We were taking a break from filming a really pivotal scene in Good Will Hunting, and Matt Damon and Gus Van Sant, the director, were having an intense chat about the script – they changed a lot of it as we went along and they often broke off to have serious discussions. I think I'm laughing at Ben Affleck, who was just out of frame – he is a very funny guy. This scene was important; it is the moment where Skylar, my character, keeps asking Will Hunting, Matt's character, how he can do her organic chemistry paper in five seconds flat, when it takes her four weeks to figure it out.
Matt had been at Harvard, and the idea for Good Will Hunting came out of a writing assignment – Will Hunting is a genius who is forced to see a therapist, played by Robin Williams, and study advanced mathematics with a renowned professor, played by Stellan Skarsgård, in order to avoid going to jail. He and Ben developed the script purely so they could have a shot at being actors. At this point they were completely unknown, but I had left drama school at 21 and made Circle of Friends (1995), Big Night and Sleepers (both 1996) and Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), which was just out and quite a big hit, so I was on a bit of a roll.
I was 26 when I auditioned for the part of Skylar. Matt and Ben were about an hour and a half late for the audition and I was just sitting, waiting with Gus, who is so awkward when he doesn't know you. When they finally rocked up I was so nervous and hyped up that I hit them with everything I had. Afterwards they said, 'Wow, we want you.' Harvey Weinstein, who was one of the producers, did not want me at all: I wasn't sexy enough, I wasn't cute enough and I wasn't Gwyneth Paltrow enough; but luckily he backed down. Skylar wasn't a huge jump for me – she was British, upper middle class, funny, nice, and in love with Will. In real life, by the time we filmed this scene, I was completely in love with Matt. I was blown away by his commitment to me as an actor, he was cute and intelligent and altogether a really charming package. I was young and I fell for him – it's an occupational hazard.
When the film came out in January 1998, it was a huge success; it earned more than $10 million on the opening weekend and we were nominated for nine Oscars, winning two, for Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Ben and Matt. Suddenly the interest in Matt and me as a couple went bonkers. But then we split up very publicly that April, which was grim, and it turned from this beautiful thing into something so dark. I'm always really sad that we didn't stay friends because it was absolutely incandescent making that film. It was a beautiful experience and I'm so proud of that time.
Matt Damon flew to London just to come to my birthday party. It was my fortieth and I had made big plans and Matt came all this way for it. The press made a big deal about the fact that he arrived without a present but that was only because he’d just stepped off a plane. I’ve known Matt since my time with George Clooney.