The Matt Damon Column - Playboy interview August 2004

Playboy Interview August 2004

Matt Damon. A candid conversation with the Bourne Supremacy star about dating Winona, having panic attacks and what really went on with Ben and J Lo

Matt Damon has an image problem. Most media reports paint him as an affable, toothy, stand-up Mr Clean-Cut - an earnest guy who takes acting seriously. But once the movie cameras switch off, Damon turns out to be a chain-smoking, beer-drinking, outspoken, complex guy who just happens to be the star of such films as Saving Private Ryan and The Bourne Supremacy, a sequel to the 2002 spy thriller The Bourne Identity.

One reason for his image as a well-meaning good guy is his Cinderella story. Damon and lifelong pal Ben Affleck won Oscars for co-writing the 1997 hit GWH, a script the then-struggling 20-something actors had spent six years writing and refused to sell unless they starred in the movie. (Damon plays the title role of a troubled math genius; Affleck plays his friend from their old South Boston neighbourhood.)

On the heels of GWH, other acting jobs started coming Damon's way. Impressive showings in The Rainmaker, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, put him on the A-list of Hollywood actors who get first crack at the best projects and their faces featured on magazine covers. What's more, his name was linked romantically with actresses Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Penelope Cruz and, for several years, Winona Ryder. Then his career hit a rough patch when Rounders, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and All The Pretty Horses - gigs many predicted would vault him to Tom Cruise-level status - crashed and burned with ticket buyers. Just as things looked bleak, he lucked out with the one-two punch of Ocean's Eleven and The Bourne Identity, which revitalised his career.

Born Matthew Paige Damon in 1970, he and his brother, Kyle, born in 1967, lived in Newton, Massachusetts with their parents, Kent Damon, a stockbroker, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor of early-childhood education, until the couple's divorce when Matt was two. His mother raised him in a commune-style house in a working-class section of Cambridge, where creative play and open conversation ruled. Having attracted considerable notice in performances at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Damon hit the TV and movie-audition circuit, encouraged by neighbour and fellow student Affleck, who had already begun landing commercials and TV roles, and by Affleck's father, who had worked alongside Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall in the respected Theater Company of Boston.

In 1988, at the age of 18, Damon debuted in Mystic Pizza, which starred the then-unknown Julia Roberts, and enrolled as an English major at Harvard University. He bailed in 1991, however, 12 credits short of graduation, following a credible performance in the 1990 TV movie Rising Son. For the next five years he built up his acting resume in such movies as School Ties and Geronimo: An American Legend. He and Affleck have remained close, showing up together in 1999's Dogma and creating Project Greenlight, a reality-TV series about young filmmakers struggling to make their first movies.

PLAYBOY sent Stephen Rebello to Chicago to meet Damon at the Peninsula Hotel just after he had completed The Bourne Supremacy and begun filming Ocean's Twelve.

PLAYBOY: In an interview in 1997, the year GWH was released, you sounded especially pumped about the minibar in your hotel room. Seven years later we're sitting in this grand hotel suite with a sumptuous spread of food and drink. Have you become blase about the perks of fame?
DAMON: I've lived in a lot of hotels since then. One fear I honestly have - and it's something I talk about to my family a lot - is that I don't want to experience this bizarre life. I try to be vigilant about ways in which it's changing me. There's the stuff I'm aware of, and then there's the stuff I'm not aware of, which is why people who've known me a long time play a huge role in my life. You want somebody to say, "Dude, you fucking used to live for the minibar, and now you just take it for granted."

PLAYBOY: Whether or not you take the minibar for granted, you've been tagged in the press as a nice guy.
DAMON: As a celebrity you're often credited with being the nicest human in the world just for being relatively normal during a routine exchange. It's like, "Don't put that on me, because that's going to fuck me later."

PLAYBOY: Have you ever needed to give yourself an attitude adjustment?
DAMON: I am constantly doing that in little ways. I haven't yet had the experience of pushing someone really close to me to the point of having to sit me down and say, "You really have to fucking pay attention, because you're unaware that you're doing this or that." First it's the minibar you take for granted, then it's a four-course meal, and suddenly you won't fly commercial anymore. And after that, who are you going to play, the billionaire?

PLAYBOY: How does keeping a close watch on yourself affect your relationships, especially with women?
DAMON: The bigger fear is that you won't want to participate in intimate relationships because they push back at you and superficial relationships don't. If you're a movie star, then they really don't push back at you. Someone's usually just happy you're talking to them, which means you can walk around having meaningless encounters with just about everybody and live with the perception that you're the greatest guy in the world, without having anything or anyone close to you. Whether you're famous or not, close relationships require work. You still have to participate, be there and get called on your shit. It's easy to say, "You've called me on my shit. I don't want to talk to you anymore. I want to go have a drink down at the bar, where the guys say, "Oh, you're great, just a regular guy." I don't want you telling me that I've got to fucking clean up after myself." So the real thing is not to take that hall pass to great guy-dom, which is really superficial in the end.

PLAYBOY: You've had several relationships with fellow actors that seemed to matter. Should you have handled your breakup with Minnie Driver, your then girlfriend and GWH co-star, differently? You announced it on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
DAMON: No, that show aired three weeks after we had broken up, and the relationship lasted less than six months. I said on the show, "We're still friends. I really like her, but I'm single." And she said, "I found up that he broke up with me on The Oprah Winfrey Show." She later retracted that and said, "I knew it was serious only when he said it on the Oprah Winfrey Show." But even if that wasn't true, the damage had been done. GWH had come out only a month before, and that was my first experience of getting stung. So the honeymoon of thinking it's all good was relatively short-lived. I wouldn't be in that relationship now.

PLAYBOY: Why not?
DAMON: Being so excited you're in a movie that you immediately fall in love with your co-star hasn't happened to me since then.

PLAYBOY: Is falling in love with co-stars a good habit to break?
DAMON: Most people get over it pretty quickly. It's like summer camp. The first year you go - and maybe even the second year - you have a summer romance, but finally it's not that big a deal.

PLAYBOY: Before the release last year of your comedy about conjoined twins, SOY, rumors circulated that you and co-star Eva Mendes were stuck on each other. Not true?
DAMON: No, not at all. I don't want to talk about Eva's personal life, but she has been in a serious relationship for years. I'm friends with her boyfriend; his nickname is the Invisible Man. It's funny that she's constantly being linked to people, but George, her boyfriend, is always there.

PLAYBOY: After you've broken up with a woman, do you remain friends or do you keep a distance?
DAMON: It depends. Obviously with Minnie there was no relationship after that, partly because I was disappointed in the attempt to make a story out of something I didn't think was a sotry. It didn't make me angry; it just bummed me out.

PLAYBOY: Does media scrutiny speed up the demise of relationships between famous people?
DAMON: My most recent relationships have not been with famous women, but I was with a very famous woman, Winona Ryder, for a couple of years, and we had a great relationship. It ended for reasons far more pedestrian than, say, a mad orgy at the Four Seasons during which my feelings were hurt because Richard Gere was too interested in her. [laughs]

PLAYBOY: You and Ryder hadn't been together for years, but what was it like for you when the press scorched her for the 2001 shoplifting incident?
DAMON: When she was being pilloried in the press, to me it was like, "This too shall pass" - that somehow her true colors would come out and she would get past it because she's a great woman. It's the same way I feel watching Ben get ass-raped by the media. I think, That's my friend. You have no idea who this person is, and you don't even care. You're just trying to get your story filed and get in a couple of good zingers. So that part sucks, seeing somebody you care about being treated poorly in public. On the other hand, if they're really good people, they're going to be fine.

PLAYBOY: Have your romantic relationships been handled badly by the media?
DAMON: To a certain degree, if you end up in the sights of Us Weekly or one of those other magazines, if you're the cover child or the cover couple, then you're fucked. The key is how not to be that guy. To not be that guy, don't go out and do stupid shit. If you go out and attack a paparazzo or get into bar fights, you're just craving the attention. And don't date a celebrity. I don't think I could fall in love with a celebrity right now, because it would mean changing my lifestyle, and I like that my lifestyle feels normal to me most of the time. I compartmentalise. There are these weird little bips where the celebrity side of things happen: I get dressed 10 minutes before a premiere, get out of the car and a hundred people take pictures. I shake a couple of hands at the party, and 45 minutes later I'm back home in my sweatpants or walking down the street to get a pack of cigarettes or a magazine.

PLAYBOY: You're in a relationship now with Luciana Barroso, an interior decorator. How do you keep relationships going, considering the long overseas shooting schedules you've been on lately?
DAMON: I'm very happy with this woman. Casey Affleck, Ben's brother, is about to have a baby, and I saw how everything changed with my brother when his kids came. I want a family someday. The long-distance thing is tough. But I assume eventually you think, Well, summer camp's nice, but I own a pretty nice house, and that's okay with me. I've never been in a significant relationship for longer than two and a half years, so that will all be new ground. Presumably these things deepen and grow, so those other things become less tempting. But if the price to pay for having dalliances forever is not having a family and children, then from where I'm sitting, the dalliances are not worth it.

PLAYBOY: How did watching Affleck's relationship with Jennifer Lopez affect you?
DAMON: Ben got killed because he was in a high-profile relationship and the press fucking teed off on him. They believed, cynically enough, that he was trying to get publicity. What they never understood was that Ben is far too smart not to know that being in that relationship was the worst thing for his career. He stayed in it because he loved her. The cynical perception was that he was courting the attention, when he was actually embarrassed by the attention.

PLAYBOY: As an old friend, could you have done anything to advise him?
DAMON: It was one of those weird situations where there was absolutely nothing you could do. People weren't going to stop paying attention to that relationship - it was selling too many magazines. But privately, you saw how much love was there. As a friend, the only course of action is to support your friend, support the relationship and talk shit about the people who are writing things.

PLAYBOY: Couldn't you say, "How about trying to dial down the big spending, the trips, the bling-bling?"
DAMON: No, no way. One thing Ben has always done much better than I do is live life on his terms, not taking into consideration what something might look like. I still care way too much what other people think. But if people are not in your inner circle, you don't have to spend your life worrying. The first time I met George Clooney was at his house soon after GWH, and the first thing he asked was, "How are you doing?" I said, "I'm doing okay." After giving me some really good advice, he said, "Don't let them keep you inside," which was this great piece of wisdom Paul Newman had dropped on him at one point.

PLAYBOY: So you and Affleck aren't staying inside.
DAMON: Ben, much more than I, has lived by that from the beginning, and he didn't need anybody to tell him. Ben will do stuff and know what the perception is going to be, but he doesn't care. With both Ben and me at this point in our lives, it's like we care less just because we're okay now. I'm fine. Say what you want. I don't fucking care anymore. You can't alter perception, so there's no reason to spend your life worrying about it. I doubt Ben will pick up another movie magazine in his life. He'll read this, though. [laughs]

PLAYBOY: Is the media accurate in portraying Affleck as having an addictive personality?
DAMON: I don't think so. Both of us smoke like freight trains, but based on that, would you say I've got an addictive personality?

PLAYBOY: You've never been in rehab though, and he has.
DAMON: No, I've never been in rehab. Ben made a choice to do something that was extremely pre-emptive. Here's a guy who comes off three movies in a row and has never been late for work, has never missed a line and gets phone calls from people saying, "I'm really impressed. We just put you in a $90 million movie and you were great. The whole crew loved you, and we had no idea." To label him with that is wrong and just easy and judgmental. He's much more complicated.

PLAYBOY: Let's talk about your childhood. How did your parents' divorce affect you?
DAMON: I have no recollection of their being together. I was two, so it seemed like a normal childhood to me. To this day I have only one friend whose parents are still married. A'' the rest are divorced, so I didn't feel that everyone else got to sit around at exactly 6.30 and have dinner, and why did I get fucked here? My mother and father grew up in a generation where no one divorced, and they wanted the kids to feel okay. They were always telling us, "It's okay that we're divorced." And we were both saying, "Yeah, we know. We love both of you, you both love us, it didn't work between you, and that makes total sense to us."

PLAYBOY: Did studying at alternative schools and growing up with your mother and brother in a politically motivated experimental co-op house set you apart?
DAMON: My mother is a professor of early-childhood education. I'd come home and she'd be watching cartoons, counting the acts of violence and commenting how the shows were becoming commercials to sell products to children and teach them how to use them. She said, "A generation of children will suffer because they're being de-sensitized to violence and are not being protected from these corporations." She predicted something like Columbine a decade before it happened.

PLAYBOY: Did she keep war toys away from you?
DAMON: No, but she encouraged us to play with toys that used our imaginations. As a result, my brother and I ended up being very creative people. He's a painter and sculptor. Even when we were little kids I remember him spending hours drawing a bionic arm on a piece of construction paper so he could put it on me and I could run around getting into my own Six Million Dollar Man adventures. My mother created a really good environment for us to be who we were.

PLAYBOY: Did you ever get static from neighbourhood guys who weren't raised in such an evolved way?
DAMON: I played with dolls when I was a kid - superhero dolls. I remember knowing that it might not be that cool to tell some of the other guys that I played with them, even if they were superheroes. My mom isn't a Pollyanna. She knows that if you leave two boys in a room - whether they're brothers or friends or whatever - eventually one of them is going to hit the other. One of her specialties is non-violent conflict resolution, which was a huge topic around our dinner table. She would never ignore the fact that violence is part of the human condition. It's about how it is handled in the media, in film and television.

PLAYBOY: Once you gave up on your dolls, we assume you moved on to girls.
DAMON: I kisssed my first girl in fifth grade, Jennifer Andella. I was always interested in girls, though obviously more so in high school, when it becomes something different than just making out for five minutes after school, then jumping on the school bus for home. Our high school had a really good drama department and a great teacher, and that was my reality for four years. And obviously pretty girls were in drama too.

PLAYBOY: Did you get into acting partly because of the pretty girls?
DAMON: It was probably more for the attention than the great-looking girls, though in junior and senior year I was really interested in the girls.

PLAYBOY: Do you have the drama department to thank for your first sexual experience?
DAMON: Yeah. It was the summer I was 16 years old, and we were doing the musical Pippin. Ben and I were thick as thieves through that school year. Ben can't sing, so he just worked on the crew. A group of us would get together every night, then try to find somebody 21 to get beer. The girls were suddenly a little faster in the summertime. My mother had left that summer for Mexico to learn Spanish, and my brother was already in college. He had this great girlfriend, and for a month they were the matriarch and patriarch of the house. My mother totally trusted us, and for good reason, in the sense that were weren't totally out of control. I could have friends stay over, but I wasn't supposed to have girls. I knew my brother wasn't going to dime me out, so that summer was the first time I had sex, which was just incredible.

PLAYBOY: So this girl was in the show you were doing?
DAMON: Yes, and she was one of my closest friends in the world - and still is, actually - a tremendous, incredible woman. She was lying on this pullout couch, which just about fit in my bedroom. This is a girl I'd wanted to have sex with since I was 12, and there she was, lying on the couch while I was in my underwear on my bed. I was trying desperately to think of anything to talk about so she wouldn't go to sleep. I didn't want the night to end. I was far too cowardly to make a move in a dark room on a summer night. Finally she said, "You know we both want to do something, so why don't you just get over here and do it?" I don't think I would ever have gotten the courage to do it, so what she was incredibly empowering.

PLAYBOY: Was that night the beginning of something with her?
DAMON: No, we went right back to being friends and have been friends ever since. We had this whole kind of respect and admiration for each other, so after that night it never got weird, like "Oh my God, what do I say to her now?' Or anything like that. I'm sure it fucks things up if you start sleeping with your friends, but in this case it didn't.

PLAYBOY: Did your mother ever catch you in compromising situations with anyone else or by yourself?
DAMON: No, I knew when my private time was, so I set my clock for those moments. Even if she had caught me, she would never handle it in a way that associated something like that with guilt or shame. She wsa really in tune with my brother and me, and we had an incredibly forthright relationship with her, so there was nothing we were embarrassed to tell her. The older I get, and as I start thinking about having children down the line and watch my brother raise his children, that's really amazing. It's hard to give a child the ability to never have to hide something, because most societal influences aren't pointing you in that direction.

PLAYBOY: Having been brought up with such strong liberal thinking, are you political?
DAMON: I have never voted in my life. My reasoning has always been - and this is the worst possible thing to say - that because I'm from Massachusetts, everyone I would have ever voted for didn't need my vote. But that's changing now because of where we're going in this country.

PLAYBOY: Are you even registered?
DAMON: No, but I'm going to register before this next election. I'll vote for John Kerry. The last election I had this feeling that everyone was just going toward the middle and it's the same thing no matter what, and it turned out to be the most politically critical moment in my lifetime. Now it's like you want to mobilize everybody to get out and vote because look what's at stake.

PLAYBOY: Growing up, did you ever have erotic crushes on celebrities?
DAMON: My brother and I were in love with Lisa Bonet, an absolute knockout. Really beautiful women have that thing in their eyes - a kind of sparkle or twinkle that just does it for me.

PLAYBOY: Did you ever meet Lisa Bonet and have to mask your childhood carnal thoughts about her?
DAMON: I did, but I think I covered my tracks by blurting out something like, "I've always been a big fan of yours." I'm sure she's heard that from guys before. That reminds me of when my brother and I were at a big dinner party in New York about five years ago. He saw Cheryl Tiegs and was like, "Wow, she still looks great. I have to go and meet her. You don't know how many times I had sex with that woman." So he went over, and she was very nice, and he was very polite, but he was happy to go home and tell his wife that he'd met Cheryl Tiegs.

PLAYBOY: Did you have any other childhood idols?
DAMON: I thought Mickey Rourke was the coolest in The Pope of Greenwich Village and other movies. Ben and I used to say, "Man, he's fucking good," and when we'd leave the theater, we'd light cigarettes and try to swagger a little, but we were so far from that guy. And Kim Basinger and Mickey in 9 1/2 Weeks? Now that was a twofer - the coolest guy and the sexiest woman.

PLAYBOY: When you were 18 and Affleck already had an agent and was booking jobs, he helped you turn pro, and you got your first speaking role, in Mystic Pizza. Was there any competition between you?
DAMON: It's going to sound hinky, but that was never a factor. We pulled for each other. We were never in a situation where it was down to just me and him - actually we were with Mystic Pizza, but they hired me because I was two years older than Ben and the law said you couldn't use a minor on a night shoot. More often than not we'd both get called back for a part, we'd both feel good about ourselves, and then we'd get shot down when we went for the next round. That carried through later, to LA in the early 1990s, when we'd see friends' careers take off and feel like, "Well, fuck it, someone's going to play the role. I'd rather it be this friend of mine than some guy who's already working."

PLAYBOY: Actors who were already working in the early 1990s included Leonardo diCaprio, Edward Norton and Chris O'Donnell. Any tales of jousting for jobs?
DAMON: I once said to Chris O'Donnell, who had the best agent of anybody at the time, "What's this Scent of a Woman? I heard it's the lead role, that it's from the guy who directed Midnight Run and Al Pacino is in it. Do you know what it is?" Chris said, "Yeah, I have the script." When I asked if I could borrow it, he said, "No, I need to practice." The whole cast of School Ties - me, Brendan Fraser, Cole Hauser - went to New York to audition, but Chris was the only one who had read the script.

PLAYBOY: And he got that job. You and Norton were apparently neck and neck for Saving Private Ryan and Primal Fear. The two of you later co-starred in Rounders, so apparently you worked things out.
DAMON: Edward was always in the running for jobs. After he got Primal Fear I wanted to go up to him and say, "Just stop." After Primal Fear I auditioned for The Rainmaker, and when it came down to me, Edward and another guy, I thought I didn't have a chance. But Edward and I went out and got drunk together, and I said, "I'm fucked, but it's great to meet you, man."

PLAYBOY: But you still got the part. For Courage Under Fire you put yourself on a crash diet so extreme you nearly caused serious physical damage. Do you have residual health problems?
DAMON: It's not necessarily a scientific theory, but from a young age I've put myself in really high-pressure situations. After that movie, one of the medications they put me on was an anti-anxiety drug, Klonopin, because I had started to have symptoms such as blurry vision and hot flashes. Sitting in the waiting room of this great doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, I read this article he happened to have written, I think for the New England Journal of Medicine, on exaggerated stress response. By the time I got through the first page, all the blood had gone out of my face. I walked into the doctor's office holding the article and said, "This is me."

PLAYBOY: And was it?
DAMON: Every single symptom. He asked how incredibly high-pressure situations like doing a movie affected me, and I said, "I don't fucking care. I deal with it." He told me, "It will manifest itself in another way. Your vision is blurry, you're having hot flashes. You're not okay." He said that I had stored all this stuff inside and there was a delay in feeling the symptoms. I went on medication for six months or something and felt weird taking pills at the age of 25. I felt it was doing damage to me psychologically because I'd always thought of myself as healthy and unassailable. I started to get better, to the point where I took myself off the medicine without calling him. Quickly after that I had some symptoms. The doctor told me to take the medication for a few months, which I did, then went off it again.

PLAYBOY: Do you still get the attacks?
DAMON: I get symptoms, but they don't start snowballing now. I really love my job, and I don't feel the perspective with which I do it now would lend itself to having an anxiety attack.

PLAYBOY: After GWH, a string of your big movies, including TLOBV and ATPH stalled at the box office. Talk about a setup for an anxiety attack.
DAMON: I was off that list you want to be on. TLOBV tanked. ATPH really tanked. And everyone in the industry was whispering, "I heard The Bourne Identity is in trouble" because we had done two rounds of reshoots and the release had been postponed. I thought, Well, this fucking movie is gone, and that's three movies in a row that I've tried to headline, so that's it. I hadn't been offered a movie in 12, 18 months - some little independent things but no class projects. The writing was on the wall within the industry, and I'd come to terms with that.

PLAYBOY: Then along comes O11, in which you and other big stars share screen time, and it's a hit. Was it a relief not to have the weight of the whole movie on your shoulders?
DAMON: On O11 I remember going to the set to watch even when I wasn't working, because it was fun. I didn't want to go anywhere else. But yeah, it's a weird thing trying to carry a movie - a different kind of responsibility and a little unsettling. For instance, Leonardo DiCaprio was wildly inventive from a young age. To limit his options is like cutting one of his legs out from under him. He's a character actor, really, and that's how I see myself. It's a stunning realization that nobody is secure in this business. You start to meet people who can't pay their mortgages and you think, but you were on the cover of Premiere eight years ago. And you assume that Tom Cruise is secure, but I guarantee you that guy isn't secure either, because there are always footsteps behind you.

PLAYBOY: O11 was an ensemble movie, but TBI was you front and center, and it was a big hit. What impact did it have on your career options?
DAMON: I was in London doing the last performances of the play This is Our Youth, and TBI opened in America on a Friday. Saturday morning I was awakened by this flurry of excited phone calls from LA: "Oh my God, it's a fucking hit!" By Monday I had 30 big movie offers. That was a really good experience, because I thought, Now I get it. This is a real business. You can be friendly with people, even be friends with them, but that doesn't mean they have to do you any favors like suddenly putting you in their movie.

PLAYBOY: Unless you're in another hit. Affleck also had a big spy flick, TSOAF, around the same time, but yours did better.
DAMON: Both of us were pulling for our own and the other's movie, and the stakes had gotten so high. During press interviews, people would ask, "Whose movie is going to do better?" and I was like, "I don't fucking care, as long as we're both okay." I honestly don't care much anymore about the media stuff. Each of us got really leery talking about the other or about our friendship, because it felt cheapened when we saw it in print. At this point I just acknowledge to myself that I love him and he's going to be in my life forever.

PLAYBOY: Now you've done a sequel called The Bourne Supremacy.
DAMON: I think what people loved about the first movie was the characters. One of the things I like about his movie is that every act of violence comes at a price for the character. When he does these things, he's haunted and it takes a piece of him. He's not a paint-by-numbers spy. I don't think we could have done this story line if it weren't a sequel, because it's pretty dark. The director, Paul Greengrass, uses the same handheld-camera technique that his movie Bloody Sunday has, which always ratchets up the paranoia a bit.

PLAYBOY: In the fist Bourne movie, your character has amnesia. How's his memory this time?
DAMON: There's no way to talk about his movie without fucking it up. Well, he doesn?t have his whole memory back. He's still working from these fragments, which we needed as a plot point so we'd have somewhere to go. Every character is developed from the first movie, but some of them turn out to be slightly different than what you thought they were.

PLAYBOY: Are you a gun guy offscreen, like your character in the Bourne movies?
DAMON: I don't like guys, and I really am scared of them - not scared in the sense that I wouldn't pick one up; I mean just respectful. Too many things can go wrong with a gun in your house, so I don't own one, but I'm pretty good with them, because for the movie I did hundreds of hours of training with a former SWAT team shotgunner who had worked with Benicio del Toro on Traffic. I was concerned, especially in the first Bourne, that I not look like fucking Opie, so I spent six months studying a Filipino martial arts form called kali. Then I worked with guns - holding, shooting - so that for the brief moments I hold one in the movies it looks as if I've done it a thousand times before.

PLAYBOY: Was doing this Bourne sequel your call, or did you have to fulfill a contract?
DAMON: I didn't want to do one of those cynical sequels that are just an attempt to make money. I was always skeptical that a second movie would happen, because I didn't see where it could go. Suddenly there was a great director, screenwriter and producer, so I couldn't see why we shouldn't do it. I had never done a sequel, but I felt that we had a chance to maket it better than the first one. I hope we did. We took it places a big-budget studio movie doesn't normally go, and I?m proud of that. And the message is really good.

PLAYBOY: What is the message?
DAMON: Essentially, at the end of the day - and this will pack them into the seats - it turns into a story of atonement. You can't make a sequel to an action movie and not have action in it, so there's plenty of that. But basically you're expecting revenge, and you get atonement, which is a bit of a left turn, especially in this day and age.

PLAYBOY: You've just started the second O11 caper, O12. What's the fun this time?
DAMON: It has everyone from the first movie and Catherine Zeta-Jones too. There will be lots of cameos, but it's still very much George and Brad, with the rest there to add certain colors throughout. It's the perfect sequel to O11.

PLAYBOY: How do you observe the handling of fame by co-stars such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt?
DAMON: They're really regular guys, just fun to be around. If you came from another planet and sat with them and they left the room, you would be shocked if somebody told you they were the two biggest movie stars in the world. They don't put that out there. They don't covet it. Look at George's career in the past five years - three Steven Soderbergh movies, two movies with the Coen brothers, plus he's directed a movie. It's those kind of decisions I admire. You hear other people say, "Well, this is going to be a big studio hit. I should do it," and suddenly they're playing a game you never win, becaues the ball will drop on you, and it doesn't matter who you are. It almost dropped on me a couple years ago. I'm getting a second shot at that kind of rarefied air. So this time I'm enjoying doing movies I love.

PLAYBOY: Are you happy with PGL, the reality-TV show you and Affleck produce, which documents the highs and lows of a novice filmmaker shooting a movie from start to finish?
DAMON: Steven Soderbergh was shooting a car scene the other day. When stuff went wrong, he said, "We've just had our Project Greenlight moment." We still haven't done what we set out to do. We have a good TV show, but the whole point was to drive people to make interesting, viable movies. Miramax put up almost $4 million for the first two movies, Stolen Summer and The Battle of Shaker Heights, and we didn't make the money back for them. This year, their good point was, "If you want to be faithful to the reality of the business, then you have to bring us a movie we would really make for that amount of money." So we tried to encourage people to send a horror film, a romantic comedy or soemthing that can realistically be made for that amount of money.

PLAYBOY: And something on which Miramax could recoup their money.
DAMON: The script submissions are coming in, and once they're culled Ben and I will read the top 50. We really believe in this idea. People thought we were setting up with these filmmakers to fail, but we don't sit around thinking up ways to spend hundreds of hours of our own time, without getting paid, just to play a practical joke on some guy from Des Moines.

PLAYBOY: Where's the GWH follow-up project from you and Affleck that we've been hearing about.
DAMON: It's in the same place it's been for the past seven years, which is that we both want to do it. We saw each other a couple weeks ago in LA, and we could feel the horse pulling on the reins because we really miss the experience of starting a small kernel of an idea and seeing it go all the way to being a movie. Like on GWH, the motto for this one is "Let it write itself."

PLAYBOY: Considering how well your first collaboration went, do the two of you ever let people's high expectations paralyze you?
DAMON: Neither of us either looked forward enough to that two-by-four in the face to actually sit down and take the time to write in, especially when we were getting paid to act - which had always been the goal for us. We know we're going to get killed, so we're just going to do it and not worry what the perception is.

PLAYBOY: After O12 you will work on The Informant, also with Steven Soderbergh. You're playing a real-life mole for the FBI in a corporate price-fixing scam. Is this the kind of character-actor role you've been looking for?
DAMON: It's the best role I've seen since The Talented Mr Ripley. Steven and I were just talking today about how people in Hollywood rise to a certain station, then sit there and defend their little beach-head, and slowly their careers keep losing ground. One thing I've always loved about Sean Penn is that he swings for the fences no matter what. I've made a couple of scared swings up there. I don't want to do that anymore.

PLAYBOY: In his 1999 Playboy Interview, Affleck jokingly said of you, "He gives a really great blow job." Care to return the compliment?
DAMON: I do give great head. I definitely give a better blow job than Ben. I mean, I'm not lucky enough to be able to blow myself, but if I could, I'd never leave the house.

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