Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s film that got raves at Sundance and seems destined for future awards consideration, might seem to come from a place of sincere personal and emotional trauma. And while that’s probably true, the movie began as a ruse for writer-director Lonergan. After he fell into depression following a years-long editing room battle with Fox Searchlight over the 2011 flop — and according to many who’ve seen the extended cut, masterpiece — Margaret, his friend Matt Damon, who also appeared in Margaret, had the idea to commission a script from Lonergan, partly to give him something to do. “A lot of his friends were, quite frankly, worried about him. He needed money, but he couldn’t write — it was this horrible limbo,” Damon told the New Yorker in a new profile of Lonergan. “We got Kenny paid to write a draft.”
Damon, who just seems like a real pal in this story, originally commissioned the script as something he would direct. But after further revisions, Damon insisted that Lonergan direct the project himself. Damon was also supposed to star in Manchester, but after scheduling conflicts, Casey Affleck filled in for him, though Damon still produced the project and had final cut approval on the film. As for whether the whole plan to get Lonergan out of his depression worked, well, it’s still not clear. “I told Kenny, ‘Look, it’s not going to be anything like Margaret. It’s going to be easy, and it’s going to be fun.’” Damon told the New Yorker. “Kenny said … ‘I don’t believe you can have fun making movies.’” It’s true, just ask him about Narnia.