Why The Entire Third Act Of The Last Duel Was Written By Nicole Holofcener

Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel" has a script with a very distinct three-act structure. That script, written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, follows in the footsteps of "Rashomon," telling a story from three different perspectives — knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon), his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), and de Carrouges' one time friend turned enemy Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). This approach allows the film to present alternate versions of certain moments, creating a richer storytelling experience that sets "The Last Duel" apart from standard historical epics. 

When it came to writing the story from the two male perspectives of Damon and Driver's characters, Affleck and Damon took charge. But when it came time to write the film's third act, which is from Marguerite's point of view, the boys from Boston decided to turn to a female screenwriter. As a result, Holofcener ended up penning the entire third act herself. /Film attended a press conference for "The Last Duel" in which the screenwriters opened up about this unique approach. 

"This Is Actually the Truth"

"The Last Duel" tells the story of Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), a noblewoman in France in the 1300s who claims she was raped by Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), who was once the friend of Marguerite's husband, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon). In presenting this story, "The Last Duel" gives us three unique perspectives. The first act of the film is from de Carrouges' point of view, which, of course, paints him in a heroic light. The second act is devoted to Le Gris, and he, too, sees himself as a heroic figure. The final act, which is seen from Margurite's perspective, flips everything we just saw in the first two acts upside down, and presents us with something that seems far closer to the truth. 

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had already written the first two acts devoted to the male characters when they decided to turn to Nicole Holofcener. "Matt and Ben had already started writing and had decided to write it in this three-part point of view kind of way," Holofcener said during the press conference. " And they asked me to come and write the last part. And I was thrilled. They did not have to beg me."

She added:

"And then I would send pages to them and we'd sit down together and work on each other's scenes. I basically wrote the third act, but they also had a hand in it. Because it had to be a part of the whole movie. And when smart writers have ideas, one should take them. And so, between Jodie and them, it was really collaborative. Really collaborative with all the actors too. So, sometimes, we wrote apart, some together."

As Holofcener tells it, the script when she came on board was severely lacking in the Marguerite department. "[She was] barely in this movie playing this kind of obsequious wife who thinks her husband is all that," Holofcener said. "Then by the time we got to the third act, I wanted really to say, no. This is actually the truth. And she's actually a human being."

Creating a World

Don't think that Affleck and Damon left Marguerite's character development thin by accident, or because they're bad at their jobs. No, this was all by design. "The construct was that the world of women is totally ignored, and overlooked, and is invisible for the first two acts of the movie," Damon said. "And then it's revealed in the third act ... Ben and I were adapting a book. Nicole was really writing an original screenplay. Because the men of the time, they took very fastidious notes about what they were all up to, but they didn't record what the women were doing. And so, Nicole really had to create Jodie's world, Marguerite's world, out of whole-cloth."

Affleck then credited Comer's performance with helping expand Marguerite as a character. "That doesn't work unless Jodie is so smart, and brave, and complicated in her performance," he said, adding: 

"And we wanted to exploit the fact that, historically, people are in many ways, largely accustomed to women being secondary and tertiary characters. So that it would seem out of the ordinary. And she was willing to play that and makes the reveal, I think, so much more powerful and elegant, to see the difference between a essentially two-dimensional person, and a fully-realized, three-dimensional human being."

"The Last Duel" hits theaters on October 15, 2021.