In an alternate universe somewhere, Matt Damon is one of the richest human beings on the planet and the star of one of the highest grossing films in history. Now these two things are probably kind of true already, and actors pass on parts all the time that end up becoming very big deals. But Damon recently revealed one huge movie he turned down that had an unintended consequence to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars.
During a wide-ranging Q&A with GQ UK (via Indiewire) alongside his Ford v Ferrari co-star Christian Bale (related: that movie is great), Damon said that he was offered the Jake Sully role in Avatar by James Cameron, who was going to give him a hefty percentage of the profits:
“Jim Cameron offered me Avatar. And when he offered it to me, he goes, ‘Now, listen. I don’t need anybody. I don’t need a name for this, a named actor. If you don’t take this, I’m going to find an unknown actor and give it to him, because the movie doesn’t really need you. But if you take the part, I’ll give you ten per cent of…’ So, on the subject of money…”
Damon trailed off, but confirmed to GQ that he was going to be offered 10% of the gross of Avatar, which GQ then tallied up to total up to $250 million. Damon says he recounted the story to John Krasinski when the two were writing Promised Land (which Damon intended to direct), and the Office star had the perfect reaction:
“I told John Krasinski this story when we were writing Promised Land. We’re writing this movie about fracking. We’re writing in the kitchen and we’re on a break and I tell him the story and he goes, ‘What?’ And he stands up and he starts pacing in the kitchen. He goes, ‘OK. OK. OK. OK. OK.’ He goes, ‘If you had done that movie, nothing in your life would be different. Nothing in your life would be different at all. Except that, right now, we would be having this conversation in space.’”
A running joke throughout the Q&A is that Bale ended up taking a ton of parts that Damon passed on, like The Fighter and Rescue Dawn, but he says scheduling conflicts with The Bourne Ultimatum caused him to turn down Avatar. But Damon doesn’t necessarily regret losing out on the massive payday as much as he does the chance to work with James Cameron:
“I mean, the bigger thing still to this day, my bigger regret is – it would have caused a problem for Paul Greengrass and for all my friends on The Bourne Ultimatum, so I couldn’t do it – but Cameron said to me in the course of that conversation, ‘Well, you know, I’ve only made six movies.’ I didn’t realise that. He works so infrequently, but his movies, you know all of them. So it feels like he’s made more than he has. I realised in having to say no that I was probably passing on the chance to ever work with him. So that sucked and that’s still brutal. But my kids are all eating. I’m doing OK.”
So yeah, had Damon taken the Avatar role, he not only would have been rolling in the dough (again, even more than he is now), but he’d probably be busy shooting Avatar 2, Avatar 3, Avatar 4, and Avatar 5 with Cameron right now. So in truth, he turned down the chance to work with Cameron on six movies.
I suppose he’ll just have to comfort himself knowing he got to work with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh and Anthony Minghella and Gus van Sant and Christopher Nolan and Kenneth Lonergan and…