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Mel Gibson Eyed Directing 'Good Will Hunting,' Kevin Smith Turned It Down But Brought It To Miramax

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 3, 2013 at 3:23PM

For those of you already well versed in the history of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning breakout film "Good Will Hunting," this will be old news. But for everyone else, this will be a couple of interesting bits of "What Could Have Been..."
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Good Will Hunting Mel Gibson Kevin Smith

For those of you already well versed in the history of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning breakout film "Good Will Hunting," this will be old news. But for everyone else, this will be a couple of interesting bits of "What Could Have Been..."

Fifteen years ago this month, all the way back in 1998, "Good Will Hunting" went into wide release and to commemorate the occasion, Boston Magazine gathered together the principals for an oral history on the making of the movie, and it's a fascinating read. Along the way, there are some interesting tidbits about who almost directed the movie before Gus Van Sant came on board. And among them was Kevin Smith, who Affleck had already worked with on "Mallrats," and he helped kick open a very important door.

"Ben gave it to Kevin Smith and said, 'Will you please save us? Will you direct this movie?' " Matt Damon recounted, as the movie had stalled at Castle Rock. "And Kevin read the script and was unbelievably kind. I still remember the message. He said, 'I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful.' Kevin went in personally to Harvey Weinstein’s office at Miramax and handed him the script, and basically said, 'Drop everything you’re doing right now and read this.' "

"Kevin said, 'I read it on the toilet, and I stayed on the toilet the whole time because I was so into the script.' We had a lead that Harvey might do it from Kevin, and then we just attacked. And he said yes, and it really felt like a miracle," Affleck added. But once it was in Harvey's hands, after he picked it up for a cool $1 million, another bigger name (at the time) was first attached to helm the movie.

"We met with Mel Gibson, and 'Braveheart' had just come out, and was as hot as could be," Affleck said. "But we hadn’t seen 'Braveheart' and Harvey was like, 'YOU HAVEN’T SEEN BRAVEHEART? FUCKING LIE TO HIM AND TELL HIM YOU LOVE BRAVEHEART.' So the first thing we said was, 'We just want to tell you how much we loved Braveheart!' "

But as things sometimes go, development began to stretch out, and the screenwriters started to get antsy. "Mel Gibson developed it for a few months," producer Chris Moore said. "Matt at one point said directly to Gibson, 'Look, man. We’re getting too old. If this keeps going by, Ben and I can’t play these parts. Is there any chance you’d just let it go?' And to Mel’s credit, he said, 'I totally understand what you’re saying.' That was a real stand-up thing to do."

Eventually, Gus Van Sant (who had directed Ben's brother Casey Affleck in "To Die For") came on the project, but things still weren't moving...until Damon got cast in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Rainmaker." Affleck and Damon's agent Patrick Whitesell explains, "That was the period of time when Grisham was the biggest thing in Hollywood. It validated the fact that Matt was a leading man." So Harvey's reaction is understandable.

"I sent Harvey a fax that literally said, 'Dear Harvey, I am the Rainmaker.' He called me and he was like, 'What does that mean?' He thought I was getting a lawyer or something," Damon recounted. "I was like, 'No man, I got the Coppola movie, they cast me as the lead.' And Harvey goes, 'THE GRISHAM MOVIE? THOSE THINGS MAKE $100 MILLION!' " And with Robin Williams throwing his hat in as well, the movie was greenlit and history was made.

Read the full report over at Boston Magazine, but one tidbit you won't find in there: Terrence Malick gave Affleck and Damon story notes on the film. For real.

This article is related to: Good Will Hunting, Mel Gibson, Kevin Smith, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck


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