The film which is slated for its digital release on May 12, marks the first time that the actor-director duo are exploring mediums beyond the cinema screens. It is also their first production venture and joint collaboration since working on the critically acclaimed Ridley Scott film ‘The Last Duel’.
Matt, in a telephonic interview with ETimes, got candid about making films that have become a rarity in Hollywood. He also spoke at length about taking a gamble by pursuing an acting career, how he can’t stand another role in a superhero movie and more… Excerpts:
Q: I loved your film ‘Air’. What was it about the film that drew you to it?
Matt: Thank you! I love it, too. Do you know what I love about it? Air is the kind of movie that made me want to be an actor. It’s the kind of movie that they’re not making any more, and so that’s what Ben and I (did). We read the script, and we said to each other ‘Look at all these scenes, they’re 5-6 pages long’. Normally, you’re in these movies and you maybe get a one-page scene, and then there’s a big car chase, and that is a very different thing.
To see a script like this and the fact that they’re still making things like this was great for us.
Q: You and Ben have worked together on so many movies. Is there always this unspoken pressure to score another Oscar win every time you two work together?
Matt: No, I don’t think so. We don’t really think about that (Oscars). It’s more about making something that’s good and finding something worth doing together.
Our writing process on ‘Goodwill Hunting‘ was so unwieldy because we were young, and we’d never written a script and didn’t really know what we were doing. We overwrote, and so we had thousands of pages of scenes, and then we kind of tried to jam it all into a story that cohered somehow, and it worked. But, the process was so inefficient that I think we looked at it as ‘We’ll never do that again’.
We wrote ‘Goodwill Hunting’ because we were unemployed and we were roommates, and we were just sitting around. There was no deadline, nobody was waiting for the work and nobody cared. So we wrote it very slowly, and I think when we got back and decided to do ‘The Last Duel’, suddenly we were telling these 2-3 act stories again and again and again. And so we picked up structure, and we wrote efficiently and really fast. Then we kind of looked at each other like ‘Oh, wait! We should be doing this more often. This is actually not terribly inefficient anymore.’
We actually kind of know what we’re doing now because the experience was so fun and it made sense and we got so much joy out of working together. We recommitted to trying to do it, and do it much more often, if we could.
Q: Ben as your director or your co-star, which role do you think he is better at?
Matt: Ben’s very funny! Look at these 2 films (Air and The Last Duel). He’s played these very particular characters with a little of his comic flare and it is really kind of wonderful. I have to say he has improved a great deal as an actor, I mean, we both have, obviously. We’ve been doing this (acting) for a long time now. We used to do high school theatre together in the 1980s and so we’ve been with each other from the beginning. I have to say that I’m really looking at his work these last 5 years and he’s definitely taking it up a notch. I’m really impressed with his work as an actor.
As a director, he’s just an actor’s dream. His notes are very specific and very simple and he really knows what he’s looking for. So you can’t ask for more than that.
Q: Matt, you are often regarded as one of the nicest actors in Hollywood. Would you say that this role as Sunny is an extension of yourself in a way?
Matt: Oh, well, that’s interesting. I never thought of it. It’s funny because when talking to Sunny, one of my real big takeaways was how kind he is, and how much I liked him. It’s funny that you say that because I hadn’t thought about myself being that, I thought I was thinking of Sunny as I played that character because I really wanted to get across how people today talk about Sunny. He really was somebody who advocated for players and cared about the game and about the people playing the game. In the middle of this business, he had this moral centre and this love for the game and its players. That is what I really wanted to get across.
Q: As a producer, what are your thoughts on this shift from theatrical releases to digital releases?
Matt: Oh well, it’s interesting what’s happening now. We made this film for Amazon Prime and I think everybody in this kind of space is trying to figure out where this is all going. So we’re part of that grand experiment.
We were thrilled that we got a theatrical release here in the US.
As a viewer, I’m confused a lot of the time on these OTT platforms when things just appear, and I’ve never heard of them. I know it happens on some of these platforms, where I’m like there’s 4 movies and they have actors I’ve heard of, but I’ve never heard of this movie.
It feels like when a movie comes out in a theatre, there’s like a cultural moment when people are aware of it, whether they see it or not. So, when it appears later on the platform, I think the hope is that there they know what it is, and they’re more likely to watch it, but I think we’re all just figuring it out.
Covid obviously changed things. We’re kind of coming back from that at the same time, so I think we’re all trying to figure it out. What I’m most excited about is that we can partner with someone like Amazon Prime to make a movie like this.
My fear is what it does for me as an actor. What am I going to do with my life if they stop making movies like this? I can’t do superhero movies! I can’t just do them one after another.
These are the types of movies I love to make, about people, sitting in conflict and talking to each other. Movies that are about the writing and acting. That’s what I grew up watching, and that’s what made me want to be an actor. So I’m just happy that they’re still letting us make those kinds of movies.
Q: Does that mean we won’t get any superhero movies from you, except for your Thor cameos?
Matt: Well, I’m getting a little old, you know, for these superhero movies.
Q: ‘Air’ is all about taking risks. Was there any, all-or-nothing moment in your life?
Matt: Well, I think the act of being an actor is that. You know Ben and I had each other, which was critical, but every other person in our life was telling us not to do it (acting). Somebody was saying to me the other day, ‘Did your parents tell you not to do it?’ I said, ‘Yes! My parents told me not to do it. Ben’s parents told me not to do it. Like everybody said don’t do it!’
‘Why, don’t you become lawyers or doctors? Why, don’t you do something else? You guys are smart guys. What are you doing pursuing this crazy career?’
But we were just obsessed with it and it felt like we had to do it. I think if anything has a hold of you like that, you have to see it through.
We were ready to be far less successful than we eventually were and we were very unsuccessful for a good decade. We were living kind of hand to mouth, and it wasn’t always comfortable, but we never doubted that this was what we wanted to do, and I think if you feel that way about something, you’re very lucky.
Q: Global cinema has changed so much and is being recognised now. Have you watched any Indian movies that blew you away?
Matt: Not recently, because I haven’t watched anything. I’ve had my head down trying to bootstrap this company, so I’m way behind. I turned on the Oscars this year and saw that amazing (RRR) musical number, and I was like, ‘Where have I been?’ I feel like I’ve been under a rock.
I’m shamefully behind in my movie-watching. So I have to circle back with you on the next interview.
Directed by Ben Affleck, ‘Air’ also stars Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Chris Messina and Julius Tennon.