Matt Damon on playing red-state roughneck in ‘Stillwater’: ‘There’s so much more common ground than we think’

Socially and politically, Matt Damon sits on the opposite end of the spectrum from Bill Baker. That’s the character the actor portrays in Stillwater, writer-director Tom McCarthy’s dramatic thriller very loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox about an American dad desperately attempting to free his college-aged daughter (Abigail Breslin) from a French jail after she’s convicted of murder.

Damon is a wealthy Hollywood liberal. Baker is a struggling Oklahoma oil rig worker, or “roughneck,” who is conservative and who, Damon has said, would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. To prepare for Stillwater, Damon and McCarthy spent weeks in Oklahoma engulfed in red-state roughneck culture.

“When Tom McCarthy and I got down there, [the roughnecks] were justifiably wary of us,” Damon, whose transformative performance is drawing early Oscar buzz, told us during a recent press day (watch director and cast interviews above). “They were like, ‘Y’all are making a movie about a roughneck. What are you doing? Are you gonna make fun of us? What’s your game here?’ And when they realized what we were doing, the angle that we took, and the empathy that the film has for Bill, they really gave us incredible access to their lives and really helped us. I mean this portrayal is entirely possible because of the access that those guys gave me.”

Matt Damon in 'Stillwater' (Focus Features)
Matt Damon in 'Stillwater' (Focus Features)

Damon admits he took on the part to connect with Americans who have vastly different viewpoints.

“And help everybody better understand,” he says. “And also it’s a great reminder for me just in researching this and going down to Oklahoma and hanging with these roughnecks that I always leave those research trips kind of angry at politicians for stoking those divides as much as they do. The things that bind us are so much greater than the things that divide us and I really feel that in a profound way every time. And I’m lucky that my job allows to go kind of parachute into other peoples’ lives and they give me access.

“Just going down and talking and hanging out with them changes [your perspective]. It always helps … talking to each other helps, rather than staying in an echo chamber and talking to people we agree with. There’s so much more common ground than we think.”

Stillwater opens in theaters Friday.

Watch the trailer:

-Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee

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