IT’S every little boy’s dream to be in a western, but for Matt Damon, True Grit had certain magic ingredients.
It was being directed by the Coen brothers, starred the double-punch talent of Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, and was based on a classic 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
The last time True Grit was worked into a film, it won its star, John Wayne, an Oscar, for his portrayal as US Marshal Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn.
So for Damon, who plays interfering Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, it was simply a case of “where do I sign?”
“This project, it’s like a dream,” says Damon.
“I get a phone call. The first phone call is, like, `The Coen brothers are considering you for a role in their next movie.’
“That’s really exciting. Then I find out that they’re doing True Grit.
“I go talk to them and they give me the book. I had never read the book and the book is fantastic. It really is. It really is a great piece of American literature that I totally missed and then I read their adaptation – I write scripts – and it’s really great. It’s a really great adaptation.”
This time Bridges takes on the role of Cogburn, the ageing, drunken, one-eyed marshal, hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to avenge her father’s death.
It was the role that won Wayne a long-awaited Oscar in 1969. But the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, who built their reputation on films such as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou and No Country for Old Men, didn’t consider that they were doing a remake. They were going back to the book and by the book.
Their story focuses on Mattie’s tale, with newcomer Steinfeld stealing many scenes and Elizabeth Marvel providing the voice of her adult narrator.
“What they did, which was so smart, was that they used all this dialogue that Portis had written in the book,” says Damon.
“Charles Portis is still alive. He’s down in Arkansas. He’s almost 80 years old and he just had this incredible ear for dialogue.”
The Cohen brothers, who meticulously plan each scene in advance, sent Damon a series of storyboards to look through.
“You get this chunk, this big, thick book and you can literally just look at the movie, how it’s going to be shot.
“They have such a mastery of the whole process that there’s none of the anxiety or stress. I was just like, `Wow. What a great experience’.”
A little surprisingly, Damon has still not seen John Wayne’s version. He owns the movie on DVD, he promises, but it still remains in its plastic shrink wrap.
The busy actor, who has also been working on Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, in which Damon plays a factory worker who can communicate with the dead, and thriller-romance flick The Adjustment Bureau opposite Emily Blunt, simply hasn’t had a chance to watch it.
“I kept saying that I had to see it because I knew I was going to be asked (about it), but I just haven’t had time. I asked (the Cohen brothers) about that, I said, `Should I see the movie?’ And they said, `Well, no we’re not really doing a remake. We’re going to the original source material and we’re doing the book. So the book is what we really need you to focus on’. ”
The interesting thing about True Grit essentially a tale about tough grown men is a little girl.
Steinfeld, only 13 at the time of filming, impressed her directors and co-stars in her portrayal of Mattie.
Against the advice of her elders, self-assured Mattie hires a reluctant choice of marshal Cogburn to hunt down her father’s killer Chaney, played by Brolin.
Damon’s character, a ranger who is on the hunt for the same man for a different crime, is more headache than hero. It’s Mattie who displays the “true grit” of the film’s title.
“I think the central character, the true grit of Mattie, the girl who’s on the cusp of womanhood,” he says.
“It’s about the loss of her innocence, but this incredible spirit of this girl and then these really colourful characters that come around to flesh out the story.”
Damon knows all about raising girls. He and his Argentine-born wife Luciana Bozan Barroso have four of them. Alexia, 12, is her daughter from a previous marriage, then there’s Isabella, 4, Gia, 2, and Stella, who was born in October last year.
An experienced dad, Damon was impressed with Steinfield’s maturity when he first met her and how she would take direction from the Coen brothers in the same way as he or Bridges would.
“I met her in New Mexico to rehearse and I just remembered being more struck by how poised she was, shockingly. I mean, I have a 12-year-old, but to see a 13-year-old (like that), it was alarming.”
True Grit is Steinfeld’s first movie and she was chosen from a pool of 15,000 to take on the role.
One of the most challenging scenes to shoot was where the weak-willed LaBoef loses it and takes to spanking her.
“Well, I’ve had a lot of practice,” father Damon laughs.
“They put a board over her and I’m hitting this board. So she couldn’t even feel it. She was laughing, saying, `I can’t even feel you hitting me’. But it had to be brutal enough that Jeff would pull his gun out and point it at me. So that was it.”
In an age in which high technology and fantastic tales of superheroes and futuristic characters reign supreme, True Grit proves there is still a place for a classic, character-driven western story.
How does Damon approach that as an actor?
“What we’re doing is setting up a sequel where Transformers come in and that’s the big play here. That’s the big idea,” he jokes.
“We’re just using the first one to set that up and then we’re going to do like 14 of these things back to back.
“Every summer there’s going to be a new Transformers meets the True Grit cast. No, I think that sometimes you see these lurches in different directions, like suddenly it’s all 3D or suddenly it’s all superhero movies.
“There’s always a kind of correction and I think at the end of the day people love good stories.”
Want to hang out in S.F., maybe meet/glimpse Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet or Gwyneth Paltrow and earn some cash?
Extras are need for the new action-thriller “Contagion,” starring all of the above and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Open call castings are this weekend (Jan. 29 and 30), and they’re seeking Bay Area people 18 and over of “all shapes, sizes, types and any ethnicity” to be extras in the flick. Filming starts on February 9 and goes through Feb. 19.
Interested? Bring a pen and a recent color photo of yourself to one of the following locations:
January 29, 2011 (2-6 p.m.)
Fort Mason Center
Landmark Building C
January 30, 2011 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
169 Steuart Street, San Francisco
More details on acting-auditions.org
What about Matt Damon in the Supporting Category for True Grit!? So subdued and relaxed yet something pretty surprising happened — I forgot I was watching Matt Damon. He became a pretty integral part of the film’s tone. Could it have worked without him? Yes. But he played the part EXACTLY the way it needed to be — not too over-the-top, not too quirky. And I know it’s not a remake, but if it’s any compensation, he outclassed Glen Campbell in every way (see: True Grit, 1969) —Robert
True Grit has been nominated in the following categories:
Hereafter has been nominated in for:
The 83th Academy Awards will happen on February 27th.
A new featurette has been released, it’s called “Fate vs. Free Will”, it tells us a bit about the movie and the cast talks about it aswell. Below is the video and screen caps are in the gallery.
On the day I am due to interview the British screenwriter Peter Morgan, the eyes of the world are turned to Zurich to find out which countries will be selected by Fifa to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
As we all now know, England’s bid to host the former tournament was doomed to failure – a situation one might imagine would appeal to this award-winning author.
Morgan, after all, is a man who – in such films as The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland – has shown an affinity for turning the likes of Tony Blair, David Frost, Richard Nixon and Idi Amin into compelling protagonists.
He is no stranger to the beautiful game either, having brought football manager Brian Clough back to life in 2009 film The Damned United.