14 Wicked Smart Facts About Good Will Hunting

Miramax Films
Miramax Films

There are plenty of reasons why Good Will Hunting is one of the most beloved films of the past 20 years. It has that great Robin Williams performance, the only one he ever won an Oscar for. It put indie director Gus Van Sant on the mainstream map. And, of course, it gave us Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Cinderella story: two up-and-coming actors who slept on each other’s couches, wrote a screenplay, starred in the movie, and then won Academy Awards for their writing. (The movie tends to make us cry, too. We shouldn’t overlook that.) On the 20th anniversary of its original release, here are some facts about Good Will Hunting to help you appreciate it even more. If you didn’t know some of these things before, don’t worry. It’s not your fault.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY ABOUT A MATH GENIUS AND HIS BUDDY OUTSMARTING THE GOVERNMENT.

That’s how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck conceived it, with the idea that they’d play the leads. When the producers at Castle Rock bought the screenplay (after a bidding war), head honcho Rob Reiner told the writers that they really had two movies here: the action-comedy about a reluctant whiz kid trying not to be recruited by the CIA, and the character drama about a genius and his shrink. He left it to them to decide which part of the story would survive. 

2. IT HAS A MIX OF REAL BOSTON LOCATIONS AND SETS BUILT IN TORONTO.

All of the MIT interiors were shot on a Canadian sound stage. The L Street Tavern is real, and the regulars were hugely supportive of the movie. In one peculiar instance of logistics, the exterior shots of Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College are real, but Dr. Maguire’s office within the college is a set ... a set built to look exactly like a real office at Bunker Hill Community College, where Robin Williams had visited a teacher for research. 

3. THE PARK BENCH BECAME A MEMORIAL TO ROBIN WILLIAMS AFTER HIS DEATH. 


Getty Images

Located in Boston’s Public Garden, the bench where Dr. Maguire and Will have their iconic, crucial scene had been a significant part of Good Will Hunting lore since the film’s release. After Williams’s death in 2014, it’s where fans memorialized him.

4. FOR A WHILE THE SCREENPLAY HAD A GAY SEX SCENE AS A TEST TO SEE IF THE STUDIO WAS PAYING ATTENTION.

Castle Rock had Damon and Affleck doing rewrite after rewrite without getting anywhere, and the duo felt like the bosses weren’t even reading the new drafts. So they added a paragraph-long screen direction describing Sean and Will goin’ at it. Nobody said anything.

5. KEVIN SMITH HELPED IT GET MADE.

Though Castle Rock loved the screenplay they’d purchased (more so after the running-from-the-government angle was excised), they disagreed with the writers on who should direct it. Damon and Affleck wanted to do it themselves; Castle Rock thought that idea was preposterous. (Buying a screenplay from a couple of pretty-boy actors was risky enough.) They told Matt and Ben that if they could find another studio to take it off Castle Rock’s hands, they’d sell; otherwise, Castle Rock was going to make the film without the writers’ input, and that would be that. Desperate to find a buyer, Affleck approached his Mallrats and Chasing Amy director, Kevin Smith. In Affleck’s recollection, Smith said, “I wouldn’t dare direct this movie, this is so beautiful.” (Smith’s recollection is more self-deprecating: “Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were like, ‘Why don’t you direct it?’ But I was like, ‘That’s awesome, but we need someone good.’”) What Smith did do, though, was personally bring it to the offices of Miramax, where it was promptly purchased.

6. MEL GIBSON ALMOST DIRECTED IT.

After Miramax bought the script from Castle Rock, the company began setting up meetings with various potential directors, including Mel Gibson, who was a hot commodity at the time because of Braveheart. Gibson was interested, and he spent a few months developing the project, but ultimately he wasn’t moving fast enough. Damon politely asked if he might consider stepping aside for someone who really had a passion for it, and Gibson obliged.

7. IT’S BY FAR THE MOST PROFITABLE FEATURE GUS VAN SANT HAS EVER DIRECTED.

Van Sant was (and for the most part still is) a director of small, independent features, not blockbusters. The $263.5 million that Good Will Hunting made worldwide is more than three times as much as his second most profitable film, 2000's Finding Forrester, earned at the global box office.

8. ROBIN WILLIAMS CHOSE THE BAR.

Once he committed to the movie, Williams wanted to get a taste of South Boston by having Affleck and Damon take him around the neighborhood. They took him to a rough dive bar called the L Street Tavern, where the colorful locals mobbed the actor and drunk guys tried to fight Affleck. Williams loved the place and insisted that they just had to use it as a location (even though his character wasn’t in any of the scenes that took place there).

9. VAN SANT WANTED AFFLECK’S CHARACTER TO DIE.

At one point in the rewriting process, after Van Sant was onboard as director, he said, “I want Chuckie to get flattened on a construction site … Crushed like a bug.” He proposed that this would be the climax to the movie’s second act. Affleck and Damon protested, but dutifully wrote it. Van Sant read it and said, “It’s a terrible idea.” 

10. WILL HUNTING WAS MAYBE GOING TO DIE AT THE END, TOO.

Damon said one of the endings he and Affleck toyed with was where “Carmine came back with his boys and a baseball bat to kill Will Hunting, who deep down actually wanted to be killed. It was his way of getting out.” Yikes.

11. MATT DAMON AGREES WITH YOU THAT HIS HAIR IS TERRIBLE.

As he told an interviewer in 2012, “That is so my fault. For whatever reason at that age, I loved that haircut. Gus was like, ‘Really?’ Ben was like, ‘Really?’ If you look at Ben’s hair in that movie, it’s totally acceptable by today’s standards, but no, I wanted the frosted f*****’ hair. I don’t know what my problem was. I looked like I should be singing backup for Color Me Badd.”

12. STELLAN SKARSGÅRD STANDS BY HIS SCARF, THOUGH. 


Miramax Films

Some have mocked Professor Gerald Lambeau’s fashion choice, and the fact that he wears it constantly, but Skarsgård doesn’t understand why. “It was not my idea, it was the costume designer’s idea,” he said. “But it was totally in line with mine because the first thing I said was, ‘I’m a college professor—no tweed.’ That was a condition because I wanted a rock and roll professor more than a tweed professor. I want a professor that f*cked his students. And I got it!”

13. THE ENDING WAS TERRENCE MALICK’S IDEA.

The reclusive director of Badlands and Days of Heaven (he was a year away from making The Thin Red Line) happened to be good friends with an Affleck family friend, so Ben and Matt arranged a meeting with him. Over dinner, they told him the plot of the movie, which at that point ended with Damon's and Minnie Driver’s characters leaving town together. “In the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her,’" Damon recalled. "And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that’s better … He started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that’s enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough.” 

14. IT FEATURES TWO THINGS THAT VAN SANT HAD ALMOST USED IN HIS PREVIOUS FILM: MATT DAMON AND THE MUSIC OF ELLIOTT SMITH.

Damon had auditioned for To Die For, in the role that eventually went to Joaquin Phoenix. Van Sant later said, “[Damon] looked too much like the jock and I needed more of a dispossessed boy … I wanted to use Matt so much, and I could have gone that direction, but I felt it might actually destroy the movie.” As for Elliott Smith, Van Sant was given one of his albums when he was working on To Die For, “because I was looking for something that was really raw. [But] we were thinking more in terms of heavy metal, so we didn’t use Elliott.” 

10 Things You Might Not Know About Robert De Niro

RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images
RALPH GATTI, AFP/Getty Images

Robert De Niro is part of the pantheon of independent-minded filmmakers who cut through Hollywood noise in the 1970s with edgier fare to create what became known as “The New Hollywood.” Following stints with Brian De Palma and Roger Corman, De Niro teamed up with Martin Scorsese for the first time with 1973's Mean Streets, which launched a fruitful artistic collaboration that has produced some of the best movies of the past half-century.

Even after his shift into commercial comedies like Meet the Parents, “dedication” has remained De Niro’s watchword. The two-time Oscar winner has earned Hollywood legend status with panache and bone-deep portrayals. Here are 10 facts about the filmmaker on his 75th birthday. (Yes, we’re talkin’ to you.)

1. HIS FIRST ROLE WAS IN A STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ—AT AGE 10.

Robert De Niro got bit by the acting bug early. He threatened to thrash a hippopotamus from top to bottom-us as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of 10. (This is the remake and casting the world needs right now.)

2. HE DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TO PURSUE ACTING.

Robert De Niro arrives at the UK premiere of epic war drama film 'The Deer Hunter', UK, 28th February 1979
John Minihan, Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

De Niro’s mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter whose work was part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and his father, Robert De Niro, Sr., was a celebrated abstract expressionist painter. So the apple falling into drama school instead of the art studio still isn’t that far from the tree. Having already gotten a youthful dose of stage life, De Niro quit his private high school to try to become an actor. He first went to the nonprofit HB Studio before studying under Stella Adler and, later, The Actors Studio.

3. HE’S A DUAL CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES AND ITALY.

De Niro is American, Italian-American, and, as of 2004, Italian. The country bestowed honorary citizenship upon De Niro as an honor in recognition of his career, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the passport office. A group called the Order of the Sons of Italy in America strongly protested the Italian government’s plan due to De Niro’s frequent portrayal of negative Italian-American stereotypes.

4. HE GAINED 60 POUNDS FOR RAGING BULL.

Preparing to play the misfortune-laden boxing champ Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull required two major things from De Niro: training and gaining. For the latter, De Niro ate his way through Europe during a four-month binge of ice cream and pasta. His 60-pound-gain was dramatic enough that it concerned Martin Scorsese. It was one way to show dedication to a role, but the training element was even more impressive. De Niro got so good at boxing that when LaMotta set up several professional-level sparring bouts for the actor, De Niro won two of them.

5. HE AND MARLON BRANDO ARE THE ONLY ACTORS TO WIN OSCARS FOR PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER.

De Niro won his first Oscar in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II, for portraying the younger version of Vito Corleone—the wizened capo played by Marlon Brando, who also won an Oscar for the role (Brando’s came in 1973, for The Godfather). No other pair of actors has managed the feat, although Jeff Bridges came close in 2010 when he was nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit (a role originated by John Wayne in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 movie of the same name). Oddly enough, Bridges was in contention for the role of Travis Bickle, the role that earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

6. HE DROVE A CAB TO PREPARE FOR TAXI DRIVER.

If you’re looking for commitment to a role, ask Hack #265216. De Niro got a taxicab driver’s license to study up to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and spent several weekends cruising around New York City picking up fares. It’s possible that having his teeth filed down for Cape Fear is the most intense transformation he’s undergone for a role, but picking up a part-time job to live the lonely life of Bickle is more humane.

7. ONE OF HIS FILMS POSTPONED ONE OF HIS OSCAR WINS.

The 53rd Academy Awards—where De Niro won for playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull—were originally scheduled for March 30, 1981 but were postponed until the following day because of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., claimed the attack was intended to impress Jodie Foster, who Hinckley grew obsessed with after watching Taxi Driver.

8. HE LAUNCHED THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL IN THE WAKE OF 9/11.

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal speak onstage at the 'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Producer Jane Rosenthal, philanthropist Craig M. Hatkoff, and De Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 as a showcase for independent films that would hopefully “spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan” after the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks. With its empire state of mind, the inaugural festival in 2002 featured a “Best of New York Series” handpicked by Martin Scorsese and drew an astonishing 150,000 attendees.

9. HE WAS ONCE INTERROGATED BY FRENCH POLICE CONCERNING A PROSTITUTION RING.

One of the most bizarre chapters in De Niro’s life came when he was publicly named in the investigation of a prostitution ring in Paris. The 1998 incident included a lengthy interrogation session (De Niro filed an official complaint) and a pile of paparazzi waiting for him when he left the prosecutor’s office. De Niro railed against the entire country, vowing to return his Legion of Honour and telling Le Monde newspaper that, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France.” (He had cooled off enough by 2011 to act as the Cannes Film Festival’s jury president.)

10. HE LOVED THE CAT(S) IN MEET THE PARENTS.

Meet the Parents’s Mr. Jinx (Jinxy!) was played by two Himalayans named Bailey and Misha, and De Niro fell in love with them. He played with them between scenes, kept kibble in his pocket for them, and asked director Jay Roach to have Mr. Jinx in as many scenes as possible.

National Portrait Gallery Celebrates Aretha Franklin With Week-Long Exhibition

Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA
Courtesy of Angela Pham BFA

With the passing of Aretha Franklin on August 16, 2018, the world has lost one of its most distinctive voices—and personalities. As celebrities and fans share their memories of the Queen of Soul and what her music meant to them, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery will pay tribute to the legendary songstress's life with a week-long exhibition of her portrait.

Throughout her career, Franklin earned some of the music industry's highest accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards. In 1987, she became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearly 30 years later, in 2015, the National Portrait Gallery fêted Franklin with the Portrait of a Nation Prize, which recognizes "the accomplishments of notable contemporary Americans whose portraits reside in the National Portrait Gallery collection." (Madeline Albright, Spike Lee, and Rita Moreno are among some of its recent recipients.)

Milton Glaser's lithograph of Aretha Franklin, which is displayed at The National Portrait Gallery
© Milton Glaser

Franklin's portrait was the creation of noted graphic designer Milton Glaser, who employed "his characteristic kaleidoscope palette and innovative geometric forms to convey the creative energy of Franklin's performances," according to the Gallery. The colorful lithographic was created in 1968, the very same year that the National Portrait Gallery opened.

Glaser's image will be installed in the "In Memoriam" section of the museum, which is located on the first floor, on Friday, August 17 and will remain on display to the public through August 22, 2018. The Gallery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and admission is free.

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