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'The Last Duel': Why Ben Affleck and Matt Damon waited 25 years to write after ‘Good Will Hunting’

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Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have reunited again for 83-year-old Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel (opens in theatres on Oct. 15), alongside Adam Driver, but it’s really Jodie Comer, who steals the show from the men in this story with an emotional and extraordinary performance.

The Last Duel, dubbed a 14th century #MeToo story, is based on real events and Eric Jager’s 2004 book, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France,” after the Hundred Years War.

At the beginning of the story we meet friends Jean de Carrouges (Damon), a knight from Normandy, and Jacques Le Gris (Driver), son of a Norman squire. As Le Gris’ status with Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck) begins to rise, their friendship turns into hostility, particularly when Carrouges gets expelled from court.

One year later, Carrouges introduces his wife, Marguerite (Comer), to Le Gris, as the two men attempt to rectify their friendship. But things turn more sour when Marguerite tells her husband that while he was away from home, she was raped by Le Gris. Now pregnant, Marguerite refuses to stay silent about the vicious attack.

With Le Gris denying his actions, The Last Duel shows us the three perspectives of the events surrounding Marguerite’s attack, in three acts, culminating in a duel to the death, to let God reveal the truth of what really happened between Marguerite and Le Gris.

VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 10: (L-R) Matt Damon, Ridley Scott, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener arrive for the photocall of 20th Century Studios' movie
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 10: (L-R) Matt Damon, Ridley Scott, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener arrive for the photocall of 20th Century Studios' movie "The Last Duel" during the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 10, 2021 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios )

'We were kind of afraid of writing because we were so inefficient'

It has been almost 25 years since Good Will Hunting was released, and we saw Affleck and Damon come together to co-write, as well as act in, a movie. One question coming to mind in 2021, why now and why this project in particular for their reunion?

We were kind of afraid of writing because we were so inefficient. It was so time consuming the first time, we did it because we didn’t know what we were doing and it took us literally years, and we wrote thousands and thousands of pages that we basically scrunched into a 130-page screenplay.Matt Damon, actor, The Last Duel

“I think by just doing movies for 25 years, just kind of by osmosis, we figured out structure. So it turned out to be really efficient, the process, and also begging an incredible writer like Nicole [Holofcener] to come help us was also a really good idea too.”

While Damon and Affleck co-wrote the screenplay with Nicole Holofcener, it’s actually the third act, Marguerite’s perspective, largely written by Holofcener, that is the strongest.

“I basically wrote the third act, but they also had a hand in it, because it had to be part of the whole movie,” Holofcener said about working on the script with Damon and Affleck.

“Matt and Ben had already started writing and had decided to write it in this three part point of view kind of way, and they asked me to come and write the last part, and I was thrilled.”

While Affleck and Damon had Jager’s 2004 book to base their work on for the first two acts of the movie, Holofcener was essentially writing an original screenplay because the perspective of Marguerite, really the perspective of all women in the 14th century, was largely undocumented.

“The men of the time,...they took very fastidious notes about what they were all up to, but they didn’t record what the women were doing,” Damon explained. “Nicole really had to create Jodie’s world, Marguerite’s world, out of whole cloth.”

Adam Driver as Jacques LeGris and Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios'
Adam Driver as Jacques LeGris and Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios' "The Last Duel." (Photo by Patrick Redmond.)

'Jarring' process of filming three acts

Looking at the acting in The Last Duel, the actors actually shot each of the perspectives simultaneously, a process that Comer called “jarring” at times.

“I’m always wanting to make sure that we’ve got Marguerite,” Comer said. “Then I felt like I could play around with the other versions.”

“I was kind of afforded a lot of freedom in what I wanted to explore… It’s so important that when you’re in each perspective, you’re really kind of invested in what that character is telling you.”

But ultimately, it was the pursuit of this character through different lenses that attracted the phenomenal actor to the project, in addition to working with famed filmmaker Scott.

“I read the script and I was so fascinated by the structure of it and this idea of there being three perspectives but, ultimately, only one truth,” Comer explained.

“I remember when I met Matt early on and Matt was like, you should know, [Ridley Scott] works at a pace, like he has four or five cameras rolling… I’ve never worked like this before. It was just really fascinating to see how he makes his decisions. His attention to detail, whether it be through the characters in the story or the locations, and the set design. He doesn’t miss a trick.”

Affleck and Damon also praised Comer for her work on the movie, with Affleck saying a “great actress” will show the “subtlety and nuance” in each of the perspectives.

“That doesn’t work unless Jodie is so smart and brave, and complicated in her performance,” Affleck went on to say. “I’m not sure every actor would have...actually [played] another character’s point of view of themself, rather than their sense of their true self.”

“She does that so perfectly, so that it’s seamless, you don’t get a sense that, ‘oh, it’s an exaggerated version of a person.’ It feels like versions of women we’ve seen in movies before and we wanted to exploit the fact that, historically, people are, in many ways, largely accustomed to women being secondary and tertiary characters.”

Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios'
Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios' "The Last Duel." (Patrick Redmond)

'Misogynist institutions create and produce people who reflect those values'

The initial setup of the film is slower-paced, even for a the lengthy, two-and-a-half hour medieval epic. But, as issues of class and gender are explored, it brutally thrusts the audience into injustices of the time, and unfortunately, larger themes which are still present today.

In this story, Marguerite must stand trial for her rape with the court, all men, trying to discredit her story. They suggest that Marguerite was attracted to Le Gris and the fact that she is pregnant means she could not have been raped, because one must have experienced pleasure in order to get pregnant.

Affleck explained that the ethics surrounding the story were “very deliberate.”

“Part of what we wanted to point out was the extent to which corrupt and morally bankrupt, and misogynist institutions create and produce people who reflect those values,” he said.

For Comer, she believes that ultimately, it’s always important to tell stories centred around the upsetting aspects of our society.

The sad part about this story is that you could say it for any part of history that’s gone by. They’re extremely delicate subjects and they need to be handled with sensitivity...especially in regards to the rape scenes themselves.Jodie Comer, Actor, The Last Duel

“You know that there are going to be many people who watch this film and, sadly, relate to it in some way, and that can be difficult to execute and it can be difficult to watch. But I believe we shouldn’t shy away from it for that reason, as long as it’s handled with care.”

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