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July 2007
An Interview with Matt Damon

An Interview with Matt Damon

By:Kara Warner

July 30, 2007

Matt Damon is back in his third (and likely final) go-round as Jason Bourne with this week’s “Bourne Ultimatum.” The film is the final chapter in Bourne’s three-movie search for answers – specifically, how he became Jason Bourne in the first place. Blackfilm.com attended Universal’s press conference for the film to find out what the man playing the man behind the mystery thinks about the end of the franchise, working with no script and re-teaming with his “hetero life partner” (his words, not ours) Ben Affleck on future projects.

So is it true that you said you’re not going to be playing Jason Bourne ever again?

Matt Damon: Starting with the easy ones, huh? Well I made that comment at Cannes when we were about nine months into shooting the movie and I just went “I’m never doing this again!” But, I think in terms of another one, the story of this guy’s search for his identity is over because he’s got all the answers so there’s no way we could sort of trot out the same character. So much of what makes him interesting is that internal struggle that was happening for him “Am I a good guy or am I a bad guy, what is the secret behind my identity, what am I blocking out, why am I remembering these disturbing images,” So all that kind of internal, propulsive mechanism is not there so if there was to be another one then it would have to be a complete reconfiguration. Where do you go from there? For me, I kind of feel that the story that we set out to tell has been told. I love the character and if Paul Greengrass calls me in ten years and says “Now we can do it because it’s been ten years and I have a way to do it” then there’s a world in which I could go “Yeah, absolutely” and we could get the band back together if there was a great idea behind it but in terms of now in this story, that part has been told. If we came out with a fourth one and suddenly I got bonked on the head, then you guys would be like, “Are you kidding me?” Actually, I was talking to a journalist yesterday who suggested we do the fourth movie about Bourne losing his keys but yeah, that kind of illustrates how out of story we are at this point, in terms of what we had in the first three.

How does it feel to have played such a tough, macho character so successfully for five years?

Damon: In terms of playing the character, it’s been seven years for me. The movies have come out over the course of five, but it’s been seven years of my life and there hasn’t been a role that has had a bigger impact on my life, maybe Good Will Hunting did, because it pulled Ben and I out of total obscurity, but in terms of having an impact on my career, just as an example, between Supremacy and this one, Bourne Ultimatum, there were three movies I really wanted to do. I loved the scripts to three movies in particular, all of these movies were, on the face of them, gonna be absolute, box office misses and they were Syriana, which is a very complicated movie and George and I cut all our money so we could do it. The Departed which, now looking back obviously it was this big hit, it won all the awards but at the time, if you took a Scorsese movie they classically don’t make a lot of money, even the masterpieces, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, they don’t actually make a lot of money at the box office. It’s this incredible experience because you’re working with him, which is why he can get any actor he wants. Every actor will cut their fee and go and work with Marty. So in terms of looking at your career, you go, “So that’ll be two movies that I’m in that don’t perform at the box office” and then I fell in love with a script called The Good Shepard and everyone was like “This is a tiny little bulls eye you’re aiming at here” and you look at it and it’s a very dense, cerebral, historical epic about the birth of the intelligence service in America. It’s not Spider-Man 3, but I didn’t hesitate because I loved all the scripts and they were movies I desperately wanted to do and I knew that I had the Bourne Ultimatum off in the middle distance and there was going to be an audience built in for that, so it really just allowed me creative freedom to make all these movies which, each individually, I’m proud of all those movies. They all did very well, some of them did incredibly well and they were all reviewed really well so they all just made a big impact in my career so that’s just like in an ancillary way that the Bourne character has completely changed my life. Starting with the first one, nobody had offered me a movie in six months and I was in London doing a play in the West End and the movie opened and by that Monday I had twenty offers, so that was when, at 32 years old, the rose colored lenses came off. I went “Okay, I get it.” If you’re in a hit you have a career and if you’re not, it doesn’t matter if… they might think you’re a real nice guy but they’re not hanging a movie on you.

We’re watching the movie and people are cheering you on when you’re kicking ass and all that, how does it feel to be such a crowd pleaser?

Damon: It feels so good, I can’t even tell you. You guys were the second audience to see the movie, so none of us have seen it with an audience. Two nights ago, when the first press screening happened, we were all getting Blackberry’d during the movie. “They’re cheering at Waterloo” because we didn’t know, we came so down to the wire, as we always do on these Bourne movies, that we didn’t even get a test in, so we has shown it to, we each had little DVD’s. I showed it to my wife, I showed it to my wife, he was like “Yeah, cool” and we’d have these little friends and family screenings. Paul showed it to 25 people in the business that we know that make movies, you know, “Are we missing anything guys? Can you help us out?” Collecting notes as quickly as we could and trying to get them into the edit and then putting it out, so two audiences have seen the movie, of which you guys are the second. Last night we were at dinner and the Blackberry’s all started going off at the same time and we heard that it was a crowd pleaser again. It was Paul and George Nolfi the writer and me and Joan [Allen] and David Strathairn and Julia [Stiles] and so we just told the publicists to expect a hung-over group today because that’s when the champagne came out.

Is this film more timely now, given the political climate and secondly, we hear you and your better half are writing another script. Can you give us any details on that?

Damon: All the movies I think are very much of the time. The first one is very much a post-9/11, seeing all the paranoia, everything in there. What I love about them is that you’ll be able to look back at them and know the second one is 2004. Things are starting to turn in Iraq and this iconic American figure is going in and apologizing, atoning for what he’s done, he’s taking responsibility. Now you have the movie ending where Bourne is putting the gun to the person who lied to him, who said “This is what you’re going to be doing, you’re going to be saving American lives” and Bourne is saying “I see now that you lead me into something under false pretenses and I understand that and I’m not going to do that anymore.” So each movie is very much a reflection of the time in which it’s made. We have all the images, of someone getting shot in the corner of the room and Bourne doesn’t know what he did. He asks what he did and is told that, “We’ve been through that, you can’t know that. This is somebody whose an American whose killed without a trial, so all these things, the film kind of nods to the world we’re living in right now and I like that about them. They feel relevant, Bourne has a lot of integrity, I do think he’s a very kind of American character, I like that about him, his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, just the fact that he’s trying to do the right thing. He doesn’t always do the right thing or he’s misled, but he’s trying to do the right thing. Those things I think are great. As far as my hetero life mate, as Kevin Smith once said in one of his movies, we are not working on a script right now but we’re talking about a bunch of things. His career has just totally gone in this new and exciting direction. I’ve seen the movie that he directed, it is really good, it’s fantastic. The performances are great. Every actor is going to want to work with him after they see this thing. It’s coming out in October and it’s done, he’s finished so they’re just waiting for the proper release date to bring it out, which I think is around the time The Departed came out. So he’s gone from being an actor to now being a director, now being someone who can give me a job. Our whole relationship has changed.

Would you work with him?

Damon: I would love to. So now that’s the new dynamic that our partnership can have, that we can do a movie that we act in or I act in and he directs or something that we co-direct or something that we co-write and co-direct. There’s so many different possibilities now that he’s gone and done this really great movie so it’s exciting and now we’re starting to talk about that stuff again. It’s been ten years since the last one and we’ve both put our heads down and worked pretty hard in this last ten years, so now we’ve woken up with careers and families and all the things that we wanted so hopefully the next ten years will be about doing better work, maybe doing a little less of it, but doing better stuff and doing work together.

What was your favorite action sequence to do this time around and secondly, was there a sequence in Washington you shot with Joan that didn’t make the film?

Damon: I’ll do the second part first. Joanie and I have shot, over the course of two movies, probably – we were laughing about it at dinner last night – probably eight scenes, Joan Allen and I have shot. Three or four for each film where, it’s a weird thing, these movies are changing at such a weird, it’s such a fluid process and we’ll end up doing scenes and we’ll just be sitting there saying “Well, this will never be in the movie, this doesn’t work at all” but a lot of that we don’t know until we get them up on their feet and as a result, Joan and I have done a number of scenes together, all of which are on, you could make a DVD, we’ve done the same scene in all these different locations and finally what we ended up with is that quick scene outside of the hospital in New York where I give her the thing so it’s kind of a good indicator. It’s kind of the way, the amount of attrition, the ratio of scenes shot to scenes that make the movie is probably like that, about 8 to 1 and that’s what happens when you start without a script.

And your favorite action scene?

Damon: Well, I always liked the Tangier sequence because I end up running along the roof and just because it’s Bourne absolutely, 100 miles an hour, flat out and I always liked that, the wrapping the things around his hands. And all the things we came up on location, that’s the fun stuff. You get a bunch of guys together who are going, “Well what would be the smart thing to do here?” and we kind of figure out those sequences and when we cut them together and they actually work it’s a really good feeling. Although Paul came up with Waterloo. That was all Paul’s design and what would it be like to have a guy leading a complete novice through, to try to allude the, and that was all Paul and I love that sequence too. And the car chase.

One of the things that’s so exciting about this franchise is the intelligence of it all. When you first start out, you’re more of a robotic character and as we deconstruct you we see the emotion as we find our way back to David Webb, did you have to deal with any of the back story of David Webb and secondly, will you be doing any more narration of films?

Damon: We always had a feeling about where the Bourne character came from, that he would have had a military background, presumably he was tapped by one of these programs as a good candidate and showed language skills, we had a loose idea of that back story was. We didn’t want to pin anything too far down because obviously in making all three movies we never really knew but we definitely knew enough where I could do all the physical stuff and get ready so the character was hopefully believable. In terms of narration, I’m going to narrate a movie called “Running the Sahara” which is about these three ultra-marathoners, it’s a documentary. They ran across the Sahara desert last years, about 50 miles every day. Three guys from three different countries and it’s about that expedition and also what happens to them on the run and how they became aware of a lot of issues, particularly the water crisis in Africa, that’s going to be at the Toronto Film Festival this year.

Did you get hurt at all with all the stunts?

Damon: Well, the fighting stuff, the first movie I was 29 and the last one I was 36 and I definitely felt my age, particularly because that big fight scene in Tangier, Joey, the other actor, the guy that I’m fighting, was like 23 years old and when the first movie came out he was in high school. He was so happy, “Mate, I’m in a Bourne fight, this is great” and in really good shape and he was already a much better athlete than me, so I was like, “Joey, you’re killing me, you’ve gotta slow down” and so I think it took a couple extra days… I think it probably cost the studio a couple extra days because I’m a little older now.

Did he really go for you then?

Damon: No, he was just so excited, I couldn’t possibly defend myself against him. I was like, “Dude, just three moves at a time, come on” so he was a good sport about it, he did a great job.

How about an update on fatherhood?

Damon: Being a dad is still great. It’s been amazing, these stages just go by incredibly fast. The little discoveries every day, so much is happening and so much changes in the first year. She’s walking around now, it’s just amazing. I see now why parents, when they see little babies, they get that thing, they go “Oh I want another one” because the stages all just fly past. If you’re with her every day, which I’m lucky enough to be, it’s only when you see people you haven’t seen in awhile, you don’t even realize all that’s happening in front of you because you don’t even see it.

You talked about coming to the film without a script and considering what Paul does with his non-Hollywood blockbusters, his improv documentaries, does that make it easier and what kind of relationship do you have with him in shaping the film as it goes along?

Damon: He’s the guy that I do that with because he’s so great at that. He’s also a terrific writer. He wrote United 93 and Bloody Sunday, he’s a really good writer and he does a significant amount of the work on these movies too, which any director does, you have to take ownership, you’re telling a story even if someone else has written it, you have to tell the story in a way that makes sense for you. Every director working, every director worth his salt is a pretty good writer too. They never take credit unless it is just them doing it generally, that’s what the writer is there for. We were lucky enough to have George Nolfi on set with us every day so George kept out ahead of us. He would literally be in his hotel room working on the pages for the next day while we would be working on the pages he had given us for this day and we were making our tweaks and in the real location. It’s not an advisable way to make a movie. You couldn’t teach that in film school, but it works for Paul. There’s something about the chaos and the alchemy of Frank Marshall and Paul Greengrass and, in this case we had three different guys working on the script. We had Tony Gilroy, Scott Burns and George Nolfi who would be on at different stages and are three of the best writers working today. You get this big mix and then you get the actors in there and they’ve all gone down to the 11th hour. We literally haven’t known until, you know, two nights ago so it should come with a stint. It’s not an advisable way to work if you want to live a long life.

Would you consider doing another franchise?

Damon: I’m trying to only do franchises. That’s my new thing. In fact, the guy who wrote Ocean’s 13 wrote Rounders and Rounders was a bomb when it came out but now it’s done really well on video and I said, “You guys are writing the wrong sequel, we should be doing Rounders 2” [Laughs] No, I’m open to… with Bourne, I know that Robert Ludlum had written three books but I signed up for one and they were okay with that and when I signed up for the second one I didn’t sign up for the third, I only signed up for one again because I wanted to make sure that it went well and I still liked doing it. The Ocean’s movies, Stephen [Soderbergh] calls and says, “We’re doing another one” and so I go “Okay I’m in” but there was never an eye to either of them being franchises, I don’t think that way. I’m open to anything, any good movie, if I’ve enjoyed the experience and I love the people I’m working with and there’s a chance to make a good movie, I’ll make it if it’s a sequel or if it’s not.

At the end of the day, what do you want to be known for?

Damon: The career that Ben and I look at, well, Clooney is definitely doing it, Cint Eastwood, those are the careers where they’re acting, they’re writing, they’re directing, they’re doing it on their terms. I love making movies and I love everything about it. I love writing and I love acting and I really want to direct. I’ve been taking the last ten years to really study the directors I’ve been working with. I’ve worked with a lot of really good ones at this point and I feel like I’m ready to do it and that, to me, would be the great… to have a long career. It’s so hard to have a long career in this business. You guys see people just, I’m still here after ten years and we’re all probably amazed at that but at this point I just want to be smart about the work that I’m doing and try to have integrity about the choices I make.




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