Matt Damon has overcome many challenges in his career. He has physically transformed himself—losing 50 pounds for Courage Under Fire (1996) and gaining 30 pounds for The Informant (2009). He battled to reverse a downturn in fortunes after a career highpoint: winning the Best Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting. All this has been good training for playing a heroic survivor who takes on Earth’s future ruling class in smart sci-fi movie Elysium. The 42-year-old actor also showed great stamina while speaking to The Red Bulletin, ignoring a roaring hangover gained after attending a premiere the night before.
THE RED BULLETIN: Do you feel guilty?
MATT DAMON: Why should I do that?
Because you belong to the chosen few basking in the high life as opposed to the millions living below the poverty line. Just like the bad guys of your upcoming sci-fi movie Elysium.
No, I don’t feel guilty. I feel lucky to have been born where I was born. We were shooting the movie at a dump in Mexico City where there’s 2,500 people who were born and raised there and live there and die there and never leave. That’s by luck of birth. So the question is: How do we lift as many people as possible out of that poverty? I am very optimistic that we can achieve that. Because today’s generation of young people is more aware of the situation and much more engaged than I was at that age.
Would you be willing to kill for a place in the sun, like you do in the movie?
The motivation of my character goes beyond that. It’s not that he wants to live in this utopian world; he is looking to be cured from cancer. But to answer your question—no.
But could you kill someone if your life, or a family member’s life, depended on it?
I definitely have the human instinct of protecting myself and my loved ones. And if I could look into somebody’s heart and see that their intentions were pure evil, I might perhaps be able to kill that person. But I don’t know that there is pure evil, or at least I have never encountered it. One of my close friends, however, went into the special forces, and his job at the end of his career was to track down war criminals in Croatia and Bosnia and take them to the international court in The Hague. He read the dossiers on those people and said there were a few that he thought could be labeled as pure evil.
You are fortunate to live in a bubble of luxury. Do you ever worry about losing touch with reality?
Yeah, and I don’t know what to do. I live in New York City, which is its own kind of Elysium at this point. It’s pretty elite now, because it’s so expensive to live in the city. But at least you can walk down the street and feel a part of a community. When I lived in Miami it was a much more suburban lifestyle. You go from behind your gate to your car, then to your destination, back in your car, and finally back behind your gate.
Do you have an understanding of what’s going on beyond your own experience of the world?
Of course. I have since childhood. My mother took me places. We went by bus around Guatemala in the ’80s, and I went to language school in Mexico. Those experiences were really eye-opening for an American kid, so I hope I can do that with my children, when they’re older. I want them to see the world.
You have four daughters. Do you enjoy being the only man in the house?
I’m lucky to be the only guy in the house. It’s a man’s dream. The testosterone deficit at home makes me very special: You learn a lot by looking at the world from their point of view. I’m now convinced we’re different species, more than I thought before.
Do you feel women understand men?
Oh, I think they understand us totally. I just don’t think we can completely understand them.
What about your daughters? Do they realize that their father is a bona fide movie star?
I don’t know when that’ll happen, but when it does it will happen by osmosis. Alexia, my 14-year-old stepdaughter, heard stuff at school and started asking questions. But by that point the whole thing had been so demystified. They’ve been on movie sets, they’ve seen that process, and they’ve met all kinds of people who work in the business. They say things like, “Uncle George is a movie star?” and I say, “Yes, George Clooney is a star, believe it or not.”
The movie business can be fickle. Do you worry your star status might go away at some point?
It will definitely go away. The movie business is cyclical. Some guys are up, some guys are down. The key is not trying to retain some level of popularity, trying to do something with what you have and trying to do good work. How much you get paid—that’s always going to go up and down. It’s like when you play poker: You can’t bet scared, you have to bet because you want to bet-—not because you need to win the money. If you do a movie, it could be the end of your career, or maybe not—just do it.
So you weren’t scared when your career was in the doldrums before the success of the Bourne movies?
No, I always knew I could write. I can’t be any more cold than I was when we did Good Will Hunting. Nobody knew who I was at that time. But I was very aware that things weren’t going great. When The Bourne Identity came out, it had bad buzz from Hollywood. Everyone was going, “This is going to be a disaster,” because it had been delayed and delayed. And that was it for me. I’d already had two films bomb, and I was about to have my third. It was goodbye, and there was nothing I could do. So I went to London, did a play, and I was happy.
Do you regret some of your career choices?
No. Regret is the worst thing in the world. All the decisions I’ve made professionally and personally, even if they have not worked out, I have taken something away from them. I have made the decisions for reasons that I can back up. The way I choose a movie is: I just look for a director and screenplay that I can learn from. All the Pretty Horses, for example, is one of my favorite things that I’ve done. In its original version it was three hours and 12 minutes long. The studio took it away from director Billy Bob Thornton and cut it down to two hours. The critics tore it apart and it bombed at the box office, but I am incredibly proud of that movie. It had a big impact on me, as an actor and hopefully some day as a director. Knowing what I know now, I would go back and do the movie again and again.
You’re a big fan of poker. [Damon starred in the poker movie Rounders (1998).] What’s been your most painful loss at the poker table?
The last time I played was a couple of months ago. I was against a really good player and I was very wary of him. We got it all in, I had a higher full house than he had, and on the final card he pulled four of a kind, so it was a bad beat. That was my most recent and painful loss. But the main thing is: You may know you are going to lose, but don’t do it by playing your hands wrong. You should lose when you’re doing the right thing in that moment. Then you can leave the table with some dignity.
It’s been reported that at one point in your career you were so desperate for success that you were willing to give up your dignity and do a porn movie.
That was a joke. The director of The Bourne Identity, Doug Liman, came up with it. He said, “We should add one shot in at the end and make it the most expensive adult movie ever: The Porn Identity.”
Elysium is out now: www.itsbetterupthere.com
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