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SYFY WIRE Matt Damon

Matt Damon regrets passing on Avatar, and the unobtanium payout James Cameron was offering

By Benjamin Bullard
Sam Worthington in Avatar

Not that he needed a billion-dollar box office vehicle to boost his star power, even back in 2009, but Matt Damon’s hard pass on starring in the movie that it took Avengers: Endgame to topple remains one of the versatile A-list actor’s biggest career regrets. 

So says Damon in a recent interview with GQ, where he revealed that Avatar mastermind and all-around sci-fi legend James Cameron offered him a truly bonkers amount of money to take on the role of Jake Sully — an offer he passed on, due to his prior commitment to make The Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone.

Joking that turning down such a high-profile role at least hasn’t kept his family from going hungry, Damon confessed he does rue the decision to decline Cameron’s offer of a whopping 10 percent of Avatar’s eventual $2.76 billion box office haul (that’s $276 million, or more than a quarter of a billion dollars, in case you’re as bad at mental math as we are). 

Matt Damon

“[W]hen he [Cameron] offered it to me, he goes, ‘Now, listen. I don’t need anybody. I don’t need a name for this, a named actor. If you don’t take this, I’m going to find an unknown actor and give it to him, because the movie doesn’t really need you,” explained Damon. “But if you take the part, I’ll give you ten per cent of…’” before stopping to let the interviewer connect the dots. 

“He offered you ten per cent of the Avatar profits?” asked GQ’s Stuart McGurk, launching Damon into a hilarious anecdote about how he found himself unloading that very regret, much later, on none other than A Quiet Place director and Damon’s Promised Land co-star star John Krasinski.

“I told John Krasinski this story when we were writing Promised Land. We’re writing this movie about fracking. We’re writing in the kitchen and we’re on a break and I tell him the story and he goes, ‘What?’ And he stands up and he starts pacing in the kitchen," Damon said. "He goes, ‘OK. OK. OK. OK. OK.’ He goes, ‘If you had done that movie, nothing in your life would be different. Nothing in your life would be different at all. Except that, right now, we would be having this conversation in space.’ So, yeah. I’ve left more money on the table than any actor actually.”

Damon’s bigger regret, though, seems to be foregoing the exceedingly rare opportunity to work with Cameron, the visionary director of box office blockbusters like The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, and, yes, Avatar. With only six actual directing credits in a career that spans decades, Cameron’s movie presence is rare indeed — and Damon said he knew that bypassing Avatar would pretty much ice his one solid opportunity to ever team up with him. 

“He works so infrequently, but his movies, you know all of them,” said Damon. “So it feels like he’s made more than he has. I realized in having to say no that I was probably passing on the chance to ever work with him. So that sucked and that’s still brutal. But my kids are all eating. I’m doing OK.”

As we all now know, Avatar’s leading part indeed went to an up-and-coming actor, Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation), who shared the screen with Zoe Saldana in a starmaking role for the now-iconic MCU actor. And with Cameron slated to lead (and possibly direct) as many as three planned Avatar sequels after the Dec. 17. 2021 release of Avatar 2, maybe the door hasn’t closed completely on Damon’s chances to work with one of science fiction’s biggest creative names. 

If that opportunity does arise, though, here’s hoping Damon will just say “yes” — with or without a claim on the movie’s inevitably big box office haul.