Matt Damon says his biggest career regret is turning down James Cameron's 'Avatar'

Sooner or later everyone in Hollywood learns that you never bet against James Cameron. Matt Damon experienced that lesson the hard way when he turned down the opportunity to be part of the director's grandest cinematic vision. In a recent interview at the 74th Cannes Film Festival — where the actor's latest film, Stillwater, had its world premiere — Damon disclosed his biggest career regret: turning down Cameron's offer to headline the 2009 blockbuster, Avatar. And the Good Will Hunting star wasn't just going to be the central character in the out-of-this-world epic: he was also going to be a profit participant in the movie.

CANNES, FRANCE - JULY 09: Matt Damon attends the
Matt Damon attends the "Stillwater" press conference during the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

"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's sequels? Oh my god."

Still, it's hard not to regret missing out on 10 percent of a movie that ultimately grossed over $2 billion worldwide. And Damon has shared the story of his near-miss with Avatar before. Speaking with British GQ in 2019 while promoting the Oscar-nominated Ford v Ferrari, the actor recalled his initial 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.'"

Sam Worthington took the 'Avatar' role that James Cameron originally offered to Matt Damon (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Sam Worthington took the 'Avatar' role that James Cameron originally offered to Matt Damon (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

True to his word, Cameron, whose filmography includes all-time blockbusters like Terminator 2, Aliens and Titanic, cast the lesser-known Australian actor Sam Worthington when Damon decided to stick with the Bourne franchise. And it goes without saying that Worthington — who stars opposite Zoe Saldana in the film — didn't get the same 10 percent offer that his predecessor rejected. Still, the actor does have bragging rights to being in the most successful film of all time, and one of the more closely-watched sequels ever made.

Not that Cameron is feeling the pressure. "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."

Watch our Director's Reel interview with James Cameron below

Luckily, Damon has good friends like John Krasinski — whom he's collaborated with on films like the 2012 drama Promised Land — to help him move past what might have been. The actor told the Cannes crowd what The Quiet Place Part II director said when he admitted missing out on a life-altering payday. "Nothing would be different in your life if you had done Avatar, except you and me would be having this conversation in space," Damon recalls Krasinski remarking. That's definitely a kinder way of putting it then, "How do you like them apples?"

Avatar is currently streaming on Disney+

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