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Matt Damon once found himself auditioning against Edward Norton for a role in Norton’s acclaimed film Primal Fear. But according to Damon, he didn’t come close to snagging the film away from his competitor.

Matt Damon and Edward Norton both auditioned for ‘Primal Fear’

Matt Damon smiling in a suit at the Premiere of FOX's "Ford v Ferrari" .
Matt Damon | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Earlier in his career, Damon was pursuing a starring role in the 1996 film Primal Fear. He was in competition with thousands of actors who all sensed the potential in the role. At the time, Damon was also against another future star for the part in Edward Norton.

Unlike Damon, who already had minor parts in movies, Primal Fear would be Norton’s cinematic debut. The Fight Club star asked casting director Deborah Aquila, through a Fax, for an opportunity to audition. Aquila then gave Norton a chance to prove himself.

“When I went in to audition for Primal Fear, I asked if I could come into the room. Then, Deb came into the room, and I was sitting on the floor by the couch in the scene in the prison cell,” Norton once said according to Daily Actor. “Deb took a look at me and grasped that I didn’t want to chat, that I just wanted to get into it. She came over, pushed the table aside, and sat down on the floor with me. I looked at her and realized, ‘There is no assistant; She doesn’t have a script in her hand. She’s sitting down to do the scene with me. So, let’s go.’ And she did.”

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Damon reflected on the roles he tried to audition for. When he referenced Primal Fear, he felt he stood little chance against Norton.

Primal Fear—you know the Edward Norton role? It more or less came down to him and me, and he pretty much put a smokin’ on me,” Damon said.

Matt Damon wanted to do ‘Good Will Hunting’ after losing ‘Primal Fear’

Damon was particularly heartbroken when he lost his Primal Fear role. The Oscar-winner felt it was rare to stumble onto a film of that caliber. It didn’t help that Damon had yet established himself as an actor, so the truly special roles were even likelier to pass him over.

“What are the odds that a movie with that good a role is gonna make it all the way through the ranks of known actors and then get thrown to the wolves? And all of us are gonna fight for that scrap, and one of us will get it. This ain’t gonna work,” Damon said in an interview on The Off Camera Show.

Damon figured the only sure way to be cast in a substantial role was to develop one himself. This led to him and Affleck committing to Good Will Hunting.

“That was one of the things that was really the impetus behind Ben and I writing Good Will Hunting and focusing on it, was because when Primal Fear, when Edward Norton got Primal Fear, we went, ‘F***. There’s not gonna be another one of those that’s gonna come around. We gotta do our own thing,’” Damon said.

Edward Norton lost another role to Matt Damon


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Years later, the two actors competed for a starring role in The Rainmaker. This time, however, Damon ended up beating out Norton. But this was a blessing in disguise for Norton, since it freed the actor up to do one of his most successful projects.

“That was after I’d done Primal Fear … I’d done a couple of things, and I didn’t know Matt, but I knew who he was. And I think we were in the shortlist on that. And if I had gotten [The Rainmaker], which Matt got, I wouldn’t have done American History X. Because right around then I had read it, and I was feeling it, I was kinda feeling that one,” Norton recalled on The Off Camera Show.