Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to The Last Duel cast members Matt Damon (Jean de Carrouges / screenwriter), Jodie Comer (Marguerite de Carrouges), and Ben Affleck (Count Pierre d’Alençon / screenwriter), as well as screenwriter Nicole Holofcener.
In the 20th Century Studios film, the same story is told first from the perspective of Jean de Carrouges, second, Jacque Le Gris (Adam Driver), and finally, Marguerite. The Last Duel cast talked to us about this effective storytelling technique.
The Last Duel is a gripping tale of betrayal and vengeance set against the brutality of 14th century France. Directed by visionary filmmaker and four-time Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott (The Martian, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Thelma & Louise), the film opens in theaters nationwide October 15, 2021.
The historical epic is a cinematic and thought-provoking drama set in the midst of the Hundred Years War that explores the ubiquitous power of men, the frailty of justice and the strength and courage of one woman willing to stand alone in the service of truth.
Based on actual events, the film unravels long-held assumptions about France’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. Carrouges is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Le Gris is a Norman squire whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in court.
When Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands.
With the film showing the same story from three perspectives, Comer spoke about doing a small kiss in three different ways. “I think the beautiful thing about the script was, it was all there on the page. The intentions were very, very clear as to what was needed in each perspective. What was sometimes jarring was that we shot each version simultaneously. So we were literally jumping from one to the next.
“I’m always wanting to make sure that we’ve got Marguerite. I felt really loyal to her. And I really wanted to make sure that we’d always kind of got that in the bag.”
She added: “Then I felt like I could play around with the other version. I was kind of afforded a lot of freedom in what I wanted to explore. We kind of played around with the subtlety and how far we wanted to push it.”
Affleck said that they subtlety and nuance of the performance was down to Comer’s work in the scene. Damon added, “She’s also being very humble because Jodie actually helped… we had sessions where, after work, where we could have dinner, and we would sit there and we would go through the script with Jodie.”
He added: “And when you have a great actor, and we did with with Adam too, they’re really able to – they’ll say, like, this moment doesn’t feel right. I don’t feel like I’d say that. You know what I mean? As a writer, if you have a great actor, you really want to listen to them, because they’re going to kind of steer you towards where a scene needs to be. So she was really helpful in the writing process, too.”
As far as why Affleck and Damon chose this particular script to work on together, Damon said, “That’s a really good question. I think we were just kind of afraid of writing, because we were so inefficient. It was so time consuming the first time we did it [with Good Will Hunting]. It took us literally years. And we wrote thousands and thousands of pages that we basically scrunched into a 130-page screenplay.” He joked that they begged “an incredible writer like Nicole” to help them and that this was a very good idea.
Holofcener said that Affleck and Damon had already begun writing this in the three point-of-view style and asked her to come in and write the last part, which was from Marguerite’s point of view. “I was thrilled,” she said. They did not have to beg me. I was flattered and thrilled and wasn’t sure I could do it, but did… I would send pages to them and we’d sit down together and work. We’d work on each other’s scenes… it was really collaborative with all the actors, too. Sometimes we wrote apart, some together.”
Holofcener joked about Comer taking a small part as this “kind of obsequious wife, who, I don’t know, thinks her husband is all that.” She said that she wanted to make sure that, in the third act, “she’s actually a human being.”
Damon added, “The construct was that the world of women is totally ignored and overlooked, and is invisible for the first two acts of the movie. Then it’s revealed in the third act.” He explained that the parts that he and Affleck wrote were an adaptation of a book, but “…Nicole was really writing an original screenplay, because the men of the time were very – they took very fastidious notes about what they were all up to, but they didn’t record what the women were doing. So Nicole really had to create Jodie’s world, Marguerite’s world out of whole cloth.”
Affleck praised Comer’s efforts. He said the film… “doesn’t work unless Jodie is so smart, and brave, and complicated in her performance. Where she’s willing to, and I’m not sure every actor would have been, actually play another a character’s point of view of themself, rather than their sense of their true self.”
He continued, “And because she does that so perfectly, so that it’s seamless, you don’t get a sense that, oh, it’s an exaggerated version of a person. It feels like versions of women we’ve seen in movies before. And we wanted to exploit the fact that, historically, people are in many ways, largely accustomed to women being secondary and tertiary characters. So that it would seem out of the ordinary.
“And she was willing to play that and makes the reveal, I think, so much more powerful and elegant, to see the difference between a essentially two-dimensional person, and a fully-realized, three-dimensional human being.”
We see what is essentially an assault multiple times. Affleck spoke about how much work they had to do to balance what is something that has always been part of the human experience but make sure it was palatable for a modern audience. “That was a very deliberate thing. And part of what we wanted to point out was the extent to which corrupt, and morally bankrupt, and misogynist institutions create and produce people who reflect those values.
“And so, rather than just an indictment of a bad person, a bad man, to say, well, here, look. You have the church, you have science, you have the court. You have this whole Western-European civilization, of which we are an antecedent, culturally, by and large. At least, that’s the notion of the United States, is that it’s the sort of a result of the Enlightenment and its philosophies, and so forth, even though it’s actually not true.”
He added: “The idea is, here, this predominant culture comes from this other culture that is what produced these values. And this culture, in terms of how it educates people, and in terms of what it rewards, socially. In terms of the behavior that is encouraged. Like, in the character that I play, sort of representing, yes, like, could have been just a complete villain. But my hope was, yes, he’s a villain. He’s a horrible… does horrible things.
“But really, the idea, that when a person is in power, and represents these values, and says, these are the values we encourage in you, and you’ll be rewarded for following them. It’s more about where Adam’s character is, and how he’s taught to behave, and what he’s rewarded for, than it is about the essential nature of his character. In other words, that people can be changed and created by these large institutions.
“And that’s the value system, that we wanted to indict. And so, that required, sort of, making sure, yes, on a kind of architectural level, that all those elements were included. And then you have to just throw it away and hope that the great actors make you identify with the people. And so that none of that feels pedantic or like your sermons or like a term paper, you know?”
What do you think of what we learned from The Last Duel cast? Let us know in the comment or tweet us @vitalthrillscom.