Right before Matt Damon comes in to talk with the press about his new political drama, “Syriana,” written and directed by Stephen Gaghan (“Traffic”), his co-star George Clooney enters the room. The older actor then proceeds to give his friend a hug, and then blatantly gives one of his ass cheeks a good squeeze. Are they always like this? “Yeah, he grabs my ass every day. At least once a day. [Laughs.] That’s why I’ve done three movies with him” says Damon.
On more serious matters, in “Syriana” Damon plays Bryan Woodman, an energy analyst working in Geneva who loses one of his sons in a tragic accident at the home of a Prince Nasir. Nasir offers him a business opportunity with his oil operations, much to the dismay of Bryan’s wife (Amanda Peet) who believes that her husband has become blinded by greed.
Question: Why did you take this role?
Damon: A couple of things: I loved the script. I thought it was so smart, and so unlike most of the movies coming out of Hollywood, particularly movies that have a real budget. This movie was probably $60 million bucks. And you don’t see characters that are this flawed and gray in big budget movies, because in Hollywood, the last thing they want to do is confuse you. They want you to know, we have two hours to tell you a story. Here’s the good guy, here’s the bad guy, here’s the problem. This wasn’t reductive like that, so that was really attractive. George had already signed up for it. We were doing “Ocean’s 12,” and so I talked to him and Soderbergh. And I didn’t know anything about Gaghan, but Steven had obviously worked very closely with him on “Traffic.” I talked to those guys and they said, look, we totally believe in him; you should have a conversation with him. So I called Gaghan, and after about 20 minutes, I’m like, yeah, I’m in. It had all the things I look for. A really strong script. A really smart director. And a good role.
Question: Do you feel that you’re the viewpoint of the audience for this movie? That you’re the naïve person who goes into it thinking it’s going to be one thing, and then finding out something else?
Damon: Yeah, to a certain extent. Looking at it as a writer, because of what happens, and because everyone can relate to this huge event–the death of his kid–and because some of the other storylines are complicated and a little more opaque, [my storyline] is the emotional core. So my job was to get people emotionally involved. I kind of looked at it like that.
Question: Was there a lot of security when you were filming? It is an American company making a political movie, after all.
Damon: Yeah, there was security for everyone. Obviously we had local security also, because they like to encourage people to work there–movies bring a lot of money into the local economy, and no one wanted anything to happen to us. There was security going in, and there was security in place throughout. But it felt very safe to everybody who worked on it.
Question: How much did you actually work with George on this movie, and did you guys get into that whole prank vibe again?
Damon: I don’t know if you could see it in the final movie, but he put on so much weight, and it made me think of that movie Supersize Me, when the guy puts on all that weight. But he gets depressed [in the movie.] And George was like that. Like I’d never see him. He’s normally so fun and vibrant–like grabbing my ass [laughs]–but [during the shoot] he really wasn’t. He was very serious. And he’s a very active guy. So his response to putting on this weight was to instantly lose it, and then to go out and write Good Night, and Good Luck. He had all this energy locked up. So being forced not to move around was driving him crazy, so he was bummed out.
Question: Is this the first time you’ve ever played a dad? And did it make you long for that in real life?
Damon: I’ve longed for it in real life anyway. It was weird. The kid who dies, the kid who goes in the pool–I didn’t get to know him that well, because he didn’t work with me that much. But the other boy, Nick, who I had all these scenes with and was carrying around, and he was just the coolest kid. So that part was really fun.
Question: You seem like you’d be the fun dad.
Damon: Yeah, I’ve got a problem with that. I need to learn how to be a good disciplinarian. Because I’m a professional uncle right now. I’m very good at winding up the kids; I’m just not good at chilling them out.
Question: Do you spoil them?
Damon: Yeah, I spoil them with attention. Not with stuff so much–we’re pretty good about that–because I don’t think it helps to give a kid every material thing he wants. But in terms of attention… It’s hard when I’m making up games and throwing them around the room to then say, [sternly] “Hey! Calm down!” [Laughs.] They’re just looking at me like, “What? You’re on our team!”
Question: Is another Bourne movie in the works?
Damon: Yeah, I think in about a year. There’s a script, so we’re going to work on the script, and Paul Greengrass wants to direct it again, so that’s great.
Question: Will this be the death of Bourne?
Damon: I wanted to kill him in the first one [laughs], but no one ever listens to me. But no, I don’t think it will be the death of him. It might be the last movie, but I think they want him to live.
Question: What’s your favorite film this year?
Damon: “Good Night, and Good Luck” is the only movie I liked this year.
Question: What’d you like about that?
Damon: It’s the only movie I’ve seen. [Laughs.] Honest to God. I got of work early this week, once, and I went to the movies. I went and saw that. I loved it. [Clooney] had read some of those speeches while we were doing Ocean’s, and it was just amazing. And I’ve read all the reviews. I read the New York Times every because I’m shooting in New York, so I’ve read every review, but I just haven’t seen any movies.
Question: What do you hope the audience walks away with from this film?
Damon: I don’t think it’s reductive, so I don’t think there’s an answer at the end. It’s not the kind of movie that has a moral, that goes “Ta da! Here’s the answer.” Hopefully it just gets people talking.
Question: How did it change your thinking?
Damon: I know a little bit more about the subject now. It was a good excuse to learn. Gaghan put together a really nice reading list for me. So the way that I look at the issue has evolved a little bit.
Question: What’s your opinion on the war in Iraq?
Damon: I’ve been against it from the start. From the logistical side, they blew it. This administration strikes me as incompetent to the core. They haven’t really done anything right. These guys are just incompetent.
Question: Where’d you guys film? Did you get recognized?
Damon: No, no. We filmed all over the world. We were in DC and Baltimore, I shot in Geneva and Dubai. We were in Africa, also. We were all over the place. But I don’t think anyone outside of this country has ever seen one of my movies. [Laughs.] When I live over in Europe, I can walk around and I’m fine. [Laughs.]
Question: Did you miss the attention?
Damon: No, not at all!