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Matt Damon has never played anyone quite like William Garin, the 11th-century Euro-tripping mercenary who helps the Chinese military battle an army of ancient monsters in the action movie The Great Wall. So he had little frame of reference when it came to crafting the character.
Take the actor’s vaguely Irish accent in the film. “The accent, we just made up, literally,” said Damon, who worked with dialect coach Tim Monich. (Watch our interview with him above.) “We kind of thought, theoretically, what we needed, it couldn’t be modern English. It had to be understandable. And then [Monich] made rules for it, the way he does for any dialect we’re working on. So we kind of cobbled it together that way.”
For Garin’s archery expertise, Damon turned to the same resource you might look to for cute kittens or skateboarding fails: “I looked up on YouTube and found these speed archers that are these incredible guys who can shoot arrows really quickly and accurately,” he said. Damon was shooting The Martian in Budapest while preparing for The Great Wall, and it just so happened that the world’s most renowned speed archer, Lajos Kassai, lived just outside the capital city. He started to train with Damon on the weekends.
Damon, who hit his stride as an action star in the blockbuster Jason Bourne movies, said the stunt work gets easier the more he does it … with a caveat. “The older I get, they get easier, because I do them less,” he said, laughing. “I always want it to look as good as possible, so if we can get away with putting in somebody who’s more agile than I am, or can do a better job, then I’ll always do that. But if the audience is going to know, then I’ll try and do it.”
The Great Wall, directed by Zhang Yimou, is now in theaters. Watch the trailer: