When it comes to family, most people will do anything in their power to protect and comfort the ones they love. In co-writer/director Tom McCarthy’s dramatic thriller Stillwater, Matt Damon plays Bill Baker, a man going to just those lengths in order to exonerate his imprisoned daughter, who’s been convicted of murder. However, in making the movie, Damon actually had to break an important family rule when getting the job done: he was away from his family for more than two weeks.

Speaking with the actor during the press day for Focus Features’ Stillwater, I wanted to know how his own fatherhood might have inspired his role in this tale of a fractured father/daughter relationship. Which led to the revelation that Matt Damon’s long held rule to not be away from his family for more than two weeks at a time actually found itself broken. As he described that particular scenario, Damon revealed it also helped his performance in this harrowing drama:

Honestly, the most challenging part about playing him was being away from my kids, because we violated our two week rule for the first time on this movie, and that was very hard. But to play the character, being a father only helped me. I mean I really related to those dynamics. That idea that he’d failed his daughter in this way, and had been an absentee dad, it didn’t take a lot for me to do that kind of thought experiment to kind of get me where I needed to be emotionally to play those scenes.

By time we are introduced to Bill and his daughter Allison, played by Abigail Breslin, we learn that she’s been in prison for several years. Stillwater shows us a family in crisis, as Bill’s making his first trip to Marseilles, and at first he’s a bit out of his element. Which is exactly the sort of situation that Matt Damon used to his advantage when it came to being away from his family for so long.

This is a rule that’s been in place for quite some time. Revealed as Matt Damon promoted The Adjustment Bureau back in 2011, the actor, his wife Luciana and their daughters have always found a way to make his movie star schedule work in their favor, even when tackling huge projects like The Martian. Whether it’s having the family on location as he shoots or working it into his routine to fly back and be with them, Damon has made this sort of arrangement work on other films. But for some reason, Stillwater was the movie that broke the rules, which only helped the thought experiment that Damon exercised to get into the Baker family mindset.

Through the pursuit of justice for Allison, we see Bill come to terms with his previous failings as a father. Which only makes his developing relationship with single mother Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) an even sweeter contrast to the grueling work Stillwater sees its protagonist engaging in. In making his way to Marseilles, Bill Baker not only gets to try and repair his own family ties, he also gets to forge new ones; though there are moments where it feels like both are threatened by the lengths Matt Damon’s character will go to in order to right those perceived wrongs.

It’s all part of a scenario that sees Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater pit Matt Damon’s previous life as intuitive spy/assassin Jason Bourne against a more reserved, family-based persona. So with this new ground in front of him, it kind of makes sense to take a chance and break the family rule of being away for so long. Though it looks like this sort of situation won’t ever happen again, at least that’s the plan that Damon has laid down in other interviews talking about this special case.

Stillwater is in theaters starting July 30, and it’s one of Matt Damon’s most intense performances to date. But if heart-wrenching family drama isn’t your thing, there’s plenty more where that came from at the movies. Head over to the 2021 release schedule, and search out your next cinematic adventure, which could very well be one of Matt Damon’s upcoming movies, The Last Duel, with Jodie Comer, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck.

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