Producer Charles Roven Tells the Story of How Matt Damon Was Cast in ‘The Great Wall’

     November 11, 2015


The film The Great Wall had a very long, winding road to production. Initially set up as the inaugural film for Legendary East—an Asia-based offshoot of Legendary Productions—the movie was to be directed by Edward Zwick with Henry Cavill and Benjamin Walker starring, but budget issues caused the movie to delay and that particular team to fall apart. However, it subsequently came together again with House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou at the helm and Matt Damon starring, marking Yimou’s first English-language film and the most expensive movie ever produced in China for a worldwide release.

The story, based on an original idea by Legendary CEO Thomas Tull and World War Z author Max Brooks, explores the mysteries behind the construction of The Great Wall in China as we follow two 15th century British soldiers who get caught up in the havoc caused by some inhuman element that the builders are trying to keep out.

We all know that Damon is starring in the pic, but in speaking with Atlas Entertainment President and The Great Wall producer Charles Roven recently (tied to the release of the first Warcraft trailer), Steve got the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of Damon’s history with the project:

producer-charles-roven-image-safe“This is a really great story because when we started the very first guy we went to when Yimou –Yimou read an early script and sort of got involved, and then Tony Gilroy came in and, while the basic layout of the movie was the same, he did a really ground up rewrite of it, and the script was just fantastic, and obviously Matt and Tony have a history. But the thing that not very many people know is that Yimou and Matt almost did a movie before Great Wall and they couldn’t make the schedule work, Matt had committed himself to something and he was trying to move it around. And sure enough, when we went to Matt with The Great Wall, he said, ‘I want to do it! Is there a way that we can make this movie after The Martian? But then I’m supposed to do Downsizing, and then I gotta do Bourne. So is there a way that you can fit it in?’ and we tried but we just couldn’t get the movie ready in time and we needed him for so many days so he reluctantly had to pass. Because he promised Alexander [Payne] that he wouldn’t take another movie while he was trying to put together Downsizing.


So we went to another actor –In fact, Matt is so gracious that he actually sent the script to another actor who called through his agent and said that he wanted to do it, and we were quite happy to have that other actor. And we negotiated a deal with the other actor but the actor had a preempt with another studio, and sure enough as soon as we closed the deal that studio preempted. So, taking a shot in the dark I picked up the phone and called Matt and I go. ‘Hey, isn’t it about the time when you know about Downsizing? Is that happening or is it getting pushed, what’s gonna happen?’ he said, ‘Are you psychic or something? It just got pushed, why?’ I go, ‘Well, what about Great Wall?’ he said, ‘Really? It’s still available?’ I said, ‘Just became available’ he goes, ‘I’m in.’”


Image via 20th Century Fox

The film recently wrapped, and while Roven noted that there’s still a significant amount of visual effects work to be done, he’s very happy with how the movie is looking so far, praising the production’s diversity:

“I’m really excited about it. It was really a fantastic honor to work with Zhang Yimou, who’s of the world great filmmakers. The story itself is an East meets West blend, and the filmmaking process was an East meets West blend. We brought a lot of the filmmaking team over from either the UK, Australia, or the US and we married them together with some amazing DPs, department heads from China. They obviously have a really spectacular group of talent the as well. So from that point it was really thrilling to make that film because, again, I started by saying no two movies are the same, this was a completely unique thing. No film had ever tried to be that kind of a blend. We’re in the very early stages of the editing process right now and that’s another film that’s got a tremendous amount of visual effects in it, so we’re still quite some ways away from having a research screening.”


Image via EDKO Film

Steve also asked the producer about the involvement of the Chinese government, since it’s a co-production with multiple Chinese investors, Legendary, and Universal:

“Honestly, every project whether it’s Chinese or international that goes to shoot in China, and even if they don’t go to shoot in China – It’s called SARFT, they look at the content to make sure that it is suitable for China, whether you shoot the movie there or it goes there for distribution, you have to show them whatever it is that you’re –Either in the script stage, if it’s a movie you’re gonna shoot there or before it gets released there. On The Dark Knight Rises, for example, or Man of Steel, for example, we had to sweat out giving it to them and hoping that it actually didn’t get copied. But they’re pretty good about that.”

On the issue of piracy, Roven added that it can be a bit anxious waiting to see if the materials sent to China are kept under wraps:

“That’s why I said you get a little nervous about it but I think that they realized that they wouldn’t have a movie business with international films if you went to SARFT and somehow the movie got out. So from that standpoint really all we did was make sure –Because we have three or four Chinese investors and additional Legendary and Universal on The Great Wall. But all we really did was give the script to SARFT and they were fine with it.”

The Great Wall is slated for release on November 23, 2016. Look for more from Steve’s interview with Roven on Collider soon, and if you missed our previous stories peruse the links below.

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