The big part of Hollywood learns that you never turn down a role from James Cameron. Matt Damon experienced that lesson the hard way when he didn’t take the opportunity to be part of the director’s greatest cinematic vision. In a new interview at the 74th Cannes Film Festival — where the actor’s latest movie, Stillwater, had its world premiere — Damon revealed his greatest career regret: turning down Cameron’s offer to lead the 2009 blockbuster, Avatar. The star wasn’t just going to be the central character in this grand movie universe but he was also offered a profit participant in the movie.
“I was offered a little movie called Avatar, James Cameron offered me 10 percent of it,” Damon reportedly remarked during a Cannes masterclass. “I will go down in history. … You will never meet an actor who turned down more money.” Damon went on to add that accepting the Avatar job would have meant abandoning the Jason Bourne franchise, a “moral” choice he wasn’t willing to make. He also would have been committing to three more trips to Cameron’s distant planet of Pandora. Informed that the director is planning on not just one, but three more movies, Damon joked: “There are sequels? Oh my god.”
It’s hard not to regret dropping out on 10 percent of a movie that eventually grossed over $2 billion worldwide. And Damon has given the story of his near-miss with Avatar before. Speaking with British GQ in 2019 while he was promoting his movie Oscar-nominated Ford v Ferrari, the actor recalled his first conversation with Cameron. “When [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. But if you take the part, I’ll give you 10 percent.'”
Cameron, who made some of the amazing blockbusters like Terminator 2, Aliens, and Titanic, cast the lesser-known Australian actor Sam Worthington when Damon chose to stick with the Bourne franchise. And it goes without saying that Worthington — who stars opposite Zoe Saldana in the movie— didn’t get the same 10 percent offer that his predecessor refused. Still, the actor does have the right to be in the most successful movie of all time, and one of the more hyped sequels ever made.
“Wait until you see what Zoe does in the sequels,” the director told Yahoo Entertainment in 2019. “I’m watching a lot of the scenes now… and I cry. She goes to a whole other level. And so does Sam! All the returnees have taken it to a whole other level and all the actors coming in have to live up to that level. We really struck gold with our new cast coming in as well.”