Building a Community in PROMISED LAND

Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote and star in PROMISED LAND, and their supporting cast of remarkable actors, like Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, and Rosemarie DeWitt, gives this American story real depth and dimension.

With bringing Gus Van Sant on as director, the production of PROMISED LAND was not only back on schedule but was accelerating - and filming began less than four months later.

Frances McDormand was part and parcel of the project because, as actor and screenwriter Matt Damon notes, "We had sent Fran the earliest draft of the script, when it was still a windmill movie, and she committed to it then. Aside from John and me, she's been with the project the longest."

Producer Chris Moore adds, "Through all of the ups and downs, she remained loyal to us. In playing the role, Fran brings great comic timing and conveys Sue's practicality."

Damon says, "Her performance as Sue is so layered and nuanced. The character is a single mother who is on the road a lot. After several years together as a team, she and Steve relate to each other like siblings; there's a competitive element there, but you also see the affection and the fondness.

"Many times, I would be playing a scene with Fran and sense something strong happening. Then, watching the dailies, I could take the opportunity to see the distinctions in every single take she did."

Actor and screenwriter John Krasinski concurs, noting that "in those dailies, something's different each time as she's bringing a purity and intensity to the role. If I were as good as she is, I'd point at myself and say so, yet she's self-deprecating and shrugs off compliments. But, Fran shines."

McDormand comments, "Writing a screenplay is a craft, like writing a short story or a poem, and John and Matt know the craft of screenwriting. I was impressed by their intelligence. They are also self-aware enough that they don't try to make everybody come along with their opinion."

As with many of the members of the creative team, McDormand could relate all too well to the challenges facing McKinley and the people who live in and visit it in the story. She explains, "I went to high school in a steel town in Pennsylvania. Now the town is suffering a lot, although I have friends that are still living there happily because it's their community and they belong to important church communities there."

In PROMISED LAND, community necessities weigh heavily on Frank Yates, who lives a harmonious existence on his family farm and who well understands Steve's conflicting interests.

Damon notes, "As an older man, Frank has a sense of stewardship. He's a believer in industry, a retired Boeing engineer who now teaches high-school science because he wants to educate the next generation in his community. He is conscious of his place in the town, and in the world. He challenges Steve so that other people will ask questions and then go through the healthy process of making a decision all together, as a community.

"For Frank, it's about making time for education. For us, it was about making time for Hal Holbrook to play him."

Chris Moore elaborates, "We had to work Hal's shooting dates around his Mark Twain [one-man show] performance schedule, but there was no question that we were going to. We knew Hal would just embody Frank as the conscience of the community."

The veteran actor met with the filmmakers and agreed to be part of "a movie which had some meaning to it beyond just pure entertainment. The material, the script, is what's important. That Matt was going to be in it was a big plus, because I admire him; he's maturing as an actor, and he's not a showy actor.

"My heart was in this role because this man is pointing out, 'We can't make a fast decision. We need to think it all through.'"

Rosemarie DeWitt marvels, "As an actor, Hal Holbrook embodies this incredible sturdiness and vulnerability at exactly the same time, which is perfect for this story. I would get goosebumps watching him. Also, he never blows a line - we all would, but he'd be letter-perfect every time!

"I think every actor looks out for scripts like this - beautiful, well-executed, and about something important. Yet it's not an 'issue movie.'"

There was no shortage of actresses interested in the role of Alice, which was the last key one to be cast. The character becomes a touchstone to Damon's Steve. Damon praises DeWitt as being "what we wrote Alice to be, only better."

The actress assesses the character as "someone who grew up in the small town and then went to grad school in the big city. She has had her own series of life lessons and loss."

Moore offers, "Alice represents the future; she's someone who has made the choice to return home to make a difference, which is an important element in our story. She is someone the age of a lot of people today who might say, 'Well, this is my life, can't change now.'

"Rosemarie's charm, savvy, and charisma brings the role to life - and also allow her to inhabit with aplomb the space in between the conflict of Steve and Dustin, given that they're both attracted to her."

DeWitt "had worked with me before," says Krasinski. "I loved acting opposite her, and so had my wife on another project. When Rosemarie came in to read for the role, it was like, 'Well, this makes sense!' Plus, she has great chemistry with Matt."

Further on-screen chemistry evolved between Damon and Krasinski. Damon remarks, "People are going to be surprised by John. He's playing someone who has his own story to tell. I'd come away saying, 'This guy is amazing,' even though I already knew him.

"15 years ago, on Good Will Hunting, Gus said to me, 'Directing is 95% casting.' On this, we got everybody we wanted. Then we turned them loose and they started doing great things we couldn't even have anticipated."

Moore found that with this ensemble, "there wasn't a whole lot of bull about getting hair done. No time was wasted waiting on someone. This capable cast supported each other."

McDormand says, "Making PROMISED LAND was a collaborative effort in the best possible way."

Titus Welliver, who plays the neighborly proprietor of Rob's Guns, Groceries, Guitars and Gas, remarks, "John and Matt have done such a great job writing this script that they invite you into the process."

Rehearsals were held with the actors, deepening their senses of place and character beyond the milieu they were on location in. Whether as actors or screenwriters, Damon and Krasinski were primed for the spontaneous moments that might occur.

DeWitt remembers, "It really seemed like Matt and John were occupying the same brain - with Gus! When they were not working on-camera, you would see them over with Gus rewriting or reconceiving a scene.

"But when they were playing their characters in scenes, they were completely immersed as Dustin and Steve."