Matt Damon, casually dressed in polo shirt and white tee, came into the room lugging a cup of Starbucks coffee but a waiter promptly served him a cup of the hotel’s Java. "I have a lot of coffee!" he said with a grin that reminded us of what director Anthony Minghella said about him: "There’s something so apple pie about him."
He turned serious when a reporter asked him about a "kind of competition" with Leonardo in terms of getting roles and awards. "I have never defined myself based on the awards I have or have not received,” said the Harvard-educated actor and screenwriter (he was two semesters short of completing a degree). "My success is not dependent on other people’s failure so I don’t root against people. Leo and I are smart enough to know that the best version of this movie happened only because there was no competition. We were absolutely working to make each other better. If my co-actor isn’t good in a scene, I am not good in the scene."
Matt, who has an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his "Good Will Hunting" screenplay (shared with Ben Affleck), continued: "I have the highest regard for Leo. I have absolutely no interest in competing over an award. I don’t care. I have all the awards. I have too many things to think about. I have a kid. I’m enjoying the process of making movies too much. If you want to give awards, give them to him. I mean it. He’s great in the movie and he deserves it anyway. Or give them to Marty. I know you guys already did (he won a Golden Globe Best Director Award in 2002 for "Gangs of New York") but..."
As expected, this Sunday’s press con was a virtual toast by the young actors to Martin, who is perhaps the best living director in America (and yet, strangely enough, the Oscar Best Director Award has eluded him). Matt’s praises are specific: "Among other things, he has an incredible eye for human behavior. He will sit there, cut and mine all the bad takes that an actor like me does (laughter) for the one moment of truth. You can turn off the sound in his films and still know what’s going on despite the fact that he’s cutting all over the place and across time."
Reporters then steered Matt to other, uh, more "interesting" topics such as Brangelina and Bennifer. He is only one degree separated from these pairs—the former going strong while the latter is history. Of Angelina Jolie, his co-star in the upcoming "The Good Shepherd," he said, "It was great working with Angie. She is an amazing actress. She’s just so powerful. Angie’s role in ‘The Good Shepherd’ is unlike any role she’s ever had. She’s much more demure and obedient. You’ve never seen Angie like this."
As for his childhood friend Ben Affleck, who won the Best Actor Award at the recent Venice Film Festival for his role in "Hollywoodland," Matt jokingly dropped hints to the writers in front of him: "After he wins the Golden Globe this year for ‘Hollywoodland’ (laughter), and after that, the Oscar, maybe he’ll be ready to come back and work with me again." Nice try, Matt.
"I just love that Ben is only 34 and he’s already having a comeback," Matt quipped to more laughter. "That shows how crazy this business is, right? I think Ben made some bad choices with some of the films he did. Everyone assumed that meant he wasn’t talented. I never worried for a second about it. I know more than anybody how talented he is. I wrote a movie with him. I spent thousands of hours with him. I grew up with him and watched him act as a kid. I know how good he is. He made some movies that didn’t work. That’s all it was."
Matt sounded like a regular dad gladly taking his entire family on an out-of-town trip when he said, "Everyone’s coming with me." Except that the Damon family is going to a location shoot for a new "Bourne" movie and daddy is the star.
All the actors bring their A games to this triumphant bruiser of a film, its darkly wanton wit the only defense against complete chaos. DiCaprio and Damon give explosive, emotionally complex performances, but it must be said that Jack Nicholson reaches undreamed-of heights of decadent devilment as Irish mob kingpin Frank Costello.
Damon, building on his no-bull turns in Syriana and the two Bourne films, brings a coiled-spring intensity to Colin, whose double life is taking its toll (for one thing, he's often impotent).