Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote and co-star in the film “Promised Land.”
In Hollywood circles it’s always been Matt and Ben, as in Damon and Affleck, as in the guys who grabbed the Oscar for writing “Good Will Hunting.” But if “Promised Land,” the film about both sides of the controversial issue of fracking for natural gas that opened Friday, is a sign, Hollywood may soon be referring to Matt and John, as in Cambridge, Mass. boy Damon and Newton, Mass. boy Krasinski, who wrote the script together, and costar in the film.
Damon plays a company agent who’s trying to get struggling farmers to lease out their land to drillers. Krasinski plays an activist who’s trying to convince the same farmers that the practice is dangerous. At a recent interview session in Los Angeles, the actor-writers seemed relieved and a little surprised that, due to certain circumstances, the film actually got made.
“I had never written an original script,” said Krasinski. “So about two years ago, I started thinking about what I wanted to write about, and the thing I came to was American identity. We’d all made so much noise about the people who were being elected, but I think a lot of times we forgot to tell the story of the people who were being affected by all this stuff. So when the idea of natural gas drilling came into the story, it was a perfect backdrop. It’s like high stakes poker. There’s so much potentially to gain and so much potentially to lose, that these people are in an incredibly complicated situation. It’s sort of ignorant to say one side is wrong or the other side is wrong; somewhere in the middle is the truth, and you find it in these people.” Krasinski would eventually present the idea to Damon, who had already been thinking about working with him.
“We befriended each other when I worked with Emily (Blunt, Krasinski’s wife) on ‘The Adjustment Bureau’,” said Damon. “My wife and I hit it off with them so we started going out to dinner. John’s a great writer and producer, and the scope of his talent is vast and impressive. So I immediately started trying to find stuff that we could do together. Then he suggested this, so we decided to take a crack at writing it.” Damon was attracted to the American identity idea, and knew the importance and relevance of the fracking issue.
“It’s very polarizing,” he said. “Because people have to engage with the issue. It’s real and it’s here. We wanted to show the human cost of something like this.” Damon went so far as to agree to make “Promised Land” his directorial debut while he and Krasinski were still writing it. He has fond memories of the writing sessions, but the directing part didn’t happen.
“John was doing ‘The Office’ and I was out here doing ‘We Bought a Zoo,’ and he just started showing up at my house on weekends. He’d show up for breakfast, and we’d work all day Saturday and then end with dinner. It was hard, but writing a script isn’t something that’s totally focused. You’re taking little breaks all the time. One of my kids might run in and John would give him a horsey ride and then you might think, ‘Oh yeah, I know what this character will say here.’ ” “Yeah, I did a lot of horseback rides, and threw out my back,” said Krasinski, then added, “Matt and I worked really well together. We worked quickly, and had similar sensibilities. I think we have an innately positive outlook on life, so our idea of where we wanted this movie to go was always similar.” Then things went wrong, or at least got too busy. Damon had been working without a break, and near the end of 2011, having been away from his family to act in “Elysium” for director Neill Blomkamp, he came home to finish promoting “We Bought a Zoo.” “It was December 15, and my year was over. But I got home and looked at my calendar and realized that if I was going to direct this movie and get it out this year, I had to go into pre-production on January 2. And I just couldn’t leave my kids again.” He called Krasinski to tell him he wasn’t going to direct. That didn’t go well. Neither did the rest of his news.
“Warner Brothers had given us the money for the film. They were backing it because of me,” he said. “But I knew the second I told them I wasn’t going to direct it, they would pull out, which they did. So I lost us a director and our money. But it was the right decision. I told John I didn’t know what was gonna happen but our script is good and there’ll be a great director who wants to do it.” “It was a rough phone call to get,” recalled Krasinski. “But I totally understood what he was doing. Well, I won’t lie. I didn’t understand at the time. It was really hard. I went downstairs and said to my wife, ‘What do I do now? How do I pick up the pieces?’ But it was incredible that less than 12 hours later, Gus Van Sant had signed on to direct.” All Damon and Krasinski can say about what led up to that was thank goodness for e-mail.
“The morning after I called John, I was leaving for Florida with my family, sitting on the plane feeling horrible,” said Damon, who decided to get a message to his old friend Van Sant, who directed “Good Will Hunting.”
Krasinski, too, was feeling bad.
“Matt sent me an e-mail saying he was writing to Gus, and I wrote back, ‘How dare you throw around throw your connections at me? You can’t make this better!’ ” said Krasinski.
“I e-mailed Gus and told him everything that happened,” said Damon. “He e-mailed me right back, saying, ‘I love your writing. I’d love to read it.’ So I forwarded the script to him.” The happy ending comes courtesy of Van Sant.
“I almost said yes right away, but then I decided I should read the script first,” said Van Sant. “So I did, and the script was great. We were all off and running the next day.”
"Promised Land" also co-stars Hal Holbrook, from Weymouth, Mass.