right. “Good Will Hunting” probably would have been made with or without him, but it wouldn’t have been the same movie. I can’t imagine the film without fart jokes, sarcastic one-liners, and camera shakes. Like Sean explains about his wife, “these little idiosyncrasies” make William’s portrayal of Sean “the good stuff.”

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