From director Gus Van Sant, the small town drama Promised Land tells the story of Steve Butler (Matt Damon), a corporate salesman who has been dispatched to the rural town of McKinley with his sales partner (Frances McDormand) to see if the two can get the citizens to sign over the drilling rights to their properties. But, when an environmental activist (John Krasinski) arrives in town, the residents start to question what’s best for themselves and their community. For more on Promised Land, here are seven clips and the trailer.
At the film’s press day, actor Matt Damon talked about how quickly they shot the film, having a rough cut done four weeks ahead of schedule, how he came to collaborate on the script with Krasinski, their process for writing together, working with McDormand, what made Van Sant the right director when he decided he wouldn’t be able to take that on himself, and why this was an important story for him to tell. He also talked about kissing Michael Douglas in Behind the Candelabra, an HBO movie about the relationship between Liberace and his younger live-in lover, and whether he’d ever consider returning to the role of Jason Bourne. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MATT DAMON: It’s funny, we’re an $18 million movie, going out against The Hobbit. We’re like, “Yeah, we’re cool. We’ve got this! What else is coming out? Zero Dark Thirty? That’s not going to be a big deal!” We started shooting it in April, and (director) Gus [Van Sant] shaved six weeks off the post-production, just because he could. He’s so experienced. I think Focus was originally leaning towards bringing it out next year, just because they wanted to give Gus time. But, he showed them a rough cut of the movie, four weeks ahead of schedule, just ‘cause he was done. He said, “Listen, I’d just like to get your notes now, so I can keep working,” so it was just really accelerated.
We shot the whole thing in 30 days versus Good Will Hunting, which was exactly the same size budget, but we had 48 days. We were talking about it on the set and laughing about how much time they used to give us to make movies, and we felt really rushed. Now, it’s 30 days. This script is structured really similarly, in that there are a lot of five-page dialogue scenes. On Good Will Hunting, we went over budget on film because Robin [Williams] liked to do a lot of takes. We had the time, so we would just do a lot of takes. With this, Gus is 15 years down the road, in terms of his experience, and he doesn’t shoot as much coverage. He goes, “I’m going to be here for this moment, so let’s do that.” So, you do a few takes, and then he’s like, “Okay, we’ve got that.” It felt like we had 48 days. It was a luxurious, relaxed pace that we were moving at. That’s the kind of energy that Gus puts off, all the time, so it was really great. By the second day, we started pulling stuff up in the schedule because we were so far ahead.
DAMON: Well, John had this idea and brought it to Dave, ‘cause they had done Away We Go together, and they started kicking around stuff. But, Dave is one of the most prolific writers and he had a book that he had to go write, so he left very early on, in the process. I’m a big fan of Dave Eggers. So, John came to me with this idea. We had befriended each other when I worked with (his wife) Emily [Blunt] on The Adjustment Bureau, so we started to go out to dinner, just as couples. My wife and I just really hit it off with them, so we started seeing them a lot and John and I would talk.
John reminded me of George Clooney, really early on, when I met him. Everyone knew George as the guy from E.R., and that’s really the way people viewed him. But, when [Steven] Soderbergh worked with him on Out of Sight, he immediately formed a company with him. Everyone in L.A. was like, “Why is Steven Soderbergh forming a company with the guy from E.R.?!” They couldn’t understand it. But, anybody who really knew George knew that he wasn’t just the guy from E.R. He’s phenomenally talented and can do all these different things. And that’s how I feel about John. He’s a great writer and producer, and he’s directed a movie. The breadth and scope of his talent is pretty vast and impressive. I immediately started trying to find stuff that we could do together, and then he suggested this, so I said, “All right, let’s take a crack at it.” He was doing the show (The Office) and I was doing We Bought A Zoo, and he just started showing up to my house on weekends. He’d show up with breakfast and we’d eat and then start working. We’d work all day Saturday, and then have dinner. He’d help with the kids. I don’t think he did diapers, but he definitely had kids crawling all over him. He was like, “If you walked into the room and saw what was happening, you’d go, ‘There’s no way a script is going to come out of this!’”
How did you actually get a script done, with all those distractions?
DAMON: I’ve gotten much better at multi-tasking. It’s hard, though. But, writing a script is not totally focused. You’re taking little breaks, all the time. If a kid runs in, you give ‘em a horsey ride, and then you’re like, “Okay, what we’ll say is this . . .” It’s a pretty fluid process. So, during those weekends we’d write, and then we’d go back to our day jobs and revise, mark up the margins and make notes, so that we’d be ready, five days later, to get back together and start putting that stuff in. It took shape really quickly and it was clear, pretty early on, that we were really going to do it.
DAMON: For a little bit, we had the same Word document, and then we were like, “This is a total disaster because I’m putting changes in on mine and you’re putting changes in on yours. This is too confusing!” So, John was like, “I’ll just keep it.” I would hand write my notes, and then we’d get together on Saturday morning and he’d open his laptop, and we’d do it that way.
What was it like to work with Frances McDormand on this?
DAMON: She played my mom in a TNT movie in 1994, called The Good Old Boys, that Tommy Lee Jones directed. That’s where I met her, and that was 18 years ago. I’ve kept in touch with her, over the years, and she was who we were writing that part for. She saw one of the first drafts. She was actually one of the first people who saw the script. I showed Ben Affleck and a few friends an early draft, and John showed a few friends, including Aaron Sorkin, and they were really positive about it. So, we said, “Let’s give it to Fran and see what she says.” She lives right near me in New York, so I called her and said, “I have a script I’d like to email to you.” And she said, “Don’t email it. I’m old school. I want a hard copy.” So, I printed one out and walked it over and dropped it at her apartment building, like the old days, and then waited. She read it really quickly and emailed us and was like, “I’m in! I love it! I love the character, I love the writing, and I’m in.” At that time, I was going to direct it, and that was part of the deal. It was a real wonderful thing, just to talk to her about it. John and I were both like, “Okay, we’re on the right track here.”
DAMON: Well, Gus is, without question, a better director than me. I decided that I wasn’t going to direct it on December 15th of last year. That was my last day of work. The Neill Blomkamp movie (Elysium) that I was on went over. I had been away from my kids, and then I got back and had to do a really intense week or two of press for We Bought A Zoo. On December 15th, my last thing was The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and I finished it and got home and my year was over. I looked at the calendar and realized that, to get the movie out this year, I had to go into pre-production on January 2nd. I just couldn’t leave the kids again. So, I had to call John, which was horrible.
We produced it together, and he was like, “Well, couldn’t you have told me this a month ago? It’s December 15th. We can’t even get our agent on the phone right now, let alone a director.” The other thing was that Warner Bros. had given us the money. They were backing the movie because of me, because I have a deal there. This obviously isn’t a Warner Bros. movie. It’s a much smaller movie, but they were just doing it out of support, which was really great of them. But, I knew the second I told them that I wasn’t going to direct it, they were going to bail, which they did. They very politely said, “You’re really the reason we were backing it. This isn’t really what we do.”
And so, I lost us a director and our money, but it was the right decision and I said that to John. I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know this is the right decision. Our script is good, and there’s going to be a great director. I know there will be someone who wants to do it. Look at the script. You know it’s good.” And he was like, “Whatever, man!” And then, the next morning, I was leaving to go to Florida with my family and I was sitting on the plane, feeling horrible. I emailed Gus [Van Sant] and told him everything that had happened, and he emailed me back, right before we had to switch our phones off. He said, “I love your writing. I’d love to read it.” At that point, it was what they officially call the Alec Baldwin moment. The flight attendant was like, “Turn that fucking thing off, or I’m going to come and take it from you!” So, I forwarded it to Gus from my Blackberry, as fast as I could, and then switched it off.
DAMON: We had been talking about American identity and this moment, with where we are in America, right now. We wanted to take a snapshot of that. This was a perfect issue to use as a backdrop because the stakes are so high, because it’s so polarizing and because people do have to engage in this issue. It’s real and it’s here. It was the perfect way to show the human cost of something like this. Ultimately, it’s a pro-community, pro-democracy story. If there’s a message, that’s it. And we wanted to end it with some hope. It’s going to sound weird, but when I heard Bruce Springsteen’s album, Wrecking Ball, it’s basically the arc of this movie. It really is the same idea. That was one of the ideas we really wanted to use his song somewhere, so we got “Dancing in the Dark,” which is one of his funner songs. That’s the right kind of guy to be using. He’s spent his career singing about these kinds of towns and these kinds of people. There’s also a book that Jeff Sachs wrote, called The Price of Civilization, that we’d read. That was the academic expression of this idea, Bruce Springsteen’s was the musical expression of this idea, and Promised Land is the movie version.
Where do you think this is all going to go now?
DAMON: It’s such a great thing to use as a backdrop for this idea of these decisions that we make, and short-term versus long-term thinking. We don’t know where it’s going to end. What is the rate of the methane leakage? They don’t know. That’s the gamble. You have people on one side saying, “We need this. This is going to be a boon for everybody. This is great!” And then, people on the other side go, “I know this is a lifeline to some people and some people are getting rich and hanging onto their farms, but do you take your daughters to the whore house when times are tough?” So, the question is the science. I’m waiting to see what the science says because the jury is still out. But, if you talk to some of the families who have been affected, and the politicians and land men, there are people who claim that it’s absolutely ruined their lives and then there are people who say that they’re millionaires and are really happy.
DAMON: Yeah, at the outset. Very early on, when we were talking about it, we had heard about a subsidy play that was going on around wind turbines and that there were these fly-by-night companies that were erecting wind turbines because, by the letter of the law, they didn’t have to work. Each one would net a profit of a quarter of a million bucks, and it was just a straight state and federal subsidy play. We heard about that and thought it was a really interesting place to set this idea of a guy going to a town and the town being savvy enough. We’d heard that these farmers knew that this was all a hoax, but they were essentially agreeing to erect towers of junk on their lawns and in their fields, in order to hang onto their farms. The Faustian bargain was that they basically had an eyesore on their farms. The problem was that, when we got up there, we found out that wasn’t true, at all. These wind farms were working really, really well. We met a bunch of the guys who were employed and working on the things, and it had saved the town. It was lucky for us, it turned out, because it led us to natural gas. We had set out to make this movie about this moment in America, and it was a human story, which is what we were interested in. We didn’t want to do an issue movie. With natural gas, the stakes are so unbelievably high and it was so much better for the story that we wanted to tell.
DAMON: It’s coming out in May on HBO. I’m really excited! It was great. I’m very, very proud of it.
How was it to kiss Michael Douglas?
DAMON: You know, there’s only a few of us who know. Catherine [Zeta-Jones] and I don’t kiss and tell.
Any chance of you returning to Jason Bourne?
DAMON: If someone wrote a good script, I would consider revisiting it. I’m just tied to Paul Greengrass, so if they could ever figure out a story, I’d consider it. That’s why we didn’t do it the last time. They hadn’t cracked one for my character, so they did one with Jeremy [Renner].