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Matt Damon shares the key to his 'Stillwater' portrayal of dad trying to exonerate imprisoned daughter

Peter Sblendorio, New York Daily News on

Published in Entertainment News

Matt Damon knows the drill — thanks to some folks he met in Oklahoma.

The actor met with Sooner State oil rig workers who helped him prepare for his role in “Stillwater” as a father desperate to exonerate his jailed daughter of a murder conviction in France.

“When they saw the script and they saw we were just trying to do this as accurately as possible, they were so helpful,” Damon told the Daily News. “Really, everything I got for the characterization was from those guys. It was from spending time with them, spending time with their families, going out to the oil rigs with them, really getting a sense of what their lives were like.”

Damon stars as Bill Baker, an oil rig worker from rural Oklahoma whose mission to prove his daughter’s innocence begins years after she was imprisoned in Marseille. Much of the film — out Friday in theaters — was shot in the French city, where Damon’s character endures repeated setbacks as he tries to uncover secrets surrounding his daughter’s case.

“You just have to buy into this character and just go on the ride with him,” Damon, 50, explained. “What I don’t want people to think is that they’re walking into a thriller, like one of those great Liam Neeson movies that we all love. It’s really not that at all. It’s much more of a drama.”

“It’s like the inverse of that — it’s like a person who doesn’t have any of the skills that he needs,” the actor continued. “He doesn’t speak the language. He doesn’t understand the culture. He’s just doing his best to help his daughter, but he’s not necessarily armed with any of the tools that he would need.”

Directed by Tom McCarthy, “Stillwater” drew some inspiration from the real-life case of Amanda Knox — an American student who spent years behind bars in Italy before being exonerated of a murder charge — but ultimately follows a different plot.

“Stillwater” depicts Bill as a man who struggled with substance abuse and failed to support his daughter, played by Abigail Breslin.

 

“It’s probably a pretty easy thought exercise for any parent to imagine the horror of waking up 15 years down the road and having kind of missed your kid’s childhood, which is the experience of a lot of people who get lost in addiction,” Damon said. “Once they come out the other side of it, they carry a lot of guilt and regret. Imagining that happened to me, it was very easy for me to put myself in that headspace.”

The film presented the Massachusetts-born Damon with a character unlike any he’d played before. His preparation work involved flying into Oklahoma City and traveling “all over the place” in the state, Damon recalled.

The actor changed his diet and ramped up his weightlifting regimen in order to embody the oil rig workers he met.

“All those guys, they’re strong,” Damon said. “You need to be physically powerful to do that job. I was laughing with one of them the other night about the first time I tried to pick up some of the equipment that those guys sling around like it’s nothing. I was like, ‘Man, and I’m in pretty good shape. This is ridiculous.’”

Damon loved playing a character in “Stillwater” who isn’t often portrayed in Hollywood movies.

“This is a real human being, and I just really believed the dynamics between him and his daughter, and this guy who’s trying to repair the damage he’s done by the life he’s lived and the way he’s failed his daughter,” Damon said. “I just thought it was really compelling.”

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