Matt Damon has defended his casting in new China-Hollywood co-production The Great Wall amid criticism his role should have gone to an Asian actor.
Some critics have said Damon’s casting as the lead character amounted to whitewashing, in which Caucasians are chosen for roles that actors of other ethnicities should play.
The American actor said he thought of the term whitewashing as applying to Caucasian actors putting on makeup to appear to be of another race, as was common in the early days of film and television.
“That whole idea of whitewashing, I take that very seriously,” Damon said, using the example of the Irish-American actor Chuck Connors, who played the lead character in the 1962 film Geronimo, about the famed Apache chief.
Damon, 46, plays an English mercenary in the upcoming $150 million adventure-fantasy about a Chinese army battling monsters, helmed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou.
The movie’s trailer sparked criticism in the US that a white man had been chosen to play the lead in a film set in China and meant to showcase Chinese culture.
The furore came amid other accusations of a lack of diversity and opportunities for Asian actors in Hollywood.
‘It wasn’t altered because of me in any way’
Damon questioned whether the critical stories on online news sites based on “a 30-second teaser trailer” would have existed before the era of so-called fake news and headlines designed to make people click on them.
“It suddenly becomes a story because people click on it, versus the traditional ways that a story would get vetted before it would get to that point,” said the star of the Bourne franchise.
Damon said people fell for outrageous headlines, but “eventually you stop clicking on some of those more outrageous things because you just realise there is nothing to the story when you get to it”.
The Great Wall is the first movie made by Legendary East, the Chinese venture of Legendary Entertainment, a Hollywood studio now owned by Chinese real estate and theatre chain developer Wanda Group.
Damon and Zhang said that because of the demands of the story, Damon’s role — a mercenary who comes to China to steal gunpowder — was always intended to be European.
Damon said he thought the criticism over his casting would subside “once people see that it’s a monster movie and it’s a historical fantasy and I didn’t take a role away from a Chinese actor … it wasn’t altered because of me in any way”.