Hollywood can often feel like a small place, and a lot of times it’s more about who you know than what you know. The history of the movie business is full of little coincidences and fateful encounters that go on to reverberate around the industry for years, and Matt Damon recently shared a tale of his own.
When Steven Spielberg was seeking somebody to play the title character in Saving Private Ryan, he viewed Damon as the ideal candidate but deemed him a little too thin after he’d lost 40 pounds to play a heroin-addicted veteran in 1996’s Courage Under Fire. However, Robin Williams ended up playing the middle man between the filmmaker and actor.
Williams and Spielberg became close friends after working together on Hook, while the funnyman and Damon both won Academy Awards for their contributions to Good Will Hunting. In a new interview with GQ, Damon revealed that an invitation to meet the legendary filmmaker at Williams’ request was one of the biggest reasons why he ended up securing the gig on Saving Private Ryan.
“Robin took Ben and me to meet Steven because he knew it was never a bad thing to meet the greatest filmmaker of all time and how much we’d appreciate that. I had put myself on tape and I had read for Private Ryan and I hadn’t been cast. He met me in person and said ‘I think I know you from somewhere’, and I said, ‘Well I did this movie called Courage Under Fire’.
And he goes, ‘That’s the one. You know it’s funny, I said to my wife that’s the exact type of person I want to play Private Ryan, but he’s too thin’. Because I’d lost 40 pounds, I was playing a heroin addict in Courage Under Fire. And so it was only because Robin introduced me to him that he went, ‘Oh okay, no you’re the kind of guy I’m looking for for that job’.”
Stories like these are fascinating to hear, and not only because it continues to enhance Robin Williams’ reputation as one of the true greats. If it hadn’t been for Good Will Hunting, or even Hook for that matter, then Saving Private Ryan could have turned out as a completely different movie, even though the three of them couldn’t be more different.