People’s actions, no matter what the intentions behind them are, always leave lasting effects that surely influence their perspectives, attitudes and relationships. That’s certainly the case with the new action-thriller, ‘The Great Wall,’ as lead actor Matt Damon has faced conflict, both as his character in the storyline and as a performer supporting the movie. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker has gracefully defended the Chinese-set and shot drama against claims of whitewashing, as his protagonist in the sci-fi movie helps lead the defense of the supporting characters of his Asian castmates against deadly monsters.

‘House of Flying Daggers’ helmer, Zhang Yimou, made his English-language directorial debut with ‘The Great Wall,’ which is also the largest movie that has ever been shot entirely in China. The action film was written by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy.

‘The Great Wall’ follows William Garin (Damon), who, along with his fellow mercenary, Tovar (Pedro Pascal), has been captured by a military garrison at one of the main outposts along the title structure. The duo’s lives are spared, however, when William presents their captors with a paw he cut off from a beast that attacked him and Tovar on the Great Wall.

The mercanaries are then told that the monster they defeated is a Taotie, which is a deadly and paranormal lizard species that long has been trying to invade China. William and Tovar are also informed that the wall was actually built to keep the Taotie out of the country.

The garrison eventually welcomes the mercenaries into their society, as William saved a soldier and showcased his archery skills in an epic battle. While William is initially driven to obtain a mysterious gunpowder in China that promises to offer him a fortune at home, he’s soon captivated by Lin (Jing Tian), the only woman and English-speaking commander at the outpost.

William decides to remain in China, despite the fact that Tovar has been persuaded by Ballard (Willem Dafoe), who has been held in detention at the camp for 25 years, to steal his fellow mercenary’s treasure and leave the country. Along the way, William must figure out who he can truly trust, and how his actions will not only affect him, but also the warriors he has begun caring about in China.

Damon generously took the time to participate in a press conference on Saturday during New York Comic-Con, which was held backstage at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The conference took place after the thriller held its panel for fans, during which Universal Pictures unveiled a new trailer for the drama. The studio is set to distribute ‘The Great Wall’ in 3D on February 17, 2017 in theaters.

The actor first revealed that the offer to play William “came out of the blue. I’ve been chasing Yimou Zhang for 20 years…and had a serious fanboy moment” when he was asked to collaborate with the filmmaker on the drama. “I went in to meet with him in an office. We were surrounded by these storyboards.

“I knew (the film) would be like nothing I have ever seen or done, and would be bigger than I could ever imagine. It was like the Great Wall was designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and it came alive. I just looked at (the storyboards), and they just blew me away,” the actor revealed. He added that the last thing that Zhang showed him were the designs for what the monsters would look like, and “I thought they were so cool.”

When filming then began on ‘The Great Wall,’ Damon and the rest of the cast and crew lived in China for six months, which he called “an amazing experience. I brought my whole family…One of the most interesting things was that we had over 100 translators” on the set.

Damon added that the action thriller “was the biggest movie I have ever been a part of. But despite the fact that we didn’t all speak the same language, everyone (on the set) had spent their entire lives making movies, so we had that language in common. It was cool to see how much we could speak to each other through the work we were doing together.” The performer laughed as he added that Zhang “acts out every scene.”

When then asked how shooting his stunt sequences for ‘The Great Wall’ compared and contrasted to his other action films, like the ‘Bourne’ series, Damon divulged that “I got there a month early, and they were building these unbelievable sets. There were guys doing flips, and I was like, ‘What is this thing?!?,'” he shared with a laugh. “The amount of work that went into this is staggering. Watching everyone prepare” was an captivating experience for Damon. “With the ‘Bourne’ stuff, we’d just go and do it,” he added with a laugh. “But these people were actually preparing for a movie.

“There’s this sequence where these women are playing drums to communicate to everyone on the wall what’s happening, and how close the monsters are,” the actor revealed. “We’d hear these drums everyday, and it was awesome.”

There were also “200 cargo crates that circled around the wall set, and were draped on the green screen. So it was bigger than any green screen” the actor had ever worked with before. “There had to be a half-mile of green screen…which Yimou used to transport us to this other place.”

Damon embraced the entire experience of collaborating with Zhang once they began shooting ‘The Great Wall.’ The actor appreciated how the director had massive sets built to scale. “As we were watching him create this story on such a massive canvas, we couldn’t believe we were a part of this experience,” he admitted.

The actor concluded the press conference by addressing the backlash that ‘The Great Wall’ has faced since the casting of himself and the other white actors was announced. Damon reaffirmed the fact that he’s sensitive to such a situation. “We do take it seriously, and we were wounded by it. It’s a serious thing.

While Damon does understand the confusion over why he and his fellow Caucasian actors were cast, he added that he was surprised at some of the negative reactions that the drama’s teaser trailer has received. “It wasn’t even a full trailer, let alone the entire movie. So to have those charges levied against us” was a disappointment to him.

“What’s the worst wipeout for a marketing team? Having backlash against the teaser you put out” is one of most damaging things, Damon also noted. “I thought of it from their perspective. They’re trying establish a number of things in 30 seconds or a minute, or however short amount of time that they had. It wasn’t a full trailer; it was a teaser.

“So they were trying to tease the monster, and say the movie’s from a visionary filmmaker that you probably don’t know. Many Americans probably don’t know this director, but he’s the Steven Spielberg of China,” Damon also stated. He also explained that the teaser was meant to reassure American audiences that English is spoken in the film. “It was also meant to say that I’m in the movie, and audiences know me. So there was a lot they were trying to include in those 30 seconds.”

Damon also divulged that he was watched the teaser that has received critiqued “a number of times, just to understand the criticism…If people go on to see the entire movie and still feel there is whitewashing involved in a creature feature that we made up, I will listen to that with my whole heart, and will learn from that. As a progressive person, it’s a opinion I listen, and am sensitive, to.”

Watch the trailer, and check out photos, for ‘The Great Wall’ that Universal Pictures debuted during New York Comic Con below.

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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