Matt Damon is back for round two as Jason Bourne, and this star is proving to be one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood. Going from obscure actor to Hollywood golden boy in just a handful of years, Matt Damon became an instant sensation when he co-wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting. With his Best Original Screenplay Oscar (shared by co-writer and co-star Ben Affleck), he was ensured a place on the Hollywood “It” boy roster.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Damon grew up in prosperous surroundings with his tax preparer father, college professor mother, and older brother. At the age of ten, he made the acquaintance of one Ben Affleck, a boy two years his junior who lived down the street. The two became best friends and professional collaborators. Educated at Cambridge’s Rindge and Latin School, Damon was accepted at Harvard University, where he studied for three years before dropping out to pursue his acting career. During his time there, he had to write a screenplay for an English class: it went unfinished, but it would later be dusted off and turned into Good Will Hunting.
Arriving in Hollywood, Damon got his first break with a one-scene part in Mystic Pizza (1988). However, his film career failed to take off, and it was not until 1992, when he had a starring role in School Ties, that he was again visible to movie audiences. As the film was a relative failure, Damon’s substantial role failed to win him notice, and he was back to labouring in obscurity. It was around this time, fed up with his Hollywood struggles, that Damon contacted Affleck and the two finished writing the former’s neglected screenplay and began trying to get it made into a film. It was eventually picked up by Miramax, with Gus Van Sant slated to direct and Robin Williams secured in a major role.
Before Good Will Hunting was released in 1997, Damon won some measure of recognition for his role as a drug-addicted soldier in Courage Under Fire; various industry observers praised his performance and his dedication to the part, for which he lost forty pounds and suffered resulting health problems. Any praise Damon may have received, however, was overshadowed the following year by the accolades he garnered for Good Will Hunting. His Oscar win and strong performance in the film virtually guaranteed industry adulation and steady employment, something that was made readily apparent the following year with lead roles in two major films. The first, John Dahl’s Rounders, cast Damon as a former card shark trying to make good, despite the temptations posed by his ne’er-do-well buddy (Edward Norton). Despite a name cast and preliminary hype, however, the film proved a relative critical and financial disappointment. The same could not be said of Damon’s second film that year, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. As Ryan’s title character, Damon headlined an all-star line-up and received part of the lavish praise heaped on the film and its strong ensemble cast.
The following year, Damon further increased his profile with leads in two more highly anticipated films, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Taking a break from psychosis and religious satire, Damon next turned-up in notable performances in a pair of low-grossing, low-key dramas, The Legend of Beggar Vance and All the Pretty Horses (both 2000), before appearing in director Steven Soderbergh’s blockbuster remake of Oceans 11 the following year.
2002 found the actor wavering between earnest Indie projects and major Hollywood releases, both behind and in front of the camera. First up was Damon’s mentoring of neophyte filmmaker Chris Smith in the Miramax-sponsored Project Greenlight, a screenplay sweepstakes in which in the lucky winner got the chance to make a feature film and have the process recorded for all to see on an HBO reality series of the same name. Damon’s common-sense presence helped make the show a must-see, even if his protégé’s film — the critically-reviled coming-of-age film Stolen Ser — died a swift death at the box office. Damon had better luck at the ser box office, starring in director Doug Liman’s jet-setting espionage thriller The Bourne Identity.
Though many expected the film to be overshadowed by his old buddy Affleck’s less-edgy The Sum of All Fears – which was released just two weeks prior — Damon proved once again that he could open a film with just as much star power as his best friend and colleague. Better yet, Bourne reinforced Damon’s standings with the critics, who found his performance understated and believable. Damon will soon be seen in both Ocean’s Twelve, Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers’ Grimm and Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana.
Opening next is The Bourne Supremacy’ in which Matt re-enters the shadowy world of expert assassin Jason Bourne who continues to find himself plagued by splintered nightmares from his former life. The stakes are now even higher for the agent as he coolly manoeuvres through the dangerous waters of international espionage – replete with CIA plots, turncoat agents and ever-shifting covert alliances – all the while hoping to find the truth behind his haunted memories and answers to his own fragmented past.
In a wide ranging discussion, a good-humoured and relaxed Damon talks about the film, other projects and the parallels between bad action films and porn, as Paul Fischer discovered.
Question: So Matt, about three years when we spoke about the first movie, you were adamant that you won’t do another one.
Answer: Yes I was pretty sure that I wasn’t —
Question: What changed, what made you change your mind?
Answer: Well what I said then, was that I didn’t want to do it unless we could make it as good as the first one and because there are so many sequels that are disappointing and just for me as movie fan. If I go to a sequel to a movie that I really like, and, I feel that it was made cynically – a money grab by the studio. I end up really resenting the studio that make it and the film makers that made it. Plus it’s just very hard to make a good sequel. I had a friend who said something very funny to me: “Yes he was very careful about this sequel stuff”, because there’s been only three sequels in history that are as good as or better than the original. The New Testament is better that the Old Testament, Huck Finn is better that Tom Sawyer, and The Godfather II is better that The Godfather. So I guess what changed my mind was a couple of things – first of all that Paul Greengrass wanted to do it. Once I spoke to Paul about what he had – what his vision of the movie was, and heard, not only of his enthusiasm but also how he intended to do it, I couldn’t say no to it.
Question: Talk about the challenge in playing the same character twice and the differences in both films.
Answer: It was pretty similar, it was interesting. I’d done it with a play before, and played the same character on stage but never in a movie and it was really helpful I guess. I had about 6 months to prepare which is really a long time, if you consider that you can really get a play up in a month, so, I had so kind of over prepared for the first one, that, and I kinda of knew what worked and what was just extra stuff that didn’t really work that I had a really easy time getting ready for this one. Physically the most important thing I think that came out of the first one was the idea that Doug Liman had which was that the character should stand and have the bearing of a boxer, and neither of us really knew how to do that other than just for me to just start boxing. So I boxed through those six months and it really did change not only me physically, but also the way that you kind of stand and listen to somebody. But it really had a kind of subtle impact on that and I thought it was really great for the character, so that was the first thing I started doing when I decided to do the movie, I started boxing for about three months before we started.
Question: Did you get to like the character?
Answer: Yean, I really liked the character. I kinda feel like I’m in the same position I was at the end of the last one now where I’d like to do a third one, but I don’t want to do it if it can’t be as good as, now, the second one.
Question: WOULD you do a third one?
Answer: I’m considering it, but, I really do feel kind of like I did last time. I’m very happy to leave it at this, I’m really happy with the way this one came out. it was a lot of pressure for the – kind of creative group who was behind it, throughout the shoot because we all shared that feeling that we didn’t want to make a disappointing sequel to a movie that we really liked so, there was more pressure than usual and so now that’s gone and I feel like I feel very happy with the way the movie came out, but to go and do a third one, we really have to get a great script. And it’s hard because the characters at this point I personally don’t know where to go with it. I don’t know how to draw him back into that world at this point. The third book is called “The Bourne Ultimatum”, but he feels to me very much like he’s given it to me at this point. But who knows, maybe there’s a rocket scientist out here who can figure it out.
Question: Is this film about regret, about revenge, or about a lot of things?
Answer: I think eventually, it’s about an attempt at redemption, but I think it certainly start as a – you know – as an exercise in revenge but shifts back as after the second act as he goes into Moscow.
Question: On the first movie you told me that you had a lot of problems shooting the car chases because of the provision of location and stuff like so you had to improvise. Was it similar on the second movie now shooting in Berlin and can you tell us a little bit on your experience living and shooting and working in Berlin for quite a long time?
Answer: No the shooting went really smoothly this time and I think we had a lot of problems, well not problems we, we had a lot of what you are talking about. Paris is a very tough place to shoot, they ask for permits. You have to file six weeks in advance and you have to tell them exactly where every truck is gonna be parked and they make it hard to shoot there, and – you know – they can, it’s Paris – you know – ah, but Berlin was incredibly accessible and ah, we shot for 4 or 5 months there cause a lot of the Moscow stuff we even shot in Berlin because we found it so accessible.
Question: So what was your experience of people living there, in Berlin?
Answer: I loved it – I mean – the only drawback from living in Berlin at that time of year was we were there November, December, January, February which – as you know – there’s not a lot of sunshine, so the day it’s start’s to gets light around, you can start shooting there around 9.30 in the morning, and then the light mean – I mean – Oliver Wood our cinema photographer was absolutely in love with it because the light stayed steady, because it was overcast you know every day because the light will stay steady for him, but we’d loose it by about 3.15 or 3.30 and every day he would have this gleeful look on his face and he would say “I just love it her, I love it here” and everyone else, you know, missing the sunshine…(laughing)
Question: Because you work in Europe more and more, on each movie now, including Ocean’s 12, don’t you feel like a European already in a way?
Answer: I’ve been there a lot and, you know and I did The Brother’s Grimm, also this year over there in Prague and so yeah I’ve just came back for after about 13 months of being there and I spent obviously with the first movie, and with Ripley, I was there and so I have spent a few years of my adult life over there. But I mean I love it, I mean I really could spend plenty of time there actually.
Question: What do you keep for yourself, in a sense? Are you a better fighter now – a better driver? What do you keep for yourself?
Answer: Well no I actually, I’m like a, for other movies I’ve – you know – for Ripley I learned to play some songs on the piano, and I never really played them again. And there are – you know – bunch of things that I have learned that have been relatively useless in my life. But no, the good things about this movie is that all of those things, you know the driving they have all been practical, they all really do help me in my regular life. I mean – I think I am definitely a better driver that I was. But then again there are a lot of things I learned that I’ll actually never do like driving a car at a high speed and pulling on the emergency brake….
Question: How’s your writing going? Will you and Ben write again?
Answer: Ahh, we want to write, and we’ve been talking about it, the problem for the last number of years is that neither of us have ever been off work long enough to, at the same time to do it and that is the case now. Ben’s not shooting right now, but I am finishing Oceans Twelve and then I’m going off to do a movie called Syriana with Stephen Gaghan who wrote Traffic, and who wrote this one and is directing this one. It’s very similar to Traffic in its structure, with all these story lines converging around a topic but it’s oil instead of drugs. So I’m going to do that but I’ve seen him a bunch the last couple of days cause we’re doing a bunch of Project Green Light stuff, we picked the winning script the other night and we’re picking the winning director tomorrow. So we keep talking about it and it is really something that we want to do and you know we got to carve out the time and commit to it.
Question: Could you please tell me about the role in Oceans Twelve as well as the role in the other movie you were doing after Syriana?
Answer: Sure, Oceans Twelve I played again Linus Caldwell a pick pocket from Chicago. The basic plot of that one is that, a master thief in Europe played by Vincent Cassell gives our names to Terry Benedict the Andy Garcia character and so we are basically all caught at the beginning of the movie and this master thief does this because he wants to challenge us, cause he wants to prove that he is the greatest thief in the world and he thinks that we’re just a fluke. So we are forced to compete with him because we have a certain amount of time to get Andy his money back or we gonna go to jail or worse, so that’s basically the premise of the movie. So we go off to Europe to start pulling jobs in order to pay back Terry Benedict. The Informant, the Steven Soderbergh movie is based on a real New York Times best selling book that came out a couple of years ago by and it is a true story about a corporate whistle blower named Mark Whittaker who is just a incredibly fascinating guy who basically wore a wire for two years as a high level executive at Archer Daniel’s midland who were in a price fixing scam with some other huge international corporations. It’s a pretty amazing, true story.
Question: After these two movies The Bourne Identity and this sequel, you seem to have become a new action hero with a brain and heart besides physical abilities. What’s your opinion about this?
Answer: I doubt that these two movies will mean that I will only do action movies now, and I never wanted to do the same kind of movies over and over anyway, so my theory on it all is I’m just gonna try and dodge the label and keep doing what I am doing. I really like the fact that I can do a movie like this and then turn around and do Oceans Twelve, or do Stuck on You, you know, and, and that make it interesting to me.
Question: There are twelve to sixteen photos in the magazines over here doing a diving competition with a million dollar yachts and drinking champagne shooting Oceans Twelve. Just what you guys get up to when you are not filming?
Answer: Yeah, and the great thing about, its, been it’s been really good I mean to go, for all of us to go from a movie like Troy in the case of Brad and I come from a movie like this. We show up on Oceans and the work is divided up into twelve, twelve pieces, you know so, it is a much different kind of life for us you know. I’m working every day this week on Oceans and that’s the first time that happened in the duration of the shoot so far, I mean the most that they’ve have gone I think is four days a week off work which you know compared to Bourne where you know we were on 6 day weeks just standard and you know, I was six days a week from the 9th of this year pretty much. Yes it does seem like a vacation in that sense but you have to be careful it is hard work and you know, I mean I’d piled up and I’d have a six am call tomorrow with Julia and Don and Scott Caan and so you start to keep you eye on the ball.
Question: Can you talk to me a little bit in general as to the way you track your roles?
Answer: It’s usually the exact same three things which are, the Scripts, the Director and the Role those are the three things I look for and really any two of them, If I get two of them that’s usually enough, but definitely those are the things I look for. You know, and just the chance to do something different, and that’s also the fun, the fun part of it. But at the same time if roles are very similar for instance, I thought, during rounders in Good Will Hunting, you know, it’s Will hunting playing cards, but you know, ten later, 6 years later, 7 years later, you know, if you look at the movie rounders in a vacuum still really like the movie and forget that it was that close to Good Will Hunting.. You know, and I mean, if three movies are similar I am quite comfortable with that.
Question: Matt, would you describe yourself as a workaholic, since you work so hard these days and talk about working with Terry Gilliam?
Answer: I think it’s still hard for me to turn down work if it’s really good because for so many years I was so desperate to get a job and couldn’t and so it’s kind of an anathema for me to turn down work, if I think it’s really good. I mean I swore I was going to take a nice break between Oceans and The Informant, and Syriana popped up although it’s not a big role that I have in that, but it is just was one of those movies that I thought was exceptionally well written, really interesting, very current and a I thought that I would have regretted it if I said no to that as ready as I was for a break. So , I don’t know if it’s being a workaholic really as much as it is to having just common sense, and you know like these movies are really good and the last year I worked with some incredible directors and you know I think I would of regretted it passing any of those opportunities.
Question: Working with Terry what was it like?
Answer: Working with Terry was exactly what I hoped it would be like. It was great. It was really, he shoots mostly with a 17 millimetre lens in your face, maybe 21. I mean he absolutely takes in the entire world. The production designer is a guy name Guy Dear, and he is just gonna to be a superstar and he really helped build the look of this world in a way that it’s mind blowing, it really is, straight out of Terry’s brain. I mean, we were even walking around the sets they were huge sets. We took over five of the six stages that were used in these studios in Prague and built an indoor fort, built a village on the part of the back lot that had never been used, that Terry could shoot at 360 degrees. There were trees put in places so you couldn’t see the cityscape in the background. It was just a massive kind of beautifully designed set and, Terry just got into there and played with it we shot for about 110 days I think, whish was long. So we were in Prague for six months until, and it really was, really was everything I could of hoped for. He’s so passionate about what he does and he becomes so deeply connected to what he is shooting. I think that’s why some people on the studio side say oh, he’s crazy. I mean I think he’s far from crazy, he’s just a shoot artist I think.
Question: Matt if you do go on vacation where do you go?
Answer: It’s a good question; I just phoned my family a couple days ago. and yet that I say is the one draw back of being overseas so much is, coming to primary, you know, trying to, you know, trying to facilitate the primary relationships in your lives and, and put as much energy into them as you can. That’s a definite draw back, you know the good news is that although I can’t come home, they come and visit and often times you get a lot, you get a lot more exposure to the city then shooting that I do because I’m always on the set. I mean I honestly if I get a vacation I’m gonna go and sit on my couch in New York cause that’s the one place I haven’t been for a very long time. And I feel like I have been everywhere else because this movie took us to India, Berlin, Moscow, Oceans, then Amsterdam then Rome and then Prague. Yeah I mean I’m going to New York for my vacation.
Question: Where would you like to go?
Answer: Oh there are quite a few places. I’d like to spend more time in Argentina. I’d like to spend some time in Costa Rica and really I’d like to go back to Mexico and Brazil. I’ve never been to Africa.
Question: Do you get disappointed with the kinds of big action movies Hollywood makes?
Answer: Yes more often than not I’m disappointed in big studio fair, the higher the budget they in for a lower common denomination a way and a… I mean I had this conversation with my father, we were driving in New York, I think over Christmas, and we were passing all these bus stops, and all these posters for these movies, and after about 20 blocks he said, I haven’t seen one poster for a movie that I want to go see. And I said Dad, if you see a poster of a movie that you want to see, someone should lose their job in the marketing department. Because they don’t market movies for 60 year old men they market them for 13 year old boys and a, particularly the big ones, you know, and so yeah, when I choose the movie it’s always with that in mind with thinking about, trying for instance in the movie try to make it smarter, try to make it different, try to make interesting and try to make it be about the character, we want it with both these movies to be about you know, this character driven action movies where the character grows organically out of the story and you are not setting your watch to the explosion. As my theory on porn movies. On action movies, you know how tired I am, Yeah, No. It’s all going to make sense in a minute. My theory on action movies is that they are like porn movies, right, honestly think about it right, a porn movie “this is important”. A porn movie’s got really bad writing, really bad acting and really silly drawn characters and they have a really shitty scene and they talk and say hey you know “I am the milk man” you know, and it’s really bad and you know what’s going to happen and then there’s some action, and then you get the action and then you don’t really feel anything for the action and then when the action’s over then you get another action and then you get another really stupid scene with you know, Hey I’m the Male.
And nobody dies.
Answer: Yes and nobody dies right. And that’s the difference between porn movies and action movies.
Question: Would you do porn movies?
Answer: What’s that?
Question: How do you feel about doing porn movies?
Answer: I’m feeling like I can but I want to do is a character-driven porn movie. It’s all going to be about characters, and the porn’s gonna grow all out of the character’s and it’s going to serve as character development. Actually Doug said to me he wanted us to the first director and actor team that made the porn version of the actual movie. Because you know how movie titles get porn titles, they have movies, they rip them off and Doug suggested that he and after the first movie, makes the Porn Identity and is the first people ever to do that.
Question: Is there anything you have regretted turning down?
Answer: not yet, nothing yet that I regretted turning down.