Did you know Matt Damon was in the running to be a Na’vi for 2009’s blockbuster smash hit Avatar? At the time, the actor was finishing off his Bourne trilogy with The Bourne Ultimatum when James Cameron approached him. However, Damon was forced to pass due to scheduling conflicts– making way for Sam Worthington to get his big break as Jake Sully. If The Martian actor had been able to star in Avatar, his earnings would have been astronomical. In Damon’s words:
Jim Cameron offered me Avatar. And when he offered it to me, he goes, ‘Now, listen. I don’t need anybody. I don’t need a name for this, a named actor. If you don’t take this, I’m going to find an unknown actor and give it to him, because the movie doesn't really need you. But if you take the part, I'll give you ten percent of...’ So on the subject of money…
Matt Damon was offered ten percent of Avatar’s profits, as GQ clarifies, following his revelation. Now, considering the movie went on to make a staggering over $2.78 billion worldwide, his paycheck for the role would have been a quarter of a billion. That’s right, $250 million. It would have surely marked record earnings for an actor. Like, any actor ever... in history.
We've heard before about actors receiving back-end paychecks based on film earnings. Robert Downey Jr., for example, received a cut of the profits for the Iron Man and Avengers films. The Tony Stark actor reportedly was paid $50 million after 2012’s The Avengers. Other actors, including Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise, also benefitted from back-end deals. However, none seem to compare to Matt Damon’s offer from James Cameron.
Matt Damon said he once told John Krasinski of the missed-out millions while they were writing 2012’s Promised Land together. Here’s what he said:
We’re writing in the kitchen and we’re on a break… And I tell him [Krasinski] the story and he goes, ‘What?’ And he stands up and he starts pacing in the kitchen. He goes, ‘OK. OK. OK. OK. OK.’ He goes, ‘If you had done that movie, nothing in your life would be different. Nothing in your life would be different at all. Except that, right now, we would be having this conversation in space.’ So, yeah. I've left more money on the table than any actor actually.
But hey, with that record, you can’t call Matt Damon a sellout! John Krasinski made a great point to Damon. His life wouldn’t have been significantly changed if he’d starred in Avatar. By that time, he’d already become a household name and would go on to star in tons other high profile roles, including more writing and producing projects. He added: “My kids are all eating. I’m doing ok.”
Also, as James Cameron suspected, Avatar didn’t need a big name in order to be successful. It went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time – that is until Avengers: Endgame dethroned it over summer. Jake Gyllenhaal was also reportedly up for the same role. Still, Matt Damon seemed to be the only one who was offered the particularly sweet deal, considering his star status.