Matt Damon’s ‘Elysium’ Role Was First Offered to Eminem

Matt Damon and Eminem
Matt Damon and Eminem

Eminem playing a futuristic anti-hero who takes desperate measures to save himself and restore justice to the world?

If director Neill Blomkamp had his way, the notorious rapper and "8 Mile" star would have been the leading man in the upcoming sci-fi drama "Elysium," instead of current headliner Matt Damon.

In a recent interview, Blomkamp, who wrote and directed the low-budget smash "District 9," revealed he originally envisioned his follow-up, "Elysium," as a low-budget project — much like his aforementioned breakthrough hit. He hoped to cast Ninja, a rapper with the South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord, as the protagonist Max De Costa. When Ninja said no to the project, Blomkamp began negotiating with major studios for the movie, and he moved onto another rapper-as-actor for the De Costa role: Eminem.

In the story, set in the year 2154, Earth is a crowded, chaotic, disease-ridden slum while the wealthy and privileged live in the orbiting city of Elysium. Elysium citizens have access to heath care unavailable to the desperate people below on Earth. When De Costa finds he has cancer, he sets out to invade Elysium and liberate the advanced treatments for himself and those like him.

Blomkamp discussed the project with the Detroit-born rapper, and according to the director, the artist sometimes known as Slim Shady was interested, but he had one major condition: He wanted the movie to be shot in Detroit. Blomkamp and TriStar Pictures were unable to bring the shoot to Michigan, and Eminem bowed out, with Matt Damon finally taking over the role.

Throughout his career, Damon has shown his ego is not an issue when it comes to taking work. While many of Hollywood's A-list leading men tend to shy away from supporting roles and from accepting, ahem, sloppy seconds or even thirds (from much less experienced rapper-actors, mind you), the "Bourne" series star focuses on his enthusiasm for the work itself. His passion for "Behind the Candelabra" caused him rearrange his schedule for what he deemed his "dream role." Made-for-HBO, it wasn't even a major studio release, and he shared top billing with Michael Douglas. Indeed, Damon indicated during a panel at last year's Comic-Con that he felt equally passionate about "Elysium" and moved heaven and earth to make room in his busy schedule for the role.

Back to Eminem: Would he have been a good choice for "Elysium"? It's not hard at all to imagine him in the project if you give it some thought. If "8 Mile" was a very different story, it also showed Eminem could play a man struggling against long odds to change his life. It's also worth noting that Eminem's close-cropped haircut is not at all far from the shaved head Damon sports in the movie, and he wouldn't be adverse to the tattoos De Costa sports given that he already has plenty of ink.

Having grown up in Detroit, Eminem already knows something about living in a crumbling urban environment where those who can afford it have already moved on. And he certainly has the cocky attitude and streetwise nature of a guy who is willing to fight for what he believes in and isn't about to take no for an answer. Eminem is certainly one of the more intriguing "What If?" casting possibilities of recent months, especially since he still hasn't made a follow-up to "8 Mile," one of the strongest debut performances of the Aughts. If Eminem had been willing to leave Michigan for a few months, it's possible that "Elysium" could have made him the major screen star "8 Mile" suggested he could become.