Matt Damon Once Said He Totally Forgot He Was in the Movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Matt Damon starred in Steven Spielberg’s 1998 critically acclaimed feature Saving Private Ryan. And although he considered the role a special one, he once confided that he’d forgotten he was a part of the movie at all.

Steven Spielberg initially thought Matt Damon was too thin for ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Matt Damon at Cannes film festival.
Matt Damon | Valery Hache / Getty Images

Late comedian Robin Williams has played a significant role in Damon’s career. Williams’ star-power was what initially helped the film Good Will Hunting get off the ground. The feature, written and starring Damon and Ben Affleck, would later help propel the two to A-list status.

But Williams’ influence on Damon’s career didn’t end with the Oscar-winning feature. Without Williams, Damon might not have gotten the chance to be in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

“I got the part thanks to Robin Williams,” Damon once said in an interview with Buffalo News. “We were in Boston rehearsing Good Will Hunting. Speilberg came up for a day to work on Amistad. Robin and Steven are buddies. They did Hook together, too. Robin went down to see him. He dragged me along.”

The meeting would convince Spielberg to cast Damon in his 1998 war film. But while with Spielberg, Damon learned the filmmaker wasn’t originally sold on him for the feature. Although Spielberg admired Damon’s talents, he was skeptical about the actor’s physique.

“It turned out later that I found out Steven had seen [me] in Courage Under Fire and told his wife, ‘That’s the guy I want, but he’s too thin.’ I had dropped all that weight for Courage Under Fire. When he saw me [with Williams] he figured out what happened. So after he saw me, two weeks later I got the call. So it was really lucky,” he said.

Matt Damon once shared that he totally forgot he was in ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Saving Private Ryan was such an immersive film for Damon that he couldn’t help be personally moved by it. He felt the film’s commentary would resonate with many around his age range at the time. But it also presented Damon with profound questions he might not have considered before the movie.

“It brings it home on a much more visceral level. . . . Especially my generation. We’re naturally apathetic,” he said. “You can see us on Sally Jessy Raphael talking about how tough our lives are because we weren’t breast-fed long enough. Try taking a beach. It puts it in perspective.”

Damon was so caught up by the film that his own part in the story didn’t occur to him. It was an experience that he had with very few movies.

“It was the first time in my life I totally forgot I was in the movie,” he continued. “Usually when I see a movie [I’m in], I’m under the seat. I’m totally self-conscious about what I’m doing. I was totally carried away with the movie. Normally, you’re like a magician who knows all the tricks and you’re just watching to see if anyone else got fooled. I got fooled by this one.”

Matt Damon confirmed this famous ‘Saving Private Ryan’ story

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It was once reported that Spielberg tried to make Damon’s Saving Private Ryan co-stars resent Damon in real life. To do this, Spielberg had most of Damon’s co-stars attend an acting boot camp that Damon himself didn’t have to endure. The belief was that this would help the actors’ fictional relationship in the movie. Speaking on Hot Ones, Damon would confirm the story.

“I was such a young diligent actor. I was all ready to go to boot camp. He said, ‘Absolutely not. You can train however you want, but I’m separating you from the other guys.’ They were–they were totally resentful every time they brought up boot camp. Because I think it rained the whole time. I think they had a tough few days,” he said.