Who knew working with animals could be so much fun? Not to mention peaceful?
Well, Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson certainly didn't expect it, but in an exclusive with E! News, the duo called collaborating with Cameron Crowe on the acclaimed director's new comedy-drama, We Bought a Zoo, a "magical" experience that will stay with them for a long time.
And did we mention the part about the peeing lion?
The movie is adapted from the memoir by Benjamin Mee, who used his family's life savings to buy a struggling zoo in Southern California and then sets about trying to renovate it as he rebuilds his own life following the untimely death of his wife.
Aside from getting the chance to work with Crowe—the helmer behind such films as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous—Damon and Johannson expressed deep affection for the intimate story they were telling.
"I've seen only a rough cut of it, so I'm really anxious to see how it plays," said Matt from the red carpet at Monday's premiere. "There are people of all ages here and, you know, it felt like—when we were making it—a really good, very uplifting, life-affirming family movie, so I have my whole family here tonight."
Earlier that day, Scarlett had this to say: "Cameron kind of led us in this amazing way that just allowed…all these kinds of magical moments to be captured and all of us to spread out and have all this room to explore these relationships with one another as characters. You know, we lived the story of this film on set."
Damon remarked that shooting went surprisingly well considering they were on set every day with lions, tigers and every other kind of critter you can imagine.
"It's rare to work in the same place every day, and we spent 10 of the 12 weeks shooting at the zoo set. So we're really using mostly natural light so we'd get there when the sun was coming up and when the sun set we're driving home. It's kinda like having an office job but much cooler," he said.
"And the story itself was really just affecting to me," continued Damon. "Thinking about trying to raise your kids without your partner and also to try to help your kids through that transition of losing their mother. That whole idea kind of gets to me now that I have a wife and kids."
As for their animal costars, they were on their best behavior.
"They were so well-trained, and Cameron was communicating so well with the trainers about what he needed, and they were so good about letting us know what the ground rules were about interacting with the animals that there weren't any mishaps. I expected us to go way over schedule, but it was really actually smooth," said the Bourne Identity star.
Perhaps they should have called it Zen and the Art of Animal-Keeping?
Damon did note the production had its moments, like the time a lion decided to let Crowe know who the real King of the Jungle was on set when it peed on him.
Recalled Damon, "It's kind of funny that the lion knew who the director was."
The filmmaker took it in stride, however.
"They said the lion's marking you, it means he's friendly. Yeah, right," quipped Crowe.