Matt Damon has been one of Hollywood’s most reliable actors at both the box office and with critics for decades now. As such, it is sometimes difficult to remember that both he and longtime friend and collaborator Ben Affleck seemed to come out of nowhere in the early 1990s to become superstars. But as is the case with all overnight successes, Good Will Hunting was the result of years of work that suddenly paid off in the public spotlight. As Matt Damon recently told Boston Magazine in an oral history of the hit film, when he and Affleck finally managed to find themselves on set in and in production of their years-long pipe dream, he broke down in tears in disbelief and amazement. Here is specifically what Damon said happened:
…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.
Ben Affleck has a slightly different version of events, in which he and Matt Damon simply got a bit emotional and misty-eyed but did not actually cry. Whether Affleck is too much of a big tough guy to admit that he cried on set or whether Damon is simply very emotionally available will have to be debated, but it must be a powerful thing to actually see your work begin to come to fruition. When you are seeing it performed by heavyweights like Stellan Skarsgård (playing the mathematics professor who discovers Will Hunting’s prodigious skills) and Robin Williams (playing his therapist in perhaps his very finest dramatic performance), the effect must be that much more intense.
Good Will Hunting would go on to become an unexpectedly enormous box office success, grossing $225 million off a tiny $10 million budget (half of which went to Robin Williams’ salary, which he drastically reduced in order to take the part). Perhaps as counter-programming to the massive success of James Cameron’s Titanic that same year, it managed to repeatedly draw in audiences by word of mouth. It also was critically praised and nominated for nine Academy Awards. Williams ended up winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck jointly won for Best Original Screenplay (which also made Affleck the youngest ever winner of the award). It currently holds a near-perfect 98% Critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have continued to work together throughout their career, although it is currently not known whether each of their collaborations causes Damon to break down in tears or if it was just the one time. It was recently announced that the two of them will star in a currently untitled film about the signing of the historical endorsement deal by Michael Jordan to Nike, which eventually resulted in the athlete becoming a billionaire and the company the largest sportswear manufacturer in the world. Affleck will direct and star as Nike CEO Phil Knight, while Damon will play maverick salesman and Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro. The two most recently collaborated on Ridley Scott’s 2021 film The Last Duel, which they both starred in and co-wrote the screenplay with filmmaker Nicole Holofcener.