As we mentioned in our Gotham Awards coverage, this is the week when Focus Features is stepping up their game to get word out on Matt Damon and John Krasinski’s Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant. Earlier today, ComingSoon.net was one of a couple dozen journalists invited to a special luncheon at midtown New York’s prestigious Aquavit restaurant, specializing in Swedish cuisine and famous for kicking off the career of superstar chef Marcus Samuelsson. Damon, Krasinski and Van Sant were all on hand to field questions and talk about their movie in between bites.
Our positive review of the movie is still under embargo, but the film has Matt Damon playing the salesman for a natural gas company who comes to a small town along with a co-worker, played by Frances McDormand, with the intention of leasing land from the local farmers where they can extract natural gas. Along comes an activist named Dustin, played by Krasinski, who throws a monkey wrench in their progress at convincing the locals to sign contracts, and that’s where the film gets interesting.
Damon met Krasinski when he was working with his future wife Emily Blunt on The Adjustment Bureau in New York and they began working on the script together two years ago after author Dave Eggers helped Krasinski develop the story but then had to go off and write his own book.
The film was shot earlier this year outside of Pittsburgh in a small town much like the one in the film and during his time at our table, Krasinski talked to us about how his father’s own small town experiences inspired him to write the screenplay and how freaked out he got when his father visited the set and started pointing out places where they spent time in his youth.
Krasinski also told us an amazing story about his early years as an actor in New York and how he was almost ready to give up when he traveled to Los Angeles and two weeks later booked the pilot of “The Office.” The rest as they say is history.
All three mentioned how the films of Frank Capra and Elia Kazan were hugely influential on the writing process and the feel of the film, and they’re trying hard not to focus too much on the political side of the story and how “fracking” for natural gas has become a huge political and environmental issue in recent years.
When Matt Damon came over to our table, we spoke with him about the process of writing Promised Land with Krasinski and how that differed from writing Good Will Hunting with Ben Affleck over 15 years ago while they were both struggling actors. He told us how neither of them had any formal education on how to write a screenplay.
Damon complimented Krasinski on the speed at which his brain worked in terms of trying to figure out the mechanics of the screenplay and we heard some amazing stories from both of them about their co-stars, Frances McDormand and Scoot McNairy.
Krasinski was really impressed by what McDormand brought to her role, seemingly without even trying, although she did tell them at the very beginning of the project that she wouldn’t do any press. It’s a shame since it might be her best performance since the Coens’ Fargo, for which she won her Oscar.
McNairy’s audition so impressed the three of them that they changed one of the characters in order to give him a speech. The speech McNairy gives in the film was originally going to be performed by an older actor whose son went to war in Afghanistan, but after seeing his audition, they changed the role for McNairy. Apparently, McNairy did a reading on camera for Van Sant and after it was over, he started talking about his wife and her own struggles with the subject of the movie. Van Sant started rolling tape again to capture the emotion in McNairy’s story, and the part was changed for him. McNairy is having a bit of a moment, appearing not only in this movie but also Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, opening this weekend, and Ben Affleck’s Argo.
Krasinski also told us how he was crushed when right before last Christmas, Damon decided not to direct the film himself after they had all the pieces in places to go into production, but having to go right into pre-production in January would have kept Damon away from his family for too long.
Director Gus Van Sant filled in the rest of the story, telling us how he came on board in the project’s hour of need when Matt texted him asking if he would read the script and he sent it right over in PDF form before boarding a plane, and Van Sant decided to do it. Van Sant talked about some of his sound design and production decisions and how his style has changed from ten years ago when he made Elephant.
Since this was a fairly informal luncheon, we also talked about more esoteric New Yorker topics like the new Barclay Center in Brooklyn (thumbs up from Matt!), living on the Upper East Side (Krasinski and a couple other journalists, not us) and such. Even though both actors are from Boston, they both try to spend as much time in the city as possible.
Hopefully we’ll have more formal interviews with actual quotes from the trio sometime leading up to Promised Land‘s release in New York and L.A. on December 28 and wide release on January 4, 2013.