"[Zhang Yimou] is one of my favorite directors," Matt Damon told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere of The Great Wall. Damon, the star of Yimou's fantasy monster movie, has long wanted to work with the legendary Chinese auteur (director of Hero, House of the Flying Daggers and the creative force behind the epic 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony). "He works almost exclusively in China so I didn't know if I would ever get a chance to work with him. So when this opportunity came up, I just jumped on it," he said.
Speaking through a translator, Yimou said he knew the film would be "complicated" but Damon's respect for the Chinese culture and people made the process easier. "[Damon] said he came because of me. Well, I accepted the project because of him," Yimou added.
Damon, Yimou as well as co-stars Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal walked the black carpet Wednesday night at the Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
The cast and crew took on many firsts while filming The Great Wall. For director Yimou, this was his first English-language film. "When I think about Zhang Yimou, I feel like I know him and worked with him but we have never spoken in the same language which is really wild when you think about it," Dafoe told THR.
"There is something fun about finding a way to communicate and finding your own language with your director and the people around you because everyone was so unified in making this together," Pedro Pascal told THR. "It's interesting because that's part of the adventure."
Describing the specifically Chinese elements of The Great Wall, Tian said: "This movie really represents the Chinese history and the Chinese people's characteristics such as [bravery], wisdom, and determination. So, I hope the American audience will enjoy this movie."
Another first for most of the cast and crew was moving to China for five months while shooting.
"I had never been to Asia before," Pascal said. "There are elements that are thousands and thousands of years old right next to a new building so to be able to go to a temple and feel that time is special."
"It is always nice to have the adventure of living some place that feeds into the making of the movie," Dafoe said. "I always seek those situations and this was one of them."
Following the premiere, the cast and crew partied at The Hollywood Roosevelt, where the original costumes from the film were on display and Chinese food was served for guests.
The Great Wall opens in theaters Feb. 17.