Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal turned down ‘Avatar’

Feb. 23, 2010 | 2:43 p.m.

Matt Damon

In another universe, Jason Bourne or the Prince of Persia might have been running around the jungles of Pandora.

Avatar” director James Cameron spoke to both Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal  about playing the role of Jake Sully in the sci-fi epic that now stands as the biggest moneymaker in the history of Hollywood with $2.5 billion in worldwide box office.

Both stars, perhaps leery of a blue-in-the-face gig, declined, and the filmmaker instead went with his first choice — unknown Aussie actor Sam Worthington, who was living in his car before he got the job. Cameron said he offered the role to the big-name stars only to placate the studio chiefs at Fox, who wanted a bankable star to offset some of the risks of the expensive project. 

 “I don’t think they ever had a problem with the CG, “ Cameron said. “Honestly, did I go out and try to woo them? No. I had my heart set on Sam. Maybe they sensed my lack of 100% commitment from me. Maybe it was the subject matter. This was a big ‘Star Wars‘-type movie. They’re both serious actors.”

Next up for those serious actors: Gyllenhaal stars in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” based on the video game, which hits theaters in May, while Damon will be seen in “Green Zone” and is among the stars working on next year’s “Happy Feet 2 in 3D.”

— Rachel Abramowitz


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Images: Matt Damon in 2007 in Berlin (Axel Schmidt  AFP/Getty Images). James Cameron goes native (Kevin Lingenfelser)


16 Responses to Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal turned down ‘Avatar’

  1. I think that my biggest issue with this comment is that Cameron still has the gall to compare the Avatar-swill with Star Wars.
    It's like, really? Other than spaceships, I don't see what it has to do with the genre-defining science fiction epic that was Star Wars (and I don't even much care for Star Wars).
    The plot was inane, simplistic, and often offensive. Did it look good? Heck yeah. It looked amazing. But I'd bet dollars to donuts that Mr.s Damon and Gyllenhall took a look at the script and tossed it right out. I mean, Matt Damon was Bourne, so he's clearly not genre-averse.

  2. Blank says:

    He who is full himself is incapable of the joy of simplicity.

  3. Funslinger says:

    Ha ha ha. If only swill could be that successful: $2.5B and counting.

  4. Steve says:

    Eh, good for them, didn't love it.

  5. Tim says:

    Yeah, yeah, in Hollywood-terms money = success, but if the actors didn't find the project invigorating, who can blame them? The script is a sci-fi Pocahontas/Last Samurai rip-off, and the promise of "really cool graphics" doesn't necessarily appeal to committed actors. Better they gave the spotlight to some newcomers, and I for one look forward to seeing Worthington in more films without the digital makeup.

  6. ChuckAmuck says:

    "Maybe they sensed my lack of 100% commitment from me. Maybe it was the subject matter."
    Or maybe it was the derivative, poorly written script that turned them away. Did they even see the script, Jimmy? Or did you just describe it to them? Technologically innovative and occasionally engaging though it may be, AVATAR sure didn't break any new ground in storytelling. Damon and Gyllenhaal may have sensed that, especially Damon, who is very particular with the movies he does.
    That said, having Damon in the role would have been cool. Worthington did an okay job, but he wasn't able to make Sully much more than the stock character he is in the script. Damon likely would have made the character "pop" a bit more. Gyllenhaal, not so much. Gyllenhaal's acting has never been anything more than decent, and that's only in a few of his movies. IMHO, of course.

  7. Ex says:

    "Ha ha ha. If only swill could be that successful: $2.5B and counting."
    The second highest grossing film is Titanic…not sure you really thought about the validity of box office gross = quality.
    Maybe if Worthington had seen a couple of other scripts while living in his Clio he would have kept away, like Damon and Gyllenhall, both of whom have worked with fine scripts. To be fair, perhaps Worthington saw that – after Terminator,- Avatar did at least try to go for some character development, even if its of the humdrum predictable variety.
    Still, one hates to think how Damon and Gyllenhall's profile would be hurt right about now had they accepted.

  8. chris says:

    I enjoyed Sam in the role. Cameron was right.
    From his face to his hesitations, battle cry's etc, I really liked his character in Navi form.

  9. tir na nog says:

    Worthington was living in his car? ya right,what a load of pr crap.He was already quite successful in films before Avatar,just not A-list.Eg ,Macbeth,he was the lead,I saw it years ago,was that a freebie?

  10. Joe says:

    I guess we'll have to see how fulfilling Prince of Persia (video game) and Happy Feet 2 and 3 (tap dancing penguin cartoons) are for Jake and Matt. I really don't have anything against them. I just don't see why people are ragging on Worthington for being a part of the biggest movie in history. Taking the part of Sully sure hasn't damaged his career in any way. And looking back, Titanic didn't ruin DiCaprio or Winslett either. Aliens didn't hurt Sigourney. Terminator didn't hurt Arnold. I mean, come on, why the hatred for Cameron? He makes movies people want to watch and always does it in a way that keep poeple coming back. I thought the acting in Avatar was quite good, especially conidering that most of it was done in front of a green screen, in an aircraft hangar, with cameras hung on the actors' heads. Kudos to Cameron, Worthington and everyone involved in making Avatar the fun experience it is.

  11. turanthor says:

    Yeah, really hard to say that Gyllenhaal passed because he is a such a "serious" actor and did not like the script, when he goes and makes Prince of Persia.
    Do not know anything about PoP or its director, I just know that Gyllenhaal is not Persian, and he isn't much of an action guy, doesnt look "princely" and it is still a genre action flick, and GUARANTEED the director is NOT as good as Jim Cameron.
    Damon, eh? Avatar took a LONG time to make, and Damon probably made 5-10 movies in the time it took, so maybe that is what he was looking at: "I can do this film, or the other 10 I have been offered, including films with Eastwood and Scorsese"
    and Avatar is NOT, NOT, NOT "This Biggest Film of All-Time"
    it still is nowhere near Titanic in terms of tickets sold (and it will not even get a sniff at films like Gone With The Wind or Star Wars) , and even with the inflated BO numbers thanks to $10 tickets, Avatar is even more inflated because average ticket prices are more like $13 for Avatar thanks to the 3D bump (even more for IMAX).
    It is certainly ONE of the "biggest films of all-time", but the post-TV era will never produce a more well-attended film than Gone With The Wind.
    Also, Titanic is a good movie, to say it "sucks" is BS. You may not like it because it is a love story and that isnt your bag, but the film is well-made, well-acted, looks spectacular and is just all-around a quality production (something I readily admit even if I do not think much of it aside from Kate Winslet's beautiful breasts).
    Kind of reminds me of Castaway- One final movie from a high quality director actually utilizing Sets and people and not relying on CGI and "innovative" new FX. Will we ever see another Zemeckis or Cameron movie without all the FX? Seems unlikely, but at least Avatar was worth seeing, everything Zemeckis has made with the new motion capture crap has been awful (especially Beowulf, which was not only gross, but crapped all over a great story).

  12. milo says:

    "the film (Titanic) is well-made, well-acted, looks spectacular and is just all-around a quality production"
    Sorry, but Titanic isn't particularly well acted, and it has a terrible script with one dimensional characters and bad dialogue. And it's pretty dull until the boat actually hits the iceberg (something is wrong when the movie is longer than the amount of time it actually took for the ship to sink). I haven't seen Avatar yet, but even people that love it have described it as more of the same.
    Sure, Titanic has some great production values (although many of the effects already started to look dated years ago), but some of us actually want good characters and good script, more than just pretty pictures.
    And swill has always been successful, look at McDonalds being the most successful restaurant in the country (probably the world). Just because something makes a ton of money doesn't make it good.

  13. PFN says:

    Yeah, definitely they must have read the script and realized what an utter waste of talent it would be for them to be in Avatar.
    Shame that it made so much money because it will encourage this hack to make more films.

  14. RBC says:

    Good acting, bad acting, good script, bad script, like any movie you like it or you don't like it, it hits you or it doesn't. No matter how you look at it it made 2.5 billion dollars so far. For some of us it touched us deeply. For others it was a visual treat. And, for others still the message the movie presented just went right over their heads. No there wasn't anything really special about the script, about the acting, about anything about the movie, but when you put it all together you got something spectacular that will live on in history of moviemaking. After all you critics have been long forgotten this movie will be remembered and not just for its technical advancements that have taken us to a whole new level of making movies. At least Cameron has realized a long time dream something that very few of us ever do.

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