Now playing in theaters is The Last Duel, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ridley Scott (Gladiator). The movie was written by Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Matt Damon (The Martian), and Ben Affleck (Argo), marking the first time the Damon and Affleck have penned a screenplay together since their Award-winning Academy film, Good Will Hunting.
The movie features an all-star cast that includes Oscar-winners Damon and Affleck, as well as Oscar-nominee Adam Driver (Marriage Story) and Emmy Award-winner Jodie Comer (Free Guy). The film is based on the true story of the last sanctioned duel in France’s history between Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Driver), after Le Gris was accused of rape by de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer).
We Live Entertainment recently had the pleasure of attending a virtual press conference for The Last Duel, along with several other press members that featured Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Jodie Comer.
The press conference began with Damon discussing why it took twenty-five years for he and Affleck to write another script together and why this particular story spoke to them. “I think we were just afraid of writing because we were so inefficient,” he explained. “It was so time-consuming the first time we did it because we didn’t know what we were doing. It literally took us years, and we wrote thousands and thousands of pages that we basically scrunched into a 130-page screenplay. Just by doing movies for twenty-five years and by osmosis, we figured out structure, so the process turned out to be efficient. Also, begging an incredible writer like Nicole to help us was an excellent idea. That streamlined the process.”
“The beautiful thing about the script was that it was all there on the page,” added Comer about the screenplay. “The intentions were very, very clear as to what was needed in each perspective. What was sometimes jarring was that we shot each version simultaneously, so we were literally jumping from one to the next. I was always wanting to make sure that we got Marguerite. I felt really loyal to her and really wanted to make sure that we’d always got that in the bag, and then I felt like I could play around with the other versions. I was afforded a lot of freedom in what I wanted to explore. We played around with the subtlety and how far we wanted to push it. It’s so important that when you’re in each perspective, that you’re really invested in what that character is telling you.”
The film is based on a true story that took place hundreds of years ago, and Affleck talked about adapting the material for a modern audience. “That was a very deliberate thing,” he said. “Part of what we wanted to point out was the extent to which corrupt, and morally bankrupt, and misogynist institutions create and produce people who reflect those values. So, rather than just an indictment of a bad person or a bad man, you have the church, science, the court, and this whole Western-European civilization, of which we are an antecedent culturally, by and large. At least, that’s the notion of the United States, is that it’s the result of the Enlightenment and its philosophies, even though that’s actually not true. The idea here is that this predominant culture comes from this other culture that is what produced these values, and this culture, in terms of how it educates people, what it rewards socially, and the behavior that is encouraged.”
Damon, who worked with Ridley Scott on The Martian, explained how they got the acclaimed filmmaker to direct this project. “From the moment I saw the cover of the book, and that it’s called The Last Duel, Ridley’s first movie is The Duelist,” he explained. “We did The Martian together, six or seven years ago, and I just had the best time working with him. With four cameras at a time, the amount of momentum that you get, all of the energy is just around, right on the floor. You can have your agent negotiate for a trailer, but you’re never going to go there, except to put your clothes on in the morning. It’s all happening on set, and it’s really exciting. I just love that. I originally gave him the book, and he said, right away, that he’d read it and wanted to do it. We were looking for a writer, and I was having dinner with Ben and told him the idea, and he was like, ‘Well, why don’t we write it?’ I was like, what? Do you want to write that? He was like, ‘Sure.’ So, it just happened, really organically, and it happened really quickly. We started writing, and Ridley had another movie he was going to do, and he just went, “I’m not doing that movie anymore. I want to do this.” We begged Nicole to come to join, and she did, and that was it. We were off to the races. He was the perfect guy to do it, with the scale that he does everything at. He was great with us. It was delicate with the three different perspectives because we were playing three different versions of these characters.”
“When a script comes from Ridley Scott and he wants to meet you, you’re like, yes, I will,” Comer added regarding how she got attached to the project. “Then, I read the script and I was so fascinated by the structure of it and this idea of there being three perspectives, but ultimately, only one truth. When I met Matt early on, he was like, “You should know, he works at a pace. He has four or five cameras rolling. It’s fast.” He gave me a little heads-up. Then, I got to set, and I was like, oh, no kidding. I’d never worked like that before. It was fascinating to see how he makes his decisions and his attention to detail, whether through the characters in the story or the locations and the set design. He doesn’t miss a trick. The film has a lot of heart, but it’s also a spectacle, and it has the fighting and the duels. I think that’s what he’s so great at.”
Finally, Damon and Affleck discussed taking on acting roles in the project in addition to their writing duties and whether that was a wise choice or not. “I never regretted it,” answered Damon. “It was really fun. I was more concerned that we were going to muff it up. We always had it written down on the schedule, whose perspective we were in, but before we rolled, we’d always say, this is my perspective, or this is your perspective, just to remind each other because we had to totally calibrate everything based on that. That was the fun of it. You could also push it in other people’s stories a little more because you’re their version of you, in a way, and their projection. You had a little more leeway, in some ways, and that was really fun. It was really about intention. With those pivotal scenes with Jodie and Adam, the dialogue’s the same.”
“We didn’t want to cheat at all,” explained Affleck. “We really tried to create and reflect this phenomenon of the fact that two people can have a conversation, and you can ask each one of them what they came away with, and they’ll genuinely tell you different things because they had different experiences. Often, those experiences are rooted in where they’re coming from, what their needs are, what their values are, and so forth. I certainly didn’t have a challenging role in that aspect because my character exists predominantly in Adam Driver’s role, though the influence of my character pervades the other two. The character that I play could have been just a complete villain. Yes, he’s a villain, and he does these horrible things, but really, the idea that when a person is in power and represents these values and says, these are the values we encourage in you, and you’ll be rewarded for following them. It’s more about where Adam’s character is, how he’s taught to behave, and what he’s rewarded for than it is about the essential nature of his character. In other words, people can be changed and created by these large institutions. That’s the value system that we wanted to indict, and that required making sure, on an architectural level, that all of those elements were included. Then, you have to just throw it away and hope that these great actors make you identify with the people, so none of that feels pedantic, or like a sermon, or like a term paper.”