Inside Ben Affleck And Matt Damon’s Enduring Friendship: How They Survived Scandal, Heartbreak And Tabloid Fodder
20 years ago today, a small indie movie about an MIT janitor who just happens to be a math genius hit theaters. It would go on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning two and kicking off the careers of its two young and fresh-faced screenwriters and stars.
That movie was, of course, Good Will Hunting and the stars were, of course, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
Two decades after its monumental release the movies’ legacy is in question after the upsetting revelations about Harvey Weinstein‘s behavior and the effect it may have had on his company’s films—Good Will Hunting being one of its most decorated. But regardless of how fans should think about the flick that launched Damon and Affleck’s careers, one thing is certain: It also launched one of Hollywood’s longest and most fascinating friendships.
Professionally, the two have been inextricably linked ever since that monumental first project. It’s long been written into pop culture lore that they first became friends at Boston’s Cambridge Ringe and Latin school and later moved out to Los Angeles to live together (or, rather, so that Matt could sleep on Ben’s couch and convince him to do Good Will Hunting), where they started perfecting their screenplay and working on getting it made as a major motion picture. They didn’t have much more than a wish and a prayer then, but everything has changed.
After they won the Oscar they went off in different career directions; Affleck going towards big blockbusters like Armageddon and Damon doing the same with Saving Private Ryan. But while they haven’t acted onscreen together in decades, they continued to come together creatively: They own a production company and have worked on the docu-series Project Greenlight, which follows first-time directors, for years. Damon also produced Manchester by the Sea, which won Affleck’s brother Casey his own Oscar.
But it’s the personal side of things that’s more interesting. For much of their early careers Affleck made many more headlines than Damon—at least about his personal life. He was making some questionable film choices, sure, but he became front-page tabloid fodder thanks to his high-profile romantic choices. These were, of course, the Jennifer Lopezyears. Affleck was head-over-heels in love and instantly became one-half of Hollywood’s most talked-about couple, and the red carpet appearances and music video cameos didn’t hurt matters.
The young Ben received his fair share of criticism for these trists, too. The media loved to pick apart his every romantic endeavor and revel in Bennifer’s ever public display of affection—the relationship didn’t fit into the public’s idea of him as a “serious actor” and they let him know. Throughout all that Damon’s loyalty never wavered. He wasn’t physically by Affleck’s side as much as before (there’s a little idea that three’s a crowd), but their friendship made it through to the other side of Bennifer and even now Damon still speaks out about what he believes was unfair treatment of Affleck.
“There’s nobody more misunderstood,” he famously told The Hollywood Reporter of that time in Ben’s life. “Ten years ago, the public image of him could not have been farther apart from who he actually is. It was like he was being cast in a role, that he was a talentless kind of meathead, with his whole relationship with Jennifer Lopez.”
Matt went on to admit that it was “very painful” for him, as Ben’s friend, to watch him have to go through that. But what else are friends for?
All friendships ebb and flow, and if ever there a lull between the two bros they seem to always come during the other’s romantic activity. Take, for example, the fact that neither of the actors attended the others’ (first) wedding ceremonies.
They each chose to host intimate nuptials with only a handful of guests present—Affleck and former wife Jennifer Garner said their vows on the beach with only her Alias costar Victor Garber and his partner present, while Damon and wife Luciana held their wedding at City Hall in Manhattan. That probably says more about each of their personalities in romance than it does their friendship, but it’s jarring nonetheless.
(And, it begs mentioning that several years ago, when Matt and Luciana held a vow renewal ceremony in St. Lucia, Affleck was present along with a host of other A-listers like Jimmy Kimmeland Christ Hemsworth.”)
Up until this point, most of their shared Hollywood narrative has been defined by the “ups” more than the “downs.” Their careers flourished, they have been nominated for (and won) more gold statues, they became some of the most-watched stars in the industry. And through all that, their bromance was the favorite topic of the public. But that’s not to say the “downs” haven’t been there.
Perhaps the most famous of their rifts (for the sheer reason that it’s been basically the only public one) came in 2004. Damon had done an interview in which he said that actors shouldn’t “just do blockbusters,” and it appeared to some that it was meant to be a jab at Affleck and his recently struggling studio movies. It struck a nerve with Ben, because when he later hosted Saturday Night Live he couldn’t resist a jab, saying on camera that “I can’t seem to recall which Chekov play The Bourne Supremacy is based on.”
It was as much awkward as it was a really sick burn.
They’ve also both been on the receiving end of negative press about their shared and individual connections to the Weinstein scandal—like the rumors that Damon helped kill and early story about the producer’s alleged assaults and Affleck’s own transgressions. They’ve both since apologized and the collective narrative seems to have moved on to more egregious scandals (the own downside to this wave of revelations being that no one can harp on one upsetting story for too long).
There was a moment where it seemed that the scandal might threaten to topple the once-larger-than-life duo, but if their history has told us anything it’s that they’re far more powerful together than they are apart, so it seems likely they’ll be working together to figure out how to be a force for good in the industry. And like everything else, that it will only serve to make them closer.