In the late ‘90s, two kids from Boston became stars overnight when they wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting, a heartfelt drama set in their beloved hometown. When award season arrived, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck became the two youngest recipients of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
All these years later, the movie still holds up, because it’s true to its characters and their dynamics. It feels like a movie about real people, as an ingenious janitor unwilling to realize his potential develops a strong bond with the first academic to talk to him on his level. So, here are 10 behind-the-scenes facts about Good Will Hunting.
1. Originally, The Movie Was A Thriller
The original script for Good Will Hunting was a thriller. The lead character was the same, a mathematical genius, but in the initial story, the FBI found some use for his intelligence and hired him to be a cryptanalyst. However, when Castle Rock Entertainment’s Rob Reiner first read the script, he encouraged Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to eliminate the FBI subplot and focus on the characters and their relationships.
The only scene from this subplot that made it into the final movie sees Will meeting with NSA agents about possible recruitment. In that scene, he explains why he doesn’t want to work for the government.
2. Michael Mann Almost Directed It
After Mel Gibson turned down the chance to direct Good Will Hunting, Michael Mann came close to taking the job, despite being mostly known for directing action thrillers like Heat and Collateral. However, Mann wanted to make two changes: he wanted Will and his buddies to be car thieves, and he wanted to recast the lead role.
Since the producers wanted Matt Damon to play Will, they told Mann to at least screen-test him to see if he’d change his mind. After the screen-test, Mann still didn’t want Damon to star. So, the producers parted ways with Mann and remained loyal to Damon.
3. Sean Maguire Was Based On Matt Damon’s Mom And Ben Affleck’s Dad
When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were writing Good Will Hunting, they based the character of Sean Maguire (Will’s psychiatrist, played by an Oscar-winning Robin Williams) on a couple of real people. The character was initially conceived as a sort of a spiritual cross between Damon’s mother and Affleck’s father.
Of course, when Williams took on the role, he ended up bringing his own flourishes to Sean’s characterization, but those two parental figures were the basis for Sean’s emotional and intellectual core. Years after the movie’s release, Affleck would credit Williams as the “rainmaker” that ensured the film would be produced.
4. The Studio Wanted Leonardo DiCaprio And Brad Pitt In The Lead Roles
Matt Damon has said that when he and Ben Affleck first sold their spec script for Good Will Hunting to Castle Rock Entertainment, the first word they heard on casting was “Leo and Brad.” Damon and Affleck had always intended to star in the film themselves, but the studio wanted to hire Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.
Damon and Affleck ended up landing the roles and achieving their dreams, and DiCaprio and Pitt wouldn’t appear on the silver screen together until the release of this year’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, written and directed by the legendary Quentin Tarantino.
5. Matt Damon And Ben Affleck Wrote A Fake Sex Scene To Figure Out Who Actually Read The Script
When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck first started shopping their Good Will Hunting script around Hollywood, they came up with a novel way to determine which producers had actually read it. About halfway through the script, on around page 60, they added a graphic sex scene between Will and Chuckie, apropos of nothing before or after it.
They sent the script to every major studio in Hollywood, and none of them mentioned the scene. When one of the studios read it, it determined the only thing to change was the out-of-the-blue sex scene. That was how Damon and Affleck knew who to go with.
6. Robin Williams Ad-Libbed A Lot Of His Lines
Robin Williams was always famous for improvising lines in his movies. He could even ad-lib entire standup sets based on the things he saw around the stage. He improvised a lot of his most famous lines in Good Will Hunting, too. He came up with the entire scene in which Sean tells Will about his wife’s farts, which is why Matt Damon laughs so hard – the laughter was genuine.
The camera is noticeably shaking, too, possibly because the camera operator was laughing. He also improvised his final line in the film: “Son of a b***h. He stole my line.” Damon has said that this line was Williams’ best contribution to the movie.
7. There Are Rumors That Kevin Smith Or Even William Goldman Wrote The Script
The script for Good Will Hunting is credited to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but ever since the film was released, there have been persistent rumors that it was written by someone else. The top candidates have been William Goldman, the writer of such near-perfect screenplays as All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Kevin Smith, the filmmaker behind Clerks and Chasing Amy.
Smith is a close personal friend of both Damon and Affleck, and he was instrumental in getting Good Will Hunting produced. According to Goldman, the reason for these rumors is that “people don’t want to think those two cute guys wrote it.”
8. Ben Affleck’s Father And Stepmother Worked As Janitors At Harvard
Ben Affleck was able to realistically write for a janitor working at Harvard University because both his father and stepmother had held the position of custodian at the prestigious school. Making the protagonist a janitor at Harvard was the perfect way to illustrate the social disparity between working-class Bostonians and snobbish Harvard academics at the heart of the movie.
In 2000, Affleck and Matt Damon appeared at a rally at Harvard to speak in support of raising the living wage of the campus’ employees. Affleck also narrated a 2002 documentary called Occupation, which chronicled a sit-in that was organized by the Harvard Living Wage Campaign.
9. Gus Van Sant Requested That Chuckie Be Killed Off
Every director who came close to directing Good Will Hunting requested major changes to the script. The filmmaker who eventually brought it to the screen, Gus Van Sant, was no different. He wanted Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to add a scene in which Chuckie would be killed in an accident on a construction site.
The writers contested the idea and told Van Sant it would ruin the movie, but the director still insisted that they add the scene. So, they wrote it, showed it to Van Sant, and when he saw it on paper, he realized it was a bad idea and scrapped it.
10. A Variety Article About Matt Damon And Ben Affleck’s Script Sale Helped Them Rent A House
Castle Rock Entertainment bought the script for Good Will Hunting from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for $600,000. After that, they weren’t short of cash for a while. However, they both had such terrible credit ratings that they struggled to get a place to live.
When they applied to rent a house for $3,000 a month, they had to show the landlord an article from the industry magazine Variety – which, back then, was called the Daily Variety – that reported their script sale in order to prove that they would be able to afford the rent. It worked and they got the place.