We all remember Good Will Hunting as the touching drama about a troubled genius who works as a janitor (and something about apples, right?) The combination of an Oscar-winning script by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and Gus Van Sant, a director who, up to that point, had a career consisting of expert societal button-pushing, made magic. But as touching as the movie turned out, it's important to note how different it could have been. Violently different.
It's well known that the original screenplay for Good Will Hunting was a thriller in which the genius main character was recruited by the FBI. Thank the gods that changed, but perhaps it was that genesis which led to Mel Gibson being first at bat to direct the film. Yep, it's true. The news comes courtesy of Boston Magazine (via Movies.com), which has published an extensive conversation with the cast and crew of the film in honor of its 15th anniversary.
Initially, Affleck and Damon, desperate to get the thing made, asked Kevin Smith if he'd direct it. Smith turned it down, but he passed the script to Harvey Weinstein, who positively flipped for it. From there, Gibson was brought into the project. “We met with Mel Gibson,” Affleck, who's been doing a spot-on Weinstein impersonation since he made Good Will Hunting, said, “and Braveheart had just come out, and was as hot as could be. But we hadn’t seen Braveheart and Harvey was like, 'YOU HAVEN’T SEEN BRAVEHEART? F*CKING LIE TO HIM AND TELL HIM YOU LOVE BRAVEHEART.' So the first thing we said was, 'We just want to tell you how much we loved Braveheart!'” Knowing what we now know about Mel's mood swings, they probably made the right choice.
Alas, a Gibsonized version of Good Will Hunting wasn't in the cards. Mel dragged his feet developing the script for several months and Damon eventually had to ask the volatile filmmaker to let them take it elsewhere. “Matt at one point said directly to Gibson, “Look, man. We’re getting too old. If this keeps going by, Ben and I can’t play these parts. Is there any chance you’d just let it go?” And to Mel’s credit, he said, “I totally understand what you’re saying.” That was a real stand-up thing to do.” Well yeah, but Mel knows a thing or two about the dangers of getting too old for this shit.
Obviously, this turned out to be for the best, at least if the film's two Oscars are any measure. But I can't help but feel that the world was denied something kind of magical on the day Gibson let them take their script to another director. Let's have a moment of silence then, for the hyper-patriotic revenge obsessed version of Good Will Hunting that never happened.
Ross Lincoln is a LA-based freelance writer from Oklahoma with an unhealthy obsession with comics, movies, video games, ancient history, Gore Vidal, and wine.
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