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Damon and Affleck, together again in the 14th century

It wasn’t reuniting with Jenny from the Block that marked Ben Affleck’s biggest recoupling of 2020.

One night, staring across the candlelight of a fancy restaurant, another old partner said the words both longed to hear: “Yes, I’ll make that movie with you.”

Matt Damon picks it up from here. “I gave him the book,” the actor says. “Then I was having dinner with Ben, and he said, ‘Why don’t we write it? You want to write it? I know I want to write it.’ It happened organically.”

It is “The Last Duel,” now in its opening weekend. The film marks the reunion of the Bean Town boys, who haven’t written together since they won an Oscar for the screenplay to 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.”

“The Last Duel,” directed by Ridley Scott and based on a bestselling book by Eric Jager, is a tale of betrayal and vengeance set against the brutal ways of 1386 France and the Hundred Year War with England. Based on actual events, the historical epic turns friends into enemies.

Jean de Carrouges (Damon) is a knight for the king who wants to kill Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a courtier accused of raping de Carrouges wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer). Affleck plays Count Pierre d’Alencon, the King’s cousin, who decides that a duel to the death will reveal God’s will. If de Carrouges loses, his wife will be burned at the stake as punishment for making a false accusation. The film is told from three points of view.

Damon and Affleck sat down recently in Los Angeles to discuss working together again.

Review-Journal: Twenty-five years have passed since you wrote “Good Will Hunting” together as two broke, wannabe actors. Anything change since then?

Damon: (Laughs.) Maybe just a few things. The parts are better now than when we first started, although we’re a little bit older now. Maybe we’re a little better.

Affleck: Matt is being humble. But, yeah, maybe a few things have changed since 20-plus years ago. What hadn’t changed was the excitement over working together again with this particular piece of work. The story really resonated, and it felt great to work with Matt again.

What took so long to reteam both of you as writers?

Damon: I think we were kind of afraid of writing together again. The truth is, we were so inefficient the first time around. Writing “Good Will” was so time-consuming, for starters. It took us years the first time, and we wrote thousands of pages that were eventually stuffed into a 60-page screenplay. But, by doing so many movies for all of these in-between years, I think by osmosis we became more efficient writers.

Affleck: Plus, this time it felt different because it was quiet. We wrote this during the pandemic. And it fell into place easily when we decided to write it from three different points of view, with Nicole Holofcener coming in to write the last part from Marguerite’s point of view.

Why did you ask screenwriter Nicole Holofcener to write the final third of the movie for you … from the woman’s point of view?

Damon: The construct was that this woman’s world was invisible during the first two parts of the movie and then revealed in the third. Ben and I felt that Nicole could really create Marguerite’s world, especially during a time period when her world was mostly ignored.

Affleck: Of course, none of it would have worked if Jodie Comer wasn’t such a smart and brave actress. She is actually playing a man’s point of view about herself during the first two-thirds of the film. We don’t find out her true sense of self until the last part. The key is Jodie makes it look so seamless.

Do you find there are ties between this piece and what is happening today with women’s rights?

Affleck: This is a true story, one that people didn’t know. She was an incredible woman from history who is an early known recorded person who spoke out against a powerful man who assaulted her. Naturally, that seemed relevant and a story that could generate a lot of catharsis and empathy, and one that I hoped would develop in the viewer a sense of compassion and, we hope, an idea that we might look at one another in a different way.

What was your experience filming “The Last Duel” in Ireland?

Affleck: I loved it. The people were lovely and the settings were beautiful. It was mitigated only by the pandemic there. Plus, Matt and I are from Boston, so it was great on a whole other level. We were used to hearing people speak with an Irish accent. But I had never been to Ireland to hear everyone speak that way until this movie.

Damon: We had the best time when our movie shut down because of COVID the day we got to Ireland. We had the choice to come home to the U.S. or stay in Ireland. As a family, we had never spent time in Ireland, so we took a family vote and decided to stay. All of the actors rented beautiful houses for our three months in Ireland. We turned one of them into a school for our kids. The community really absorbed us. We know everyone in this town now, and my picture is up in a few restaurants. I was flattered.

Describe filming the bloody dueling scene at the end of the film?

Damon: The duel in the book was meticulously explained. It was record at the time. These guys were in giant tin cans with tiny eye slits dueling on horses. It would have been an awkward affair to film in that period garb. Ridley did keep the bones of the duel. There were three jousting passes. They really did go from swords to daggers. Our stunt coordinator and Ridley invented this beautiful choreography to keep the spirit of the duel. The same person won. He did say that line at the end. All of the dialogue is from the actual recorded event.

Affleck: We knew Ridley would make it great.

What is your idea of an ideal Sunday?

Damon: Breakfast, sunny day, kids.

Affleck: Sounds good.

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