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?"
Robin Williams Ad-Libbed The Scene About His Wife Passing Gas - And Damon’s Reaction Is Real
Robin Williams, cast as Will Hunting's (Matt Damon) therapist, Sean Maguire, was prone to improvise on set - much to everyone's delight. In one of the funniest scenes in the movie, Sean reflects on his own experiences as a way to address issues of love, inadequacy, and imperfection. He tells the young Will:
My wife used to fart when she was nervous... She had all sorts of wonderful idiosyncrasies... She’s been dead two years and that’s the sh*t I remember. Wonderful stuff, you know. Little things like that. But those are the things I miss the most.
The heartfelt discussion caught Damon off guard, especially since he'd written the script. Williams had ad-libbed the entire story, prompting both Damon and the camera operator to laugh hysterically.
Other ad-libs included the final line of the movie. During the many takes Williams opened the mailbox to read the letter Will left for Sean, he said something different each time. Even though the scene was supposed to merely feature voiceover work, one of Williams's utterances stood out to Damon and director Gus Van Sant.
We must have done 20 takes. He went into the house, folded the letter up, put it back in the letterbox, shut the door. And on one of the takes, in the middle, he said, "Son of a b*tch stole my line." And went back in the house.
I remember grabbing Gus, like, "Holy sh*t! F*ck - what did he just - that is great!"
Frustrated With Their Production Company, Damon And Affleck Started Writing Fake Scenes In The Script
After shopping their Good Will Hunting script around to studios, Affleck and Damon sold it to Castle Rock Entertainment for a reported $600,000. While the writers benefited from the sale - even using an article in Daily Variety magazine to prove to their landlord they'd be able to pay rent - working with the studio proved challenging.
Castle Rock insisted the script contain two different plots. They wanted to emphasize Will's brilliance and relationship with his therapist instead of a national security-thriller concept. Damon and Affleck acquiesced, but they were frustrated by repeated calls for rewrites. As a result, they began including ridiculous content, just to see if anyone was reading their submissions.
At one point, according to Affleck, "We started writing in screen direction like, 'Sean talks to Will and unloads his conscience.' And then: 'Will takes a moment and then gives Sean a soulful look and leans in and starts blowing him.'”
Damon explained, "They weren’t reading the script closely anymore. It was literally probably a full paragraph about what these two characters were doing to each other."
As a result, they started looking for a new studio.
Kevin Smith Helped Get The Script To A Studio That Went On To Make The Movie
As their relationship with Castle Rock soured, Affleck and Damon wanted to find a better fit for their project. Affleck sent the script to filmmaker Kevin Smith, who'd recently directed him in Mallrats. When Smith first read the script for Good Will Hunting - reportedly on his toilet - he was moved by the story.
While Affleck and Damon wanted Smith to direct the movie, he declined, telling them, "I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful." What Smith did do, however, was take the script to Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. Smith walked into Weinstein's office and instructed the studio head, "Drop everything you’re doing right now and read this."
After reading the script, Weinstein only had some minor changes. He took out chess-playing scenes and told them, "The blow jobs gotta come out." Affleck and Damon agreed, relieved that they'd finally "found a home."
The Movie Almost Didn’t Get Made Due To A Fallout Between Weinstein And Van Sant
Ultimately, Good Will Hunting was made by Miramax, but that almost never came to fruition thanks to creative differences between studio head Weinstein and director Van Sant. Van Sant wasn't the first director approached for the project, with Mel Gibson working on Good Will Hunting for months prior to bowing out.
Van Sant was lesser-known than Gibson but had worked with Affleck's brother, Casey, and was interested in the project. By the time Van Sant was on board, both Affleck and Damon had returned to Boston, again frustrated with the process. The movie sat stagnant for a year because Weinstein and Van Sant couldn't agree on the final script.
A back-and-forth ensued, with Miramax trying to find high-profile directors and actors for the movie. From the director's perspective, "There were people like Harvey Weinstein who weren't sure... Ben and Matt, however, had faith."
Weinstein finally agreed to let Van Sant direct the movie, but only if the cast had a strong marketing draw. Van Sant brought Williams into the project, prompting production to proceed.