The Hollywood interview: Matt Damon
Matt damon will tell you, he's a bit obsessed with his weight these days. Having once lost 30lbs for Courage Under Fire and then returning to his normal weight, he recently had to put on 30lbs for his role as a whistleblower in The Informant!
"My children call me 'Matty-Fatty'," he grins. "I didn't have to do anything extraordinary to put on the weight -- it was very easy. My wife would walk in and I'd be holding a beer and a slice of pizza, and I'd look at her and say, 'Hey, I'm working!' She was a good sport about it, although, according to her, I have reverse anorexia, where I look in the mirror and think I look great, but my suit is actually pinching me!"
Despite this levity, there is fierce earnestness to the 39-year-old Boston native who has been part of the Hollywood firmament since only 1997. Friendly and relaxed, he is a thoughtful interviewee who wants to be helpful.
Uniquely for an actor, Damon won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1997 for the script of Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote with his best friend from childhood, Ben Affleck. The two pals also, memorably, starred in the movie.
"We never fancied ourselves as writers. It was actually a bit embarrassing for us when we sold the script, because a lot of our friends are writers and can write a lot better than we can, except maybe for dialogue."
Damon had been an English major at Harvard when the idea of an Irish working-class maths genius came to mind. So fixated on it was he, that he dropped out of college just a few credits short of graduating and moved to Los Angeles to take his chances, landing a role opposite Brian Dennehy in the made-for-TV movie, Rising Son.
The process of the studios competing for the screenplay for Good Will Hunting was so scary, he and Ben Affleck then set up their own company, Project Greenlight, to try to help emerging writers avoid the torture of the process and just get their work produced.
"There's a whole group of us that stick together. It's like Actors' Anonymous -- we all go through the same stuff. It's a life based on rejection, even at its highest level -- you're never the first choice. So I think it helps to have friends who understand the business."
Although he doesn't have Irish roots, Damon grew up near the Boston-Irish enclaves and the roles he has made his own suggest a strong recognition. In The Departed, as well as Good Will Hunting, Damon has very much owned the roles of angry working-class guys from places such as Dorchester in Boston.
"It's been very important for me to represent that. Working with William Monahan on The Departed was terrific, and I worked with Brendan Gleeson when we filmed Green Zone. That was a sincere honour for me, too."
Damon has been paid US$20 million for each of his last five roles and clearly doesn't have to worry about paying the rent. But, like most actors of his maturity, he is well aware of how fickle success is in the movie world.
"I've been around long enough to recognise how everyone falls in and out of favour. Some things you do and you love and they just don't succeed critically or at the box office and that's not personal -- except, of course, when the phone stops ringing! But I've learned not to be emotional about it."
Damon's next role is in Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood, where he plays the former captain of the South African rugby team, Francois Pienaar, at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, as the country got the opportunity to show the world that it had put apartheid behind it. The role is one which has great passion and resonance for him, given his love of the sport.
"It's a very uplifting story. When you talk to a South African about the Rugby World Cup in 1995, they all know exactly where they were, and they start to get very emotional. I felt crushing pressure and responsibility to get it right and what calmed me down was seeing how much more pressure Morgan Freeman, who plays Nelson Mandela, was under!"
Although he has dated his share of actresses, including Winona Ryder for three years, Claire Danes and Minnie Driver, unlike most of his fellow stars, Damon has mostly managed to fly under the radar when it comes to his personal life and his family. Married for the past four years to Argentine interior designer Luciana Bozán Barroso, the couple have two daughters together and another girl from her previous marriage.
"Tabloids like sex and scandal, and I'm happily married with kids. I figure that so long as they get an updated picture every six months, there's really nothing to make money off."
Ben Affleck and his wife, Jennifer Garner, are the couple's closest confidants. "I can imagine growing old with Ben, seriously. He's the person I've known longest as a friend. But my family is my best investment ever," he says, absolutely beaming. "I'm really happy and I couldn't ask for more. We have three great kids and that's a total blessing.
"In terms of my career, I'd like eventually to direct. The directors I'm getting to work with now are great, and I'm learning so much just working with them. So, I'm in a pretty relaxed place right now and really happy." HQ
The Informant! opens on 20th November