Review of Interview: Tom McCarthy Talks Stillwater’s Inspiration, Working with Matt Damon

Matt Damon’s latest feature film is now in theaters. In Stillwater, Damon plays an Oklahoma roughneck that finds himself in France to visit his daughter, who is suspected of murder. The film is directed by Tom McCarthy and also stars Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Deanna Dunagan, and Lilou Siauvaud.

RELATED: Interview: Matt Damon Discusses Becoming a Roughneck in Stillwater

Stillwater follows an American oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter, in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit,” reads the official synopsis. “Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, Bill builds a new life for himself in France as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate his daughter.”

ComingSoon’s Alyse Wax spoke to Stillwater director Tom McCarthy about how the script evolved over time, getting to work with Matt Damon, and more. Check out the video or a transcript below.

Alyse Wax: So tell me what inspired the story of Stillwater?

Tom McCarthy: I don’t know if there’s ever one sole inspiration. I think whenever I’m making a film, I’m grabbing from different bits and pieces, all probably cumulatively inspire me. I think though, obviously at this one, I sort of had my eye on that Amanda Knox story, and thought, wow, that idea of like an American student being in prison for a crime, a sensational crime that she may or may not have committed, there was something just really engaging about that. Then I sort of use that as a jumping-off point to say, wow, what would happen on the other side of that story of the parent? Like what would that look like? But that was a long time ago. I had that initial inspiration almost 10 years now. I sat with that idea for a long time. I had one version of the script that I worked on with another writer that I didn’t think was fully realized or successful. But then again, timing. It’s six, seven years later and I suddenly felt like I had a point of view and a story to tell.

Stillwater Interview: Abigail Breslin Praises Tom McCarthy as an ‘Amazing Actor’s Director’

You mentioned the Amanda Knox story, which is interesting because I think most filmmakers would have taken that and made it the sole focus. But this story, Stillwater is so much more encompassing. It’s not just Allison’s story, it’s Bill’s story, it’s Virginie’s story, it’s everything. How did you kind of get all of those pieces together?

One motto we were looking at when I started, you know, when I reapproached the script, I kind of threw out the original script and started with two French writers, Thomas [Bidegain] and Noé [Debré]. I said, look, I love this setup. American student in jail, father comes to visit. Let’s start from there. One thing that was influenced at the time was podcast and podcast culture. This explosion of these really exciting and interesting long-form podcasts that were laying out story in a really unique way, specifically ones like S Town and Serial and a few others. We just love that those creators allowed their story to go where the story needed to go. They didn’t feel constrained by genre or by story, but they allowed it to keep unfolding in ways that was really surprising and I thought incredibly satisfying. So we sort of thought, hey, this is really popular in culture right now, domestically and internationally. Let’s try to reach for that and mirror that cinematically and see what happens. So that’s why I think it becomes much more encompassing. The original script was really almost just a thriller. This became something much more than that. I think that as a filmmaker where I’m at in my career, it felt really right and challenging.

What was it about Matt Damon that said to you this is Bill Baker?

There’s something that I wanted to trade on with Matt, which was in all of his performance, he’s got a high level of integrity. He’s a guy that you believe can get it done on some level, even when he’s the underdog or even when he’s sort of a bad guy. You just feel like this guy’s going to pull it off. I wanted to trade on that a little bit and I love just look, Matt, first and foremost just happens to be a great actor. With his incredible body of work behind him you know that’s not by accident. So as a director, you want to work with that. You want to see how far I can push that. And what’s that like to trade and play with. So, you know, but there was something about his persona that I wanted to play with.

Beyond that, like I was curious myself, I’m like, this character is not Matt. Matt doesn’t have a lot in common with Bill Baker. He’s got to go there. I will say, man, he didn’t even flinch. He was like, I can do this. I want to do this. I was like, all right, Matt’s telling me he can do it. I believe him. Who might argue with that? But I was still curious, even as this director, even a guy that lived with it and cast him, I was still curious, what’s it going to be like, but man, when he started really zeroing in on Bill, it was very clear he had the goods to get it done.

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