“The Last Duel” balances a tight act. It’s a thrilling medieval blockbuster that puts sexual assault at the forefront. Hola USA! participated in a press conference where Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Nicole Holofcener, and Jodie Comer discussed the making of their new film.
Based on a true story, “The Last Duel” is a film told in three chapters. It follows friends turned rivals Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), and the complex position that Carrouges’ wife, Lady Marguerite (Jodie Comer) inhabits; Marguerite, very atypically for the time, accuses Le Gris of sexually assaulting her.
The film is a medieval blockbuster, with all of its trappings — swordfights, beautiful settings, and precise attention to detail of the era. It’s also a film about a woman who comes forward with the truth, accusing a man of sexually assuanting her and disregarding the dangers of the time. Somehow, director Ridley Scott — back in all of his “Gladiator” glory — and collaborators made a film that’s thrilling and perfect for theaters, with the most visceral sword fights in memory, without forgetting to honor its hero, Jodie Comer’s Lady Margarite.
The project was kickstarted by Matt Damon, who, when looking for his next project, stumbled into the book written by Eric Jager, which provides a detailed account of the real-life event. Damon asked Ridley Scott if he wanted to participate and Scott quickly said yes, intrigued by the story and the possibility of working with Damon once more. The two had collaborated on “The Martian” before, a film that was incredibly successful.
Much was said about “The Last Duel’s” structure, which has three distinct parts. Screenwriters took an inventive approach in writing the script; long-time friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took on their first writing project since “Good Will Hunting,” with each of them writing the perspectives of the character of Carrouges and Le Gris, respectively. “When looking for a writer, I was having dinner with Ben, I told him the idea and he was like, ‘Well why don’t we write it?’ and I was like ‘What? You want to write that?’,” Damon said. “It happened really organically.” Then Nicole Holofcener (writer and director of “Can You Ever Forgive Me” and “Enough Said”) was brought on board to write Lady Marguerite’s side of the story. While Damon and Affleck were tasked with adapting the book, Holocefner had the difficult job of writing the most important section of the film from scratch. “The men of the time took very fastidious notes of what they were up to,” said Damon. “They didn’t record what the women were doing. Nicole really had to create Margarite’s world.”
When asked about the difficulty of writing a historic character from scratch, of more or less creating her, Holofcener said that she approached writing Margarite like any other character, any other woman. “I wrote Margarite as a woman who had many talents and a personality. I just started writing and she was just this really brave and wonderful woman.”
Three perspectives of the same story means that there are a variety of scenes repeated in each section, all of them interpreted in slightly different ways, creating a challenge when shooting. “We had written down on the schedule whose perspective we were in,” Damon said. “But we would always say before we rolled, ‘This is my perspective.’ We’d remind eachother because we had to calibrate everything based on that. That was kind of the fun.” Ben Affleck spoke about the great work that the actors did, specifically Jodie Comer and Adam Driver. “Jodie and Adam had the most difficult task,” he said. “You don’t really realize how hard it is to play three different characters. We got so lucky with these two exquisite actors and performances.”
The team also gushed about the experience of working with Ridley Scott. “When a script comes from Ridley Scott and he wants to meet you, you say yes,” said Comer. “I’ve never worked like this before. It was really fascinating to see how he makes his decisions, his attention to detail, to character and locations.” The actors discussed Scott’s unique shooting style, where he works with four cameras at a time, capturing all sorts of angles and nuances in a very intense and singular way. “The amount of momentum that creates,” Damon said. “All of the energy is right on the floor. It’s all happening and it’s really exciting.”
“The Last Duel” opens in theaters this October 15th.