Like the secret agent, the 45-year-old star is hard to pin down. It takes months of negotiations, with, from different points around the globe, vague confirmations, delays and cancellations, before he finally sits down for a heart-to-heart with The Red Bulletin.
Here he reveals that, despite appearances, he’s actually nothing like big-screen action hero.
In this article:
- Matt Damon’s similarities with Jason Bourne
- How he prepared for the Bourne films
- How to be emotionally balanced
- Matt’s relationship to his big brother
- How Matt deals with failure and anger
THE RED BULLETIN: You’re returning in your trademark role of agent Jason Bourne, who has a lot of anger issues. Do you share these?
MATT DAMON: Let’s say I carry a lot of myself into a role like this. Life can be frustrating at times.
For example, in the past, it was really frustrating as a friend to see Ben Affleck mischaracterised so often and so blithely by so many people. Fortunately, no one ever is going to roll their eyes again when I suggest that he’s a really talented guy. And my kids can also frustrate me no end.
Any relationship that you have with anybody where there is deep and abiding love, there’s a chance that you are going to get frustrated or angry or upset, and get your feelings hurt.
But we imagine that you don’t fly off the handle with them like Jason Bourne would…
Not in public, because it would end up on YouTube. [Laughs.] I’m lucky because I don’t hold onto negative emotions for long. Like everyone I have these pent-up conflicts, but a lot of it passes through me easier than with most people.
Why is that?
Because I get to work through a lot of it in my job. I was with a friend recently at a wedding when something beautiful happened and he was in tears. He said, “That’s the first time I’ve cried in 20 years.” Whereas I cry all the time; in basically every movie I do. I am living my life through the conflicts of other people.
For those of us who can’t act, what else is good for emotional balance?
It helps to break a sweat every day. It’s become a habit for me to go to the gym and work out. It’s a good way to let off steam.
Anything specific you’d recommend?
To prepare for the Bourne films I started boxing. Once you’ve gotten into really good shape, it changes the way you move through space, your overall confidence. I find myself more on the front foot, rather than on the back foot and sort of hanging back.
Is it a regular thing for you now?
No, no. I’m doing a movie right now where the director specifically told me to stay away from the gym. And I can definitely feel the difference.
You don’t sound that morose, though.
The lack of training is mitigated by the fact that I’m eating whatever I want. That puts me in a pretty good mood.
Have you ever tried practising yoga or meditation?
I have a lot of friends who practise both and swear by it. And I myself have tried yoga and I should do it, because when I see myself on screen sometimes I look stiff. Not only would it be better for my job, but it would be better for my life. The same thing with meditation. I just can’t f–king do it.
I find it hard to carve out the time in my life. I don’t even have hobbies. Hopefully, when I get into my 50s, I’ll get my priorities right and will start to do both of those things.
You and your wife have four daughters. How does living in such an oestrogen-filled world affect you?
I don’t have anything to compare it to right now. When I grew up with a big brother, there was a lot more male energy around. And that meant we fought like crazy.
You didn’t like each other?
No, there wasn’t any malice behind it. We just fought because that seemed the natural state. When I did Saving Private Ryan, they shaved my head and I heard the woman start laughing: “Are you a little brother?” she said. “You have scars all over your head.” Because once I was pillow-fighting with my brother, and he ended up smashing me so hard that he sent me across the room into a wall, right into the radiator.
Is that just boys being boys?
We have kids from my girls’ class come over and they instantly take the toys and hit each other over the head with them. Whereas I don’t see that at all with my girls. They are more co-operative and nurturing, which is wonderful. It seems genetically encoded.
So do you think the world would be a better place if it was ruled by women?
Certainly in the current political system, the answer would be yes. I’m no shrink, but like I said, men seem to be quicker to stop talking and resolve our differences physically. Obviously, that’s not the state we want to live in on planet Earth. Geopolitically, fighting is not going to solve our problems.
But don’t you also need a certain level of aggressiveness in order to succeed?
There are other recipes. I remember talking to this Japanese golf pro once and he told me one great thing. He said, at the top of your backswing, you have to say, “What the f–k.” By which he meant just let it go. Because if you try to control it too much, you’ll ruin it. Just let it go. And I thought that was good advice that also applied to my career.
Are you still saying, “What the f–ck” to this day?
Every time I take on a movie. You have no idea how it’s going to turn out. This is a massive collaboration with a bunch of people and all of you are relying entirely on the director. It’s always a gamble with a lot at stake. When I did The Martian with Ridley Scott, this was a $110 million movie. It’s terrifying to be sitting on a soundstage with this other person going‚ “It’s just me and you. Let’s get this right.”
Sounds like you don’t quite trust your mantra, after all…
No, no. Anybody who pursues a career – at least in the arts – should stick to that. Because once you divorce yourself from the results of what you’re doing and just say, “I’m not going to focus on how this turns out, I’m just putting my head down and doing my work, doing what I think is right and what I love.” That’s when you start making things that are worthwhile.
But surely the possibility of failure can be a worry?
Of course. I missed a lot. But I was always proud of my movies, even if the audiences didn’t connect to them. Early on in my career I met some actors who allowed themselves to be pigeonholed, so they were forced to do this same performance over and over again and they were really bored by it. I never wanted to end up like that, and that definitely worked out for me.
As you say, you’re always reliant on other people. What do you do if someone betrays your trust?
Of course you can always get burned. But my philosophy has always been: I’d rather get burned and keep living openly, with an open heart, than go through the world defensively.
Isn’t that a bit naïve?
Well, I will not let you burn me twice. Then that really is my fault. I have certainly been taken advantage of and I’m sure I will be again. But that doesn’t mean I want to close myself off.
When someone double-crosses you, do you ever fantasise about taking revenge the Jason Bourne way?
No. That’s a very human emotion, but I tend to get past it very quickly. Or else you can end up living in it and it will just consume you. The best revenge is living well.
Is that something you had to learn?
It is, to some extent, a question of life experience. My brother’s best friend was murdered when I was 19 and I remember going through the whole trial afterwards. The night these guys were found guilty and got convicted, I had this moment of elation and called my brother to say, “We got them.” And he just said, “Who f–king cares?” Obviously he didn’t mean they shouldn’t have gone to jail, but I put all my energy into this thinking that it would change what happened. And it didn’t change anything. There was no moment of sweet revenge. It was the reality of this new normal. You just have to handle the pain. But there is one grudge you just don’t seem to be able to let go of…
I guess I know what you’re driving at… Your arch-enemy, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. [The two have been having a well-publicised faux-feud for many years, stemming from Kimmel’s refusal to have Damon on his show.] Do you think the two of you will ever smoke the peace pipe together?
Why so unforgiving?
Because he’s running for Vice-President now. And that’s what’s absolutely wrong with our country. He’s not even picked a Presidential running mate. Imagine it – Trump and Jimmy Kimmel would be the end of America. So I’m going to do everything that is in my power to campaign against him and make sure that that doesn’t happen.