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Sundance: Matt Damon on Not Starring in ‘Manchester By the Sea’

Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” has quickly become the breakout indie of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. After the drama, about a janitor (Casey Affleck) who moves home after a family tragedy, premiered at the Eccles Theatre on Saturday afternoon, the audience erupted in cheers and buzz for next year’s Oscars ceremony. Lonergan and Affleck were joined onstage by producer Matt Damon, who was originally supposed to star and direct the movie. Damon explained his involvement in the project in a post-screening Q&A:

Matt Damon: The question was how I came across the script. We went to Kenny with this idea, and had a little discussion with him — John Krasinski and I did. It was like seven years ago. [Kenny tells him it wasn’t that long.] It was three years ago? Casey and I did one of Kenny’s plays in London 14 years ago. Kenny is our favorite writer.

The idea was for me to direct this movie, and I think John was going to be in it, and then I think I was going to be in it. Once I read a very, very rough draft — it was about 4,000 pages — I just begged Kenny, I said you have to direct it. He eventually saw the wisdom. Then I was going to be in it, Kenny was going to direct me in it, and in a bizarre and typical kind of fit of generosity, I gave it to Casey.

It’s one of the best roles I’ve ever seen. Basically, what happened — I had a full slate. I wouldn’t be able to do this movie until next year. They could go last year with Casey. I didn’t want to get in the way of a great movie getting made. I already said to Kenny, I wouldn’t give this role up to anybody but Casey Affleck, and Casey instantly took the role. I never made it through this script without crying, and I never made it through any iteration of any cut of this movie without crying. It’s absolutely devastating. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever come across. I wish I was in it, but I’m happy to just be attached to it.

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