Matt Damon on Stillwater at Cannes press conference: “It’s not an American film, not a French film, but a hybrid film.”
Director Tom McCarthy and cast members Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin and Lilou Siauvaud assemble in the Palais to discuss Stillwater, the Amanda Knox-esque drama that sees Damon transform into a Southern roughneck on a mission to free his daughter from a French prison. The press conference kicks off with Damon discussing how the film is “what we perceive as America today”, and McCarthy shows his gratitude to his French co-writers Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre, who were able to offer a more objective perspective on the US-inspired elements of the film.
The cast spend a lot of time praising one another: “When you work with great actors, they’re good enough for both of you”, says Damon when reflecting back on his career. His amazement at the talent of young Siauvaud was a surprise on set, the star admitting, “I realised I was working with the Meryl Streep of nine-year-olds” after filming their first scene together. Damon obviously has a protective streak as he tried hard to make the working days fun for the young actor “so it didn’t feel like a job”. Breslin was next to offer her compliments, describing Damon as one of the most patient people she has worked with and adding, “It’s definitely not a hardship to have to work with him (Damon)”. McCarthy notes Damon’s dedication to the role and his preparation: “He had done his homework”.
At the centre of this film is a father-daughter relationship, and Damon reflects on how becoming a parent himself has made him more empathetic to characters: “Since I’ve had kids things are a lot more available in my job, emotionally speaking; I don’t have to reach so much”. He recalls sympathising with Baker when reading the script and the shame and responsibility every parent feels if something happens to their child. Breslin weighed in on their characters’ turbulent relationship: “A parent always loves their child and a child always loves their parent; they’re both messed up in their own unique way.”
A journalist points out that in the film, Damon’s character didn’t vote, and asks if he would have if he were able. The actor replies by saying that creating the geo-political protagonist was crucial and noting that men like his character “don’t apologise for what they are or what they believe”. He also talks about the physicality of his character: he wears fire-retardant jeans which affects his walk, an element that Damon worked on for a long time, gaining weight whilst still retaining muscle.
The elephant in the room is addressed as a journalist asks about the link to Amanda Knox, and it becomes obvious that this is a topic that McCarthy does not wish to get into. He confesses, “I was pretty fascinated with the Amanda Knox case, I kept up with it”, but he clarifies that the origin of the premise came from a father and daughter and their strained relationship. The director was also asked about his thoughts on the French legal system – again not the most comfortable question for him. “I’m a pessimist when it comes to systems”, he notes, however the fimmaker admits that he was taken aback by how different it is to the US system.
The conversation moves onto the pandemic and the reopening of cinemas. Damon is visibly thrilled to be at the festival, syaing, “it was such a great reminder of why we do this and why we get together”. It was seen all over Twitter that he was moved to tears during the five-minute standing ovation in the theatre. He attributes his heightened emotions to the pandemic taking cinema away for over a year: “I wouldn’t have appreciated it in that way if we hadn’t gone through what we had gone through.”
The press conference finishes with Damon expressing his gratitude towards the French actors of the film and says working with them “was a joy”. He clarifies that the objective of the film was never to have one country’s identity favoured over the other, stressing that Stillwater is “not an American film, not a French film, but a hybrid film”.
Stillwater is released nationwide on 6th August 2021.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Stillwater here: