Matt Damon reflected on some of the biggest moments of his career during his Cannes Film Festival masterclass yesterday, including how he had turned down the lead role in Avatar. The actor, who spoke to the audience at the French-set festival while premiering his new Tom McCarthy-directed crime drama, Stillwater, revealed that he decided to pass on the 2009 epic sci-fi movie, even after James Cameron offered him a portion of the feature’s profits.
“I was offered a little movie called Avatar, James Cameron offered me 10% of it,” Damon recalled during his Cannes masterclass. “I will go down in history…you will never meet an actor who turned down more money.”
The Golden Globe-winning actor revealed that he choose not to star in Avatar because he was shooting the Jason Bourne films at the same time. He felt it was the morally right decision not to abandon the critically acclaimed, box office hit action thriller franchise, which is one of the biggest series of his career.
After Damon turned down the role of former Marine Jake Sully in Avatar, Cameron went on to cast the then relatively unknown Sam Worthington in the part. The Australian performer, who earned several honors for his portrayal of the drama’s protagonist, including the Saturn Award and Empire Award for Best Actor, is reprising the character in the feature’s upcoming sequels.
Damon also recounted the first time he shared the fact that he passed on Avatar‘s lead role with his frequent collaborator, John Krasinski. Damon recalled that his Manchester by the Sea co-producer rose from the table in total shock before saying, “Nothing would be different in your life if you had done Avatar, except you and me would be having this conversation in space.”
While Avatar recently reclaimed the honor of being the top-grossing movie of all time, having just passed the $2.8 billion mark through its theatrical re-release in China, Damon has found success through other prestigious acting jobs. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2016 for his role in director-producer Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film, The Martian, and also appeared in helmer-producer James Mangold’s acclaimed 2019 sports drama, Ford v Ferrari. The actor also had cameos in several MCU movies, including Deadpool 2 and Thor: Ragnarok.
Damon, who became a household name when he starred in, and won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar with co-writer Ben Affleck for, 1997’s Good Will Hunting, also talked about how he has never directed a feature during his Cannes masterclass. The filmmaker revealed that he was supposed to helm the 2012 drama, Promised Land, which Gus Van Sant eventually helmed. At one point, Damon was also set to direct Manchester by the Sea, but he felt the movie’s screenwriter, Kenneth Lonergan, was better suited to helm the project.
Another important subject that Damon discussed at the Cannes Film Festival was the importance of injecting diversity into the projects he produces. The subject even more important after he was shocked by the results of an Annenberg study, which highlighted the lack of representation in the film industry. So he decided to add an inclusion rider to his movies movie forward. “We want our business to reflect the country that we live in. The rider is enough to make people stop and think,” the filmmaker noted.
Damon also expressed his joy at being back in Cannes after Stillwater received a standing ovation following its premiere. “It was such a relief to be in a room with a thousand strangers who are part of a community because we love the same thing. I’ve never felt that so strongly, having been denied it for 18 months, I was really overwhelmed by all of us being able to gather here again,” he shared.