>Gus Van Sant
GUS VAN SANT WAS FAR from an obvious choice to direct Good Will Hunting, the pet project of actor buddies Matt Damon
and Ben Affleck
. Yet the two trusted Van Sant, known for subversive, sex-and-druggy fare, with their feel-good tale of a young genius. "We knew it wouldn't be a movie by committee," says Affleck. "It wouldn't be watered down. It would be a Gus Van Sant movie."
Van Sant, 45, enjoys Hunting's critical raves, but not speculation he has gone mainstream. "I'm not a conservative person and I haven't changed," says the openly gay director, whose last film was 1995's To Die For. "It's different, not a departure."
Raised in Darien, Conn., Van Sant, who just published a novel called Pink, studied painting and film in college. He found film "more challenging" and put his $25,000 savings into his 1985 feature debut, Mala Noche, following it with 1989's Drugstore Cowboy and 1991's My Own Private Idaho. Known for a laid-back style—"he's like a church mouse, extraordinarily perceptive and quiet," says Damon—Van Sant eschews Hollywood for a Tudor-style home in Portland, Ore. "I'm somewhat naive when I come to L.A. because I'm not living and breathing the business," he says. "But also I'm not neurotic—or at least I'm less neurotic than if I lived in Los Angeles."