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Hollywood's golden boy once lived on Spam, scrounged the couch cushions for change, and read only the scripts rejected by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Chris O'Donnell.
So what did Matt do when he was down on his luck? Put on a shirt and tie and join the working stiffs? Take a full-time gig as Goofy at Disneyland? Nah. Not this Harvard boy. He got together with his friend Ben Affleck, and the two best buds wrote themselves a movie.
Actually, when Matt Damon came up with the first seedling of the idea that would later become the Academy-Award-winning film Good Will Hunting, he was still back east -- a student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And he wasn't thinking about writing a screenplay yet. He was just...doing his homework.
It wasn't until five years later that Matt and Ben transformed what had started out as Matt's creative-writing assignment into the sleeper hit of the 1997 Christmas movie season. And suddenly it seemed that Matt shot to stardom in the blink of an eye. But he didn't exactly shoot...he kind of crawled.
Matt always wanted to be an actor, and when he got the second-billed role in the 1992 prep school drama School Ties, he thought he'd hit the big time. The cast was filled with handsome and talented up-and-comers, including Matt, Brendan Fraser, Chris O'Donnell, Ben Affleck, Randall Batinkoff, Anthony Rapp, and Cole Hauser. Matt was sure that this movie would be his springboard to fame. But after the premiere he didn't get any calls from casting directors. Disappointed, he went looking for work.
Then Matt landed a role in the much-hyped 1993 release Geronimo: An American Legend. Matt's hopes were high, but the movie flopped and fame eluded him once again.
Finally Matt took a bit part in Courage Under Fire, a heavy drama about the Gulf War starring megacelebs Meg Ryan and Denzel Washington. Matt's performance was riveting and a few critics took notice, calling his portrayal of a troubled Gulf War veteran his breakthrough role. On the press tour for the film, Denzel Washington often mentioned how impressed he was with Matt's talents. But none of this was enough to put Matt on the A-list, and scripts were still hard for him to come by.
Discouraged, Matt left Hollywood and all but gave up on acting. He didn't read another script for six months. He and Ben had sold the screenplay for Good Will Hunting to Miramax, but the production company wasn't planning to make the movie anytime soon -- if ever.
Then Matt's agent sent him the script for The Rainmaker. Matt loved the story and took off for Tennessee to audition for the part. A few days later Academy-Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola decided to take a chance on little-known Matt and signed him to star in the film.
It was the role that would change everything.
"The day after I got The Rainmaker, I sent Harvey a fax...I said, 'Dear Harvey, I am the Rainmaker. I'm that guy,'" Matt says.
"Harvey" was Harvey Weinstein, the chief Of Miramax. The Rainmaker was a film adapted from a John Grisham novel. Other Grisham films had featured hot stars such as Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Chris O'Donnell, and Matthew McConaughey.
Knowing that The Rainmaker would put Matt on the map of fame, Miramax pushed Good Will Hunting into production. Then Steven Spielberg handpicked Matt to play the title role in his new film Saving Private Ryan, and the offers started rolling in.
And that, you might say, was the end of Matt's relationship with Spam.
Copyright © 1998 by Daniel Weiss Associates, Inc.