20th Century Studios’ The Last Duel is bringing to theaters an epic, real-life story that you’ve probably neve heard of before
Its synopsis is as follows:
The historical epic is a cinematic and thought-provoking drama set in the midst of the Hundred Years War that explores the ubiquitous power of men, the frailty of justice and the strength and courage of one woman willing to stand alone in the service of truth. Based on actual events, the film unravels long-held assumptions about France’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. Carrouges is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Le Gris is a Norman squire whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands.
It was written by Nicole Holofcener as well as Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, based on the book by Eric Jager. The film is produced by Ridley Scott, Kevin J. Walsh, Jennifer Fox, Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck with Kevin Halloran, Drew Vinton, and Madison Ainley serving as executive producers.
The film is comprised of three acts, the first being from Jean de Carrouges’ perspective, the second being from Le Gris’ perspective and the third act, “The Truth,” being from Marguerite de Carrougues’ eyes.
Shadow and Act spoke with Damon and Holofcener about having a woman’s lens on the pivotal third act and how all isn’t as it appears in the first two acts. Review the conversation, condensed and edited for clarity, below:
S&A: The most pivotal of all three of the acts is the final one, the truth. Nicole, how important what it for you to tell a story like this because so many period pieces like this come from strictly the male gaze and you think a woman would have no agency given her circumstances. But with this, we know in spite of her circumstances, Marguerite still held on
Damon: Great question.
Holofcener: That is a good question. And Matt and Ben kind of handed it to me on a platter, because I knew what the other two sections were going to be like. And here was a chance to tell this one’s truth and it was the actual truth. And I had never heard of her. I think most people hadn’t heard of her. and the research, there was very little about her and much more about the two fellows because they were dueling and they were knights and they were dudes, so it was really important for me to make her a three-dimensional person. It was obvious to all of us that this kind of s**t is still going on. And sorry if I can’t curse [laughs], but it’s very relevant today, although that’s not what drew me in. What drew me in was this particular story and the bravery of this particular woman.
Damon: Actually, to follow onto that, because I love that question, the whole construct was this idea that you’d have two acts of a movie that did what movies always do, which is [to] totally ignore and overlook the woman, and the women in the first two acts kind of are manifested by the men in terms of how they need them, whether they need them for their own adulation. But then the third act was this idea to reveal this world of women that’s been entirely overlooked, not only in our movie, but in every other movie. And that was why we needed Nicole and begged her to come work with us.
Holofcener: They didn’t beg me.
Damon: We begged, totally begged. [laughs]
But also because, as she said, the men really wrote down the history is all what the men were doing. She had to create. Ben and I wrote an adapted screenplay. We adapted the book. Nicole had to write an original act, which was like creating this woman’s life.
Holofcener: What’s cool, I think, too is, you want to go to the movie and think, “Why did Jodie Comer take this part?”
Holofcener: She’s got this crappy little part as the wife!
Damon: For the first hour or whatever.
S&A: That’s the magic of the movie because after those two acts, and then you see this third act and you’re like, “Wow, this is it. This is it.”
Damon: Yeah, “This is what I came for.” And that was what was exciting about the way the architecture of the screenplay was. That was the fun of it.
S&A: Matt, I want to talk about with your character how the audiences’ view of him warps as the acts go by. Because we get his part in Act I and with each act, you see that there are three sides to the story and with each act, he’s given a more unsympathetic portrayal each time. So how did you sort of approach all the many sides of Jean both in your performance and as co-writer?
Damon: That was the fun of acting in the movie was you kind of play three parts, right?
Holofcener: All at once, too. You do one and then another.
Damon: You do one and then another. On set, we were very aware at this scene is in Adam’s story. This scene is in my story. This scene is in Jodie’s story. So you play your character the way you see yourself, and we’re all kind of the heroes of our own narratives. So everything that Carrouges, my character, does in the first act makes total sense. It’s a classic knight’s tale. He’s doing the honorable thing, he’s fighting for the honor of his wife, etc, etc.
Holofcener: And he’s good in bed [laughs].
Damon: Yeah. And then you reveal he is awful in bed by the third act. And among other things, he’s vain. And he’s ambitious and selfish and irascible and jealous and all of these things. And that was the fun of playing who he really was versus how he saw himself. In fact, I would say, too, Jodie had the most difficult job. The culture didn’t recognize Marguerite as a human being. She was property. And so in the first two acts, she’s very different from how she appears as a fully fleshed out, three-dimensional human being in the third act because she’s the only narrator who really understands that she’s a human being.
Watch the full interview below:
The Last Duel is in theaters Oct. 15.