Jack Nicholson's Ideas For The Departed Had A Direct Impact On Matt Damon

Matt Damon has been in some high-profile ensemble films where he's surrounded by several A-list stars (specifically the "Ocean's" movies) jockeying for primacy, and, for whatever reason, the brawny star of the "Bourne" franchise is often asked to play a somewhat pathetic figure. In the "Ocean's" movies, his Linus Caldwell is essentially the put-upon little brother to George Clooney's Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt's Rusty Ryan. You're meant to laugh at his misfortune.

As Colin Sullivan in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," however, Damon plays possibly the most pathetic creature of his entire career (and, yes, I'm including his sniveling bigot from "School Ties"). Sullivan is a mob recruit working as a deep-cover spy inside the Massachusetts State Police. Damon delivers his lines with a gratingly nasal wine. It's a stark, pathetically funny contrast from the rest of the testosterone-laden cast (which includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg), and it makes his pipsqueak of a character all the more hateable. This was precisely what Damon wanted.

When Nicholson zigged, Damon zagged

In an interview with Film Ink, Damon explains that Nicholson flipped the script by introducing a wanton sexual element as debauched mob boss Frank Costello. Given that Damon's Sullivan has lived his entire life as Costello's loyal foot soldier, the actor correctly believed that the most interesting choice was to make his character the complete opposite of his mentor.

"I said to Marty, 'Alright, we're in this macho world where everyone's beating each other up and throwing people through walls – and Jack's a sexual dynamo – so here's what I want to do: I want to lose every fight I'm in and I don't want my dick to work! I want to take an aggressive run in the other direction.' So we just started talking about that and it really did seem to fit thematically with what Jack was doing and it just deepened the whole thing."

It certainly deepened our hatred of Sullivan, who somehow grows more loathsome as the film twists its way to its deeply satisfying conclusion. "The Departed" may be Scorsese's most aggressively commercial film, but that's apparently what the Academy Awards wanted from the legendary director, as he won his long-overdue first Oscar for Best Director. The movie also earned two Best Supporting Actor nods (for Nicholson and Wahlberg).

Damon, however, was left wanting. The man threw himself into the pivotal role of a sneaky, sexually impotent cretin, and he couldn't snag a single individual nomination throughout the entirety of the 2006 awards season. Sullivan got exactly what he deserved, but Damon got snubbed.