‘What connects us is so much greater than what divides us’: Matt Damon on challenging his own perceptions in new role
Matt Damon’s new film, Stillwater, sees him playing the father of an American student who is in prison in Europe for murdering her flatmate.
It sounds familiar because it is loosely based on the murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, in 2007 and the subsequent imprisonment of Amanda Knox.
Ms Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were placed under suspicion. Both were initially convicted, but after a series of different decisions Italy’s highest court threw out the convictions in 2015.
Ms Knox is never named on screen but Damon says the case was an initial “jumping off point” for Stillwater, which focuses on his character – an oil-worker or ‘roughneck’ from Oklahoma who has struggled with addiction and spent part of his life in prison.
Damon, 50, told Sky News: “The Amanda Knox case – Tom [McCarthy – director and co-writer] and I never talked about that because it served as kind of a jumping off point for this story, It’s really about what happens to this father and his daughter after all the cameras go away and how they move on with their lives.
“They’re both kind of broken and they both need each other very much – he’s carrying all this anger and pain and grief and regret and shame for having been an absentee father, for having been an addict, for all the ways in which he failed her and he’s trying to redeem himself and he’s trying to help her in any way he can, and yet he has none of the skills or tools that one would need to do that – yet he’s still trying.
“I just thought there was something beautiful and heartbreaking about it – you can feel that it’s probably not going to go well, and it’s a story about what feels to me like real people.”
The film invites us to challenge our preconceptions about others, and the Bourne star admits that’s exactly what happened while he was researching the role.
He says he spent time with real roughnecks in Oklahoma and found plenty of common ground.
“I come from a very different culture within America. I’m from the northeast and Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a very different place from Stillwater, Oklahoma, or some of the smaller places outside Stillwater where these guys live,” Damon explained.
“And so I had my own ideas about what I was going to see when I went down there, and as always, as happens literally every time in a world in which we’re constantly being told by, particularly by politicians, how divided we are and who are stoking those flames in order to kind of self-promote – you get past all that and it’s what connects us that is so much greater than what divides us.”
While Damon didn’t dwell on the real case that inspired the film, his co-star Abigail Breslin, who plays his daughter Alison, says she did research it, and even went as far as contacting Ms Knox.
“I didn’t want to do anything that was mimicking or copying that trial because Alison is a very different person, and I was not trying to portray Amanda in it, but it was an amazing source of reference material,” she said.
“I had a brief Twitter conversation with her, but I don’t feel out of respect to her that it would be appropriate to share what we discussed.”
The film has divided critics, though many have praised Damon’s performance.
But the actor hopes that the movie will ultimately unite audiences.
He says that if we take the time to get to know those we are politically opposed to, we may come to understand them – as he did with the roughnecks he spent time with while preparing for his role.
Damon said: “We’re very different, politically we’re very different.
“Kenny Baker was this guy that was our consultant on the movie and we named Bill Baker [Damon’s character] after Kenny as a nod to him because we were so grateful for all his help.
“And he’s got unbelievable values and he’s such a good family man and such a good person, and, you know, you understand suddenly his political decisions in the context of that.
“I hope [the film] just blows up some of those kind of caricatures that we have about each other in ourselves.”
Stillwater is out in cinemas on 6 August.
The Crown: The secrets behind multi-million pound Netflix production
The second instalment of the sixth series of The Crown is set for release on 14 December.
Seven years on from its initial release, the programme has been a smash hit for Netflix and has seen some of the UK’s greatest acting talent – including the three queens Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton – take on the challenge of portraying some of the most recognisable people in the world.
Behind the glitzy multimillion-pound production is a vast production team working on the finest of details to capture each decade of the Royal Family precisely.
Martin Childs, a production designer, and Alison Harvey, a set decorator, have worked on all six seasons of the show and produced almost 2,500 sets in that time.
The pair say the “luxury of time and money and people” that the Netflix production affords allows the detailed and spectacular sets we see on our screens.
“We did go through the schedule quite quickly,” Harvey said.
“We did have people devoted to certain things like drapes. [I’m] on a job at the moment – we’ve got no people and no money and no time. So we’re very lucky to have those facilities available to us on such a great well-received project.”
The abundance of resources allows Childs and Harvey to capture not just the familiar castles and regal settings – they were excited to capture the royals’ private interiors as well.
“It’s a kind of a slightly imagined film version,” Harvey said.
“We research and research and research until the research runs out,” Childs said.
“I think it might be Peter Morgan who coined this phrase ‘informed imagination’ – and it’s one I like very much because it helps describe what we finish up having to do,” he added.
The first four episodes of the sixth season were released on 16 November and captured the last eight weeks of Princess Diana’s life.
While many of the scenes from the 1997 crash and its aftermath are seared into the public’s imagination, Childs was averse to recreating many of them.
“My consideration [for] all the scenes that led up to [the crash] was not to have any prior knowledge of it, because the audience does. So I didn’t want to load it with 20-20 hindsight.
“People know what happened. People are familiar with the footage so we didn’t really want to recreate much of that.”
Portraying Diana faithfully was also a major consideration for hair and makeup artists Cate Hall and Emilie Yong. It took around 30 hours to transform Elizabeth Debicki into the late princess.
“It starts with this very archaic wrapping of their head in clingfilm and sellotape and marking the headline with a sharpie. The wig maker we work with is very, very detailed in terms of hairlines, crowns,” Hall said.
“The hair is all knotted hair by hair, we will go through thousands of different colours to find the four or five colours we’re going to use in a wig. Then once the wig is made, we start cutting.
“Then the wig comes off the head and is set and dried, put back on again, cut, highlighted, roots shaded in. And then the makeup fittings start.”
Like the production designers, the pair said they “live and die by” getting the details right.
“Otherwise what you get is something that feels sort of generally in the region of [the decade] but not necessarily robust.
“The whole point when you’re recreating period television is trying to create this world that the viewer can watch and really immerse themselves in. The last thing you want to do is bring them out of that.
“So for me, if I’m watching a TV show and the textures are really modern and chemically sophisticated and illuminated, things like that immediately take me out of the show. So it’s those kinds of details.
“One way of saying we’re in the 1960s [is] about the textures and what was available to the people at the time. Glitter was not. We have every foundation colour under the sun now. But in 1960 you were probably dealing with four different shades if you’re lucky. It’s about sophistication that helps you tell the story,” Hall said.
So the actors have undergone their transformations into their characters and the stage is set but something’s missing.
Alongside a historical research team, the actors spend a significant amount of time preparing with movement coach Polly Bennett to prepare for filming.
“When you meet new actors playing the characters, it becomes about actually trying to throw all of that information [from past seasons] away and starting again.
“The best thing about working with the team this time around was that we’d already done season five, so they kind of lived in their bodies,” she said.
“I think the biggest thing physically that I had to consider was that they had been around being famous. Being famous was a new idea.
“The sort of thing that Diana was experiencing is a very particular physical change in her body. So that was the major preoccupation I had.”
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A huge body of research, like the production designers and hair and make-up artists, informs Bennetts’s work.
She describes working with 21-year-old Meg Bellamy who is playing a young Kate Middleton as she attends university with Prince William.
“A lot of our first sessions were just providing the space to go – who is this person? What has she been around? What has she grown up around? What clothes is she regularly wearing? What food does she eat? What are her relationships? Who has she seen growing up?
“We look at footage that we have, we look at photographs, and put it together in the kind of private investigator type way,” Bennett said.
“And suddenly when you start looking at different pictures, you notice little things that Kate does in her life, like she wears a handbag always on the same side of her body and she clutches it. Now, that’s something that then became an inpoint for Meg.
“The idea that they’ve got something very practical, but they’re keeping it close to them and then you can take that feeling into their whole life. Whether or not that’s actually what Kate Middleton is doing, that becomes gold dust as a practical idea for an actor to play.”
Grand Theft Auto 6 trailer will drop next week, makers announce
The wait is almost over for fans of one of the biggest game franchises of all time – the trailer for the next instalment of Grand Theft Auto will finally be released next week.
In a post on social media, Rockstar, the makers of the games, simply said: “Trailer 1, Tuesday, December 5, 9am ET” – 9am eastern time is 2pm GMT.
Since being posted on X on Friday afternoon, the announcement has been viewed more than 50 million times.
While it does not mention the game it will be showing, it is widely assumed to be the sixth instalment of Grand Theft Auto.
Rockstar previously teased the trailer in November, saying it would be available this month, but it never said when.
There is still no word on when the game itself might release.
It has likely been in development for several years, but it wasn’t until last year when Rockstar confirmed it was working on the latest instalment of GTA, saying active development was “well under way”.
GTA V launched in 2013, and saw Michael, Trevor and Franklin’s exploits in Los Santos (modelled around Los Angeles), with players taking part in activities such as driving and shopping, all the way up to heists and assassinations.
Previous settings in the series included the Miami-inspired Vice City and New York-inspired Liberty City.
GTA V is the fastest entertainment product in history to make $1bn (£792m), and the most profitable ever made, and has since sold an astonishing 185 million copies – earning publisher Take-Two a reported $8bn (£6.4bn) in revenue.
Last year, early development gameplay was leaked online after a hacker gained access to Rockstar’s Slack channel.
They released 90 minutes of footage after threatening the developer, which showed some of the locations the new game will feature and the two protagonists.
Rockstar Games said on social media at the time: “We recently suffered a network intrusion in which an unauthorised third party illegally accessed and downloaded confidential information from our systems, including early development footage for the next Grand Theft Auto.
“At this time, we do not anticipate any disruption to our live game services nor any long-term effect on the development of our ongoing projects.
“We are extremely disappointed to have any details of our next game shared with you all in this way.”
Brigit Forysth: Actress who starred in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? dies
Actress Brigit Forsyth – who starred in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? – has died at the age of 83, her agent has said.
Forsyth played Thelma Ferris, the long-suffering wife of Rodney Bewes’s character Bob, in the cult 1970s BBC sitcom.
Her agent Mark Pemberton confirmed she died “peacefully in her sleep surrounded by her family” in the early hours of Friday morning.
He said in a statement: “Brigit had a varied and notable career in stage, screen and radio. Best known for her roles in television as Thelma in Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, Francine Pratt in Playing The Field and Madge in Still Open All Hours.”
Following the final episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? in 1974, Forsyth appeared in shows such as Poirot and Casualty.
She also appeared in Coronation Street – playing one of Ken Barlow’s escort clients.
In 2000, she returned to screens as the social climbing snob Francine Pratt, who was married to businessman Jim Pratt played by Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson, in the BBC’s footballing drama Playing The Field.
Forsyth also won plaudits for her stage roles which included playing an American in The Glass Menagerie and a Polish doctor in a production at the National Theatre.
She also appeared in radio plays on the BBC over the years and featured in the Radio 4 sitcom Ed Reardon’s Week.
Forsyth founded her own cross-disciplinary theatre company, Word Mills Productions, in 2016.
Her agent described her as a talented musician who played the cello, sang and composed.
Her husband was Coronation Street director Brian Mills.
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