When Matt and Ben Met Nicole: How They Came to Write ‘The Last Duel’

It’s been practically 25 years since Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote and starred in “Good Will Hunting,” and cemented the type of Hollywood partnership the place one title isn’t spoken with out the opposite.

But for his or her first writing reunion since then, “The Last Duel,” the lads didn’t need simply one other model of The Matt and Ben Show. What they did need for this historic drama a couple of lady who was raped, and the lads who refuse to consider her, was a feminine collaborator. And in order that they sought out the writer-director Nicole Holofcener, celebrated for her nuanced observations of thorny modern ladies in films like “Enough Said” and “Friends With Money.”

“The Last Duel,” directed by Ridley Scott, based mostly on Eric Jager’s 2004 e book and in theaters Oct. 15, depicts France’s ultimate formally sanctioned trial by fight: In 1386, Jean de Carrouges, a knight, and his friend-turned-rival, Jacques Le Gris, a squire, are ordered to combat to the dying after Carrouges’s spouse, Marguerite, accuses Le Gris of raping her, and he denies it. Whoever survives can be proclaimed the winner as an indication of divine windfall. Should Carrouges lose, Marguerite can be burned on the stake for perjury.

The movie, set amid the brutality of the Hundred Years’ War, is split into three chapters — the “truth” in accordance to Carrouges (performed by Damon), Le Gris (Adam Driver) and lastly, Marguerite (Jodie Comer). Damon and Affleck wrote the male views, whereas Holofcener wrote Marguerite’s.

“The heaviest lift in the architecture of this screenplay was the third act, because that world of women had to be almost invented and imagined out of whole cloth,” Damon stated. “The men were very fastidious about taking notes about what they were up to at the time. But nobody was really talking about what was happening with the women, because they didn’t even have personhood.”

“This is an adaptation of a book that we read,” he added, “but Nicole’s part is kind of an original screenplay.”

Ben Affleck, left, Nicole Holofcener and Damon. Affleck despatched her some pages he and Damon had written. “They weren’t good,” Holofcener stated, “but they were good enough for me to say, “I want to work with these guys.”Credit…From left: Magdalena Wosinska for The New York Times; Dan MacMedan/Getty Images; Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

On a spirited video name in late August — Damon in Brooklyn, Affleck and Holofcener in Los Angeles — the three mentioned the intricacies of their collaboration and of portraying sexual assault throughout a violent interval when ladies had been little greater than chattel. These are edited excerpts from the dialog.

Let’s begin at the start. Matt, it’s December 2018 and you’ve simply learn Jager’s e book. What occurred subsequent?

MATT DAMON Ridley and I had been in search of one thing to do collectively since “The Martian,” and we’d had just a few close to misses. So I despatched it to Ridley, and he cherished it. In March 2019, Ben came to visit for dinner, and he took the e book that evening and referred to as me at 7 the subsequent morning and stated, “Let’s do this.” And that was how we set off to writing. But in a short time, by way of a bunch of various conversations we had been having with a bunch of individuals, we determined that it might serve the story finest if we discovered the very best feminine author we might to write the feminine perspective.

NICOLE HOLOFCENER [Dryly] Plus, Ridley and I’ve been in search of one thing to do collectively for years.

DAMON [Laughs] Oh, now I’m an [expletive]. Oh, God.

HOLOFCENER No — no. Am I making enjoyable of you? I didn’t imply that. I used to be simply fascinated with how completely different my sensibility is from Ridley’s. That’s all.

DAMON Yeah, yeah. Well, Nicole was our dream author and our first selection. And thank God she stated sure. And she stated sure largely as a result of Ben, behind my again, despatched her about 10 or 15 pages that we hadn’t proven anyone. And I used to be so embarrassed, like professionally embarrassed, that he despatched them to Nicole Holofcener.

HOLOFCENER They weren’t good, however they had been adequate for me to say, “I want to work with these guys.”

DAMON I believe they had been dangerous sufficient that she was like, “Oh, these guys need help.”

HOLOFCENER Bad sufficient in order that I wasn’t intimidated to give you the option to write for medieval language, at the least in English. But they’re so proficient, and I used to be instantly very flattered. The solely hesitation I had was, “Can I come out of my own little world and write about something like this?” And as quickly as I began and I received their help, I discovered that I might do it.

Jodie Comer as a 14th-century lady who accuses a squire of raping her.Credit…Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios

So why three chapters?

BEN AFFLECK Very shortly, we acknowledged that the movie has a transparent standpoint on who’s telling the reality. And that this extremely heroic character, Marguerite de Carrouges, had this story that deserved to be instructed. It was evident that it was going to be an exploration of the dynamics of energy, roots of misogyny and survival in medieval France. It had all the weather of what makes a narrative actually nice to inform — the thought of an unreliable narrator, a second unreliable narrator and then a type of reveal of what occurred by way of the eyes of a personality who was each the hero and whose humanity was denied and ignored.

HOLOFCENER But additionally, you get the truth that it wasn’t black and white to the lads, and it was so black and white to the girl about what occurred. So, the male level of views provide this attitude of male delusion.

Nicole, Marguerite wasn’t practically as fleshed out within the e book. How did you go about creating her world?

HOLOFCENER I did analysis about what ladies had been like then and what that they had to put up with. I gave her a good friend to give you the option to discuss to. I knew that she would have to take over the property when he was away preventing. So I learn up, “Well, what did they do?” Took care of the animals and the horses and the harvesting. And I actually tried to think about simply how terrible it was for her and how she handled the awfulness. Her life was fairly dangerous being married to Jean de Carrouges and so when she was violated, she had nothing to lose, actually. I imply, she was going to undergo. She had the potential of struggling dearly and dying, however at that time she was simply uninterested in having no voice.

How do three writers hold issues straight?

AFFLECK Once the script received shut to a accomplished stage, then it received handed round, emailed. In reality, one of many largest challenges was the maddening technological facets of maintaining with numerous variations — that that they had included everybody else’s adjustments.

HOLOFCENER We saved working off the mistaken drafts. It was like: “Wait a minute. I took that line out two months ago. Why is it still there?” We’re not essentially the most technically savvy.

DAMON We had a type of moments the place I believe we’d finished half a day on one in all these items and we’re realizing, “Oh no, this is the wrong draft,” and then you’ve got to strive to undergo and work out what you’ve finished.

HOLOFCENER Matt doesn’t actually have a laptop computer. So don’t get me began.

How did you ensure you had been portraying Marguerite’s rape precisely with out exploiting it?

AFFLECK We had been particularly delicate and cautious to actually pay attention and do analysis, whether or not it was consulting with RAINN [an organization that helps victims of rape, abuse and incest], survivors of assault, historic consultants, ladies’s teams, and making an attempt to permit all of these different experiences to inform the story and make it as genuine as doable.

HOLOFCENER I believe that these organizations actually, actually wished to ensure we had been making it clear what the reality was — that this isn’t “he said, she said.” This is just not ambivalent.

AFFLECK We had questions like: “Are we whitewashing if we don’t show the emotional toll and the severity of this? To what extent does it become too much? And where do you feel the bounds of tastes are?”

HOLOFCENER A variety of it was about how usually will we see the rape and how lengthy is it? How lengthy do now we have to undergo by way of this? That was a subject of dialog. And so we took their notes severely and did plenty of trimming. We had to present some scenes twice, nevertheless it was vital. We had to see the rape twice, as disturbing because it was to watch.

Damon and Comer in “The Last Duel.” The writers had to determine how a lot of the assault to present provided that it might be repeated to present completely different views.Credit…20th Century Studios

What selections did you make to both keep on with or depart from the e book?

DAMON The largest departure is the rape scene. Marguerite de Carrouges, what she stated in courtroom and over and over once more to an ever-widening group of individuals and finally all of France, was that Jacques Le Gris entered her dwelling with one other man, Adam Louvel. We have within the film Louvel coming in, however then Le Gris tells him to depart. In Marguerite’s precise testimony, the rape was way more brutal. She was tied down and gagged. She nearly choked to dying. And Louvel was within the room.

HOLOFCENER [Le Gris] instructed himself he cherished her.

AFFLECK What was fascinating was the diploma to which this conduct and perspective towards ladies was so thorough and pervasive, and the vestigial facets which can be nonetheless with us at present. That’s actually highly effective. What now we have hoped is folks will have a look at it and go: “Have I always understood how my actions were being perceived by others? Have I always recognized other people’s reality, truth, perspective, in the course of my behavior?” And possibly replicate on that.

Ben, I understood that you just had been initially going to painting Le Gris. And then you definitely determined to play the libertine Count Pierre d’Alençon as a substitute of going through off towards Matt onscreen. Why?

HOLOFCENER He got here to his senses.

AFFLECK What occurred actually is that —

DAMON We heard Adam Driver was . [Everyone laughs.]