Matt Damon’s doing alright for himself. He’s so set that he promised his wife he’d take a year off — which he almost did before Christopher Nolan came knocking. Not that he always make the right choice. The actor, who’s very good as the mostly supportive General Leslie Groves in Oppenheimer, recently went on CNN’s Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace (prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, mind you), where the host gave him a hard time for nixing one of the most profitable movies in Hollywood history.
What was that movie? Avatar! He could have played Jake Sully, the soldier-turned-heroic turncoat-turned-Na’vi warrior. That’s not all. James Cameron even offered him a percentage. The movie went on to become the highest-grossing film in history (not adjusted for inflation, natch), and its belated sequel didn’t do too shabbily either.
Damon was chagrined, saying, “I’m sure it’s the most money an actor ever turned down, you know?”
Why did Damon turn a role that eventually went to Sam Worthington? Because he as in the midst of another franchise.
“I was in the middle of shooting the Bourne movie [presumably The Bourne Ultimatum] and I knew that we were going to need work at the end and I had to get it all the way to the finish line and I would have to leave the movie kind of early and leave them in the lurch a little bit and I didn’t want to do that,” Damon explained “I desperately wanted to work with Cameron. I mean, because he worked so rarely.”
Wallace kept digging in, though. “Honestly, Matt, if you had known that Avatar was going to be the biggest grossing movie of all time and you were going to have 10% of the after. Could we have maybe put off the Bourne series?” he asked.
Damon had a noble reason, saying he didn’t want to “all my friends in the lurch.” He then recalled when he told this story to John Krasinski:
[We] were writing this little movie a long time ago called Promised Land and we were in my kitchen and it was a Saturday morning and we were on a break and I said, Yeah, I tell him about Avatar, and he launches himself out of the chair. He starts pacing the kitchen, he goes, ‘Okay, okay, okay. Okay, okay. Nothing in your life would be different today if you had done that movie, except you and I would be having this conversation in space.’ I would have been the same guy…
Damon then cracked, “I would have been the same guy, I just would have had a space station.”
Of course, Matt Damon is doing just fine. He has plenty of money. Perhaps he can comfort himself by noting that turning down Avatar meant that another actor, who wasn’t much known when he nabbed the gig, got a small fortune himself.