There used to be a rumor that William Goldman was the true screenwriter behind Good Will Hunting, rather than Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who won an Oscar for that script. As Goldman himself put it in his denial of the rumor, “People don’t want to think those two cute guys wrote it.“ But it turns out Affleck and Damon actually had help from another film legend: Terrence Malick. Malick happens to be best friends with Affleck’s godfather, so Damon and Affleck visited the director in Boston while they were writing the film. Damon recalls:
“We had it in the script that my character and Minnie’s left together at the end of the movie. Terry didn’t read the script but we explained the whole story to him, and in the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.’ And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that ‘s better. He said it and he probably doesn’t even remember that he said it.”
Hit the jump for more quotes from Damon on the evolution of the Good Will Hunting script.
According to Damon, Malick cited his inspiration for the new ending from Italian cinema:
“[Malick] started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough. That’s where we come from. If you just leave that’s a big enough deal. It doesn’t have to build up to anything more.”
I’ve always liked the ending to Good Will Hunting, so it’s funny to hear that it was at one point much, much worse. In fact, the script benefited from the punch-up work of another legendary film director: Rob Reiner. Damon told Tom Shone [via Vulture]:
“The original script that we sold had this high concept thing where the government was trying to get Will. Rob Riener sat with us for script meeting and said ‘Why don’t you guys take all that stuff out?’ Wait a minute. We can do that? ‘Yeah its enough just to make the movie about these guys. That’s a really good movie. That’s what we really love about it. And we said ‘We thought there was this whole high concept thing.’ ‘No you don’t need any of that.’ “
Ironically enough, the most useless advice came from Gus Van Sant, the director of Good Will Hunting:
“At one point after Gus [Van Sant] became involved I was shooting The Rainmaker in Memphis and everyone came down for script meeting. Gus came down and said ‘I want to do a draft where Chucky, Ben’s character, dies on the construction site.’ And Ben and I were just mortified. ‘What are you talking about’ ‘I want him to get crushed like a bug.’ We said ‘Gus what are you talking about? You cant just fucking smush Ben. That’s a terrible idea.’ Gus said ‘No, I really want to see what would happen.’ So we did a whole new draft on weekends of The Rainmaker, when I wasn’t working, we would write, Ben and I did a whole draft, with a wake and everything. It was took a left turn and went into this other place. The scenes in a vacuum I thought were good, but we still didn’t like the idea, then Gus read it said ‘Okay, its a terrible idea let’s go back to what we had.’”
Fascinating. Good Will Hunting is already a very flawed movie (evidence below). I’d love to see this bizarro version where Damon is a spy, Affleck dies, and everything ends happily ever after.