Good Will Hunting, starring and co-written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, propelled the careers of both men forward in terms of acting, but also earned them Academy Awards for their heartfelt screenplay. Released in 1997, Good Will Hunting tells the story of Bostonian Will Hunting, a brilliant yet troubled custodian struggling to find his place. Also featuring Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgård, and Cole Hauser, Good Will Hunting was directed by Gus Van Sant and went on to earn more than $225 million worldwide.
Hunting's (Damon) intelligence sets him apart from many of his working-class friends, especially his best friend Chuckie (Affleck). Will's internal conflict leads him to therapist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams (who also won an Academy Award for the film), with whom he forms a life-changing connection.
The making of Good Will Hunting was not an easy feat, spanning years with numerous hiccups along the way. Stories about Good Will Hunting behind the scenes are just as emotional and personal for the cast and crew of the movie as what ended up on screen. In the end, the success of the movie may very well have left everyone associated with Good Will Hunting channeling the triumphant words of its titular character, asking naysayers and doubters, "How do you like them apples?"
A Role In A Coppola Movie Turned Damon Into Leading-Man Material
Once Good Will Hunting had a director and a producer, things started to finally fall into place. Another impetus for getting the movie made had to do with Damon's role in The Rainmaker. Based on John Grisham's book of the same name, the movie featured Damon as the lead character and was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
To Weinstein, the combination of Grisham and Coppola was a recipe for success. When Damon told Weinstein he'd been cast in The Rainmaker, he sent a simple fax that read, "Dear Harvey, I am the Rainmaker." Weinstein called Damon to figure out exactly what that meant and, once he understood, he exclaimed, "THE GRISHAM MOVIE? THOSE THINGS MAKE $100 MILLION!"
According to Patrick Whitesell, agent to both Affleck and Damon, "That was the period of time when Grisham was the biggest thing in Hollywood. It validated the fact that Matt was a leading man."
Williams Told Affleck And Damon, 'It's Not A Fluke; You Guys Really Did This'
As Affleck and Damon watched Williams and Stellan Skarsgård (cast as Will's mathematics professor) film a scene on the very first day of production, their faces were awash with tears. For his part, Affleck acknowledged tearing up but never quite fessed up to crying.
Williams saw them and walked over to the two, telling them, "It's not a fluke, you guys really did this." After the first day wrapped, Affleck, Damon, and director Van Sant embraced in a hug, all three men overwhelmed by the emotion of the movie finally coming to fruition.
Williams's Affinity For One Boston Bar Earned It A Spot In The Movie
Williams thought the Good Will Hunting script was "really extraordinary," and was enthusiastic about joining the cast. As the movie's producers scouted locations, it became clear that sites in Boston were going to be fundamental to the spirit of the movie. Boston was, in many ways, a character itself.
Williams realized this and wanted to embrace Boston as he prepared for his role. He visited the city with Affleck and Damon, something that quickly went awry. While out on the town, Williams was swarmed by Bostonians at the L Street Tavern. Williams recalled:
I remember this guy came up with a heavy Irish accent, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, and another guy, a Southie guy, said, “He wants to know where your private plane is.”
The whole experience at the L Street Tavern left Williams smitten with the bar, and he called Weinstein, insisting it be featured in the movie. Weinstein agreed but told Affleck and Damon, "DON’T TAKE ROBIN TO ANY MORE LOCATIONS!"
The Entire Movie Was Shot In Nine Weeks
After years of waiting, Good Will Hunting was filmed in just nine weeks. By the time the movie was shot, Affleck and Damon were five years older - on the cusp of no longer passing for the early-20-something characters.
Efforts to keep the movie as "Boston" as possible resulted in shots at locations like the L Street Tavern, but also meant the wardrobes, food, and marketing in the film had to be very niche.
When the costume designer outfitted the cast in garments that resembled vagrants more than working-class Bostonians, both Ben and Casey Affleck objected, telling her, "These guys are poor, but the way they show their thing is they buy name-brand sh*t. They wear the Nike sweatsuit or the Adidas sweatsuit." Producers frantically called around to find sweatpants to match what would have been worn in South Boston.
Efforts to capture "Southie" pride were considered relatively successful, although the movie later received criticism for ushering in "the Boston white working class as a character... You stopped seeing the salt of the earth Southerners. It also created this ridiculous caricature that only two guys from Cambridge could write."