The Talented Mr. Ripley Taught Matt Damon How Dangerous Stunts Can Be

Moviemaking is a tricky beast all on its own, but when combined with the complicated artistry of stuntwork, things have the potential to get dangerous in an instant. For every action movie and thriller, there is a terrifying story about something that could've gone terribly wrong — and a dozen more about how the crew banded together to pull off something incredible. As it turns out, not all performers share Tom Cruise's need for speed and are relieved to know that a stunt crew is ready and available to step in. 

Among them is Jason Bourne himself, aka Matt Damon, who is no stranger to the dangers of stunt work. During a 2019 interview, Damon revealed that this is a lesson he learned on the job. He specifically recalled a standout memory from his time as the creepy grifter at the center of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," where the importance of stunt safety became abundantly clear.

Ripley learns to sink or swim

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" follows Damon's Tom Ripley as he worms his way into the extravagant life of Jude Law's Dickie Greenleaf. The ruse wins him a taste of a lifestyle he never would've reached on his own, but his time a Dickie's friend only lasts so long before suspicions start rising. Before we know it, identity theft is the least of Tom's crimes because he later adds murder to the list after a startling confrontation with Dickie. 

The stunt that Damon recalls is an alternate version of Tom tossing his rich friend overboard, and even though the take ended up on the cutting room floor, it certainly made an impression on everyone who was present. Damon told GQ:

"There was a shot that got cut, where I'm supposed to have just killed Jude Law in this boat and I'm supposed to heave him over the side, wrapped in a chain with an anchor on it so that he sinks down. Anthony [Minghella] had written something where we go over the boat together and I let him go. But I struggle and barely make it back up into this little rowboat."

To shoot the scene, a stunt man was dressed like Jude Law's Dickie, wrapped in what Damon recalls as a "real chain and anchor," then dropped into the water. Damon explained:

"You tend to have bigger problems on lower-budget things, because the bigger-budget movies take extra precautions, and one of the precautions these guys took was we had two safety divers in case anything went wrong, because you were in probably 50 feet of water. This whole thing was equipped with this catch: this little lever that this guy could pull and the whole thing would fall off him and he'd swim to the top."

It certainly sounds like a safety-first situation. There was just one problem — the lever malfunctioned.

Another disaster averted

The scene was shot as planned: Damon followed stunt-Dickie over the side of the boat, dropped him with the anchor secured, and swam back to the top. But as the crew waited for the stuntman to resurface, they slowly realized that something had gone wrong. Damon recounted the situation:

"Minutes started to go by and this guy hadn't come up and it was like, "Holy s***." Luckily, he was a trained diver — he was actually a martial artist — and he's landed on the bottom of the Mediterranean on his feet. Like a cat."

All that training served the stunt diver well. Once he was on his feet, he beckoned to the safety divers and they got to work resolving the situation:

"They all have the extra regulator on there and so they started [him] breathing, then they started to try to work on this thing and they couldn't get it off. So they ended up swimming him up, carrying him and the anchor."

Despite having a name that makes him sound like a cross between a children's party magician and an Evel Knievel ripoff, the talented Mr. Ripley is no stuntwork extraordinaire. That's where it pays to have trained professionals on movie sets, making sure everyone's adhering to policies and accomplishing their death-defying spectacles with minimal danger.