‘Stillwater’: Matt Damon Says Oklahoma Locals Were ‘Wary’ of Him When He Went to Research His Part — How He Won Them Over

Stillwater premiered in theaters on July 30. Written and directed by Tom McCarthy, the film follows an Oklahoma oil-rig roughneck named Bill (played by Matt Damon) as he travels to France in an effort to exonerate his estranged daughter after she’s been charged with murder. Prior to filming, Damon went to Oklahoma to meet the locals for character research. Initially, they were “wary” of him.

A close-up of Matt Damon at the 'Stillwater' premiere.
Matt Damon | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

How Matt Damon researched for ‘Stillwater’

Damon wanted to be involved with Stillwater because he was so drawn to the part.

“The screenplay was beautiful,” he told Screen Rant. “I thought it was just heartbreaking, and I’d never played a guy like this… It was a very specific thing this kind of roughneck culture down in Oklahoma and Texas. And thankfully, we had some guys that we could go to down there who really gave us incredible access and really helped us build the character.”

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But when Damon and the rest of the Stillwater team arrived in Oklahoma, they weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“At first, I think they were kind of wary of us – and for good reason. ‘What are your intentions? You’re making a movie about a roughneck? What are you all doing down here?’ Because I think these are the kind of guys that Hollywood would look down their nose at, or the cultural elite might look down their nose at and stereotype in a movie,” he said. 

The Oklahoma locals came around

But once the locals learned more about how Bill was going to be portrayed, they wanted to become involved.

“I think once they realized what we were doing, and that this was a movie that had tremendous compassion and empathy for Bill’s character, they really wanted to help us get it right,” said Damon. “Everything about the guy comes from them. It’s a very specific look: the jeans look like they do because they have fire-retardant on them, you know what I mean? Every single thing has a reason for being the way it is. And if I showed you my phone, I could show you pictures of 15 or 20 guys that look exactly like your friends from Enid, Oklahoma. It’s a look.”

Talking to Oklahoma locals helped inform Matt Damon’s acting choices for Bill

Bill has a complicated relationship with his daughter Allison (played by Abigail Breslin). Talking with people who’d worked on oil rigs in Oklahoma gave Damon a better understanding of Bill’s backstory.

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“What happens a lot with these roughnecks – what can happen – is because they take this job out of high school and they go to the oil fields,” said Damon, “when the fields are up, they’re gonna make a lot of money. They’ve got a lot of cash in their pocket and they’re 19 years old and it can lead them down a certain path. 

“Our backstory for Bill is that he lost a number of years to addiction and fast living and had this daughter when he was young. But was kind of an absentee dad, and so he carries all this guilt and regret and shame around his failings as a father. So when his daughter is in prison now in her mid-20s he has this impulse to try to help.” 

Damon learned a lot about roughneck culture by traveling to Oklahoma and talking to the real people the movie would be portraying. He said Stillwater is a better film for it.

Stillwater is playing in theaters right now.