During a recent interview with Matt Damon for The Times, I spoke at length about the writing of Good Will Hunting. The script arose, he said, from the stew of mixed feelings he had first as a Cambridge townie resentful of Harvard students, then as a Harvard undergraduate himself experiencing first hand the life he had been envying from afar.
“I think for us, coming from Cambridge, and living in a neighbourhood that was very much dwarfed by Harvard and MIT, we would look at these other people, these students who came in every September and think 'it's our city not yours' — all of those issues were very much a part of our lives and all the kids we knew and grew up with. And then I went to Harvard, and suddenly I was friends with all these people, and not seeing them as some strongman antagonist. Perfectly wonderful people too. So what does that mean? All that stuff bottled up in Good Will Hunting. Ben's father was the janitor. At Harvard. In fact his girlfriend at the time was the janitor in my dorm in my freshman year, which made it even more bizarre. So when on Friday night the kids would get too drunk and throw up all over the place, I knew who was going to clear it up and it was someone I considered a friend. That kind of shift came out, I think, in the soup of Good Will.”
After an intense bidding war ginned up by their agent, the script — which at that point included an action-filled sub-plot involving the CIA — was sold to Castle Rock.
"The original script that we sold had this high concept thing where the government was trying to get Will. Rob Riener sat with us for script meeting and said ‘why don’t you guys take all that stuff out?’ Wait a minute. We can do that? 'Yeah its enough just to make the movie about these guys. That’s a really good movie. That's what we really love about it. And we said 'we thought there was this whole high concept thing.’ ‘No you don’t need any of that’. At one point after Gus [Van Sant] became involved I was shooting The Rainmaker in Memphis and everyone came down for a script meeting. Gus came down and said 'I want to do a draft where Chucky, Ben's character, dies on the construction site.' And Ben and I were just mortified. 'What are you talking about’ ‘I want him to get crushed like a bug.’ We said ‘Gus what are you talking about? You cant just fucking smush Ben. That’s a terrible idea.’ Gus said 'no I really want to see what would happen.' So we did a whole new draft on weekends of The Rainmaker, when I wasn’t working, we would write, Ben and I did a whole draft, with a wake and everything. It took a left turn and went into this other place. The scenes in a vacuum I thought were good, but we still didn’t like the idea, then Gus read it said ‘okay its a terrible idea let's go back to what we had’.”
The idea for the ending was given them by Terrence Malick, who happened to be best friends with Affleck's godfather.
“We just asked if we could have a meeting with him. We went to Boston to see him. And we had it in the script that my character and Minnie's left together at the end of the movie. Terry didn’t read the script but we explained the whole story to him, and in the middle of the dinner, he said, 'I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.’ And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that ‘s better. He said it and he probably doesn’t even remmber that he said it. He started talking about Antonioni. 'In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that enough.’ And we said of course that's enough. That's where we come from. If you just leave that's a big enough deal. It doesn’t have to build up to anything more."