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Matt Damon Confirms Two Saving Private Ryan Stories About Robin Williams And Steven Spielberg

Matt Damon’s had a big year in Hollywood, heading down to Australia to reprise his funny MCU role in Thor: Love and Thunder and also becoming a player in the post-Covid theatrical resurgence with his movie Stillwater. That’s not even touching on his upcoming projects -- including one reuniting him with Ben Affleck -- however, despite all the new things coming up, Damon has been happy to reminisce about his career as well, and recently confirmed two big stories about his time filming Saving Private Ryan.

Firstly, if you’ve ever heard the rumor that the young actor, who actually played the titular Private Ryan, was kept away from the rest of the gang during the pre-production and making of the 1998 classic, Matt Damon has confirmed it’s a true one. In fact, he says he wanted to go to boot camp with the rest of the actors, telling Hot Ones host Sean Evans that if the goal was for the Saving Private Ryan cast to be a little resentful of the actor, that goal was achieved.

That’s totally true. I was such a young diligent actor. I was all ready to go to boot camp. He said, ‘Absolutely not. You can train however you want, but I’m separating you from the other guys.’ They were--they were totally resentful every time they brought up boot camp. Because I think it rained the whole time. I think they had a tough few days.

It’s been quick a few weeks with people asking career questions of the actor, who has been in a lot of renowned projects since kicking things off with Good Will Hunting in the ‘90s. The fact that Spielberg purposefully kept Matt Damon away from the rest of the heavy-hitting cast -- a cast which also included Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns and more--was an interesting fact, and it’s not the only one the actor has shared recently.

In fact, in a separate interview with GQ, Matt Damon also said that Spielberg egged the rest of the cast on in regards to him not having to go through boot camp. Despite Spielberg throwing him under the bus a little to make the character interactions more memorable, he’s simply thankful he landed the part. He also confirmed that Robin Williams was the person that really helped him land the role in the iconic film.

Robin took Ben and me to meet Steven [Spielberg] because he knew it was never a bad thing to meet the greatest filmmaker of all time and how much we’d appreciate that. I had put myself on tape and I had read for Private Ryan and I hadn’t been cast. He met me in person and said ‘I think I know you from somewhere,’ and I said ‘Well I did this movie called Courage Under Fire,’ and he goes ‘That’s the one, you know it’s funny, I said to my wife that’s the exact type of person I want to play Private Ryan, but he’s too thin.’ Because I’d lost 40 pounds, I was playing a heroin addict in Courage Under Fire. And so it was only because Robin introduced me to him that he went ‘Oh OK, no you’re the kind of guy I’m looking for for that job.’

Matt Damon went on to note he really does owe a lot to Robin Williams in his career. Anyone who has been following Damon since the early days should know Williams is a major part of his earlier film Good Will Hunting and what made that movie so magnetic, too. He really clarified that getting to do those movies both stem back to the comedian.

So Robin not only got our dream in Good Will Hunting made he actually got me the role in Saving Private Ryan as well.

The WWII-set film was a success, grossing nearly $500 million worldwide and more than $200 million domestically during its 1998 run. Though a small role for Damon, it also helped to cement the actor as more of a household name ahead of his Bourne Identity role, which would come a few short years later. To think it may not have come about if it were not for Robin Williams really sort of highlights how easily things can change in Hollywood and how much chance encounters can impact a person’s career.

Of course, Matt Damon has built a lengthy and impressive resume at this point, but hearing how things came about and why all these years later is still really interesting. Next up, you can catch Matt Damon back on the big screen in The Last Duel opposite his former partner Ben Affleck, out on October 15.

Jessica Rawden

Amazing Race & Top Chef superfan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.