Twelve years ago he was the baby-faced actor from Cambridge who captured moviegoers as the troubled boy genius Will Hunting and then brought his mother as his date to the Oscars.
Today, at 38, Matt Damon is a singular force in American culture, ubiquitous on screen and off. His global philanthropy is robust, cementing his Tom Hanks-like reputation as one of Hollywood’s good guys. Women and directors swoon (People Magazine has named him "Sexiest Man Alive" and Forbes in 2007 dubbed him one of cinema’s most bankable stars). He is as comfortable playing a pudgy, nerdy whistleblower, as he does in his latest, as a lean and ripped killing machine.
All that said, the demands of acting are no longer as appealing for Damon as they used to be, not with his wife, Luciana, at home in New York this year with their two young daughters and his 11-year old stepdaughter. "We just can't go on the road anymore," he said earlier this week in an interview high above Central Park in Manhattan to discuss his latest film, "The Informant!"’, which opened here Friday. "I won't take six-month jobs in Uzbekistan."
So does that mean fewer movies? Smaller movies? Or movies just closer to home? "I think all three," he adds.
In recent years, Damon has written during the filming of movies when the screenplay needed work; he did some writing for the last two Bourne movies, and he’s done some in the upcoming “The Green Zone," a thriller set in Baghdad.
He sees directing and writing as two ways to have what he wants, work with whom he wants, order his life the way he wants. "By the next school year," said Damon, who was dressed casually in a black V-neck T-shirt, jeans, and black shoes, "we’re going to have to pull the trigger and figure out where we want to be for the next 10 or 15 years."
But in the meantime, he’s done with 20-hour days. "You shoot all day, have dinner and work on a screenplay until midnight and then get up at five and start all over again. I enjoyed it but I'm not going to do that anymore."
It’s a path Damon is determined not to take. "I have a shot at living a pretty normal life," he says, "and that's what I'm hoping I can pull off."
Damon and his wife, Argentine-born Luciana Barroso, have just rented an apartment in New York. They'll be living there with their kids for the next few months while he goes to work on The Adjustment Bureau, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story, "Adjustment Team," about a guy who discovers that his world is being controlled by strange, guardian-like figures. Emily Blunt is in the film, being directed by George Nolfi.
"George wrote the last Bourne movie, he wrote Ocean's Twelve, and it's his directing debut," says Damon. "When Philip K. Dick is done right, when it's Minority Report or Total Recall, it's absolutely brilliant.
"This one, George went pretty far afield. It's a very original adaptation. But tonally it's definitely different from anything I've ever done."
Pollak: The Informant is easily one of the best films of the year & of Soderberg's & Damon's impressive careers. Run. Run like the wind to see it.
The role is a subtly tough one to play. Damon spends most of the film balancing buffoonery and sympathy, which is hard in and of itself, but at the end he needs to actually make us feel for this lying, cheating, possibly sociopathic little weirdo, and he manages to hit it perfectly. While there's a distinct Coen feel to The Informant! it's the way Damon and Soderbergh treat Whitacre that makes it so different from their work. The Coens never fail to find the absurdity and pettiness in all humans, while Damon and Soderbergh never fail to find the humanity in this absurd and petty person.
Damon's performance, in fact, feels like one that should get an Oscar but will get snubbed. He's just too funny, and while he is allowed some small emotion at the end, the film steadfastly keeps us away from the interior of Whitacre. It's a performance that isn't showy, that isn't dazzling in the 'here's an obvious Oscar clip!' sense. It's a performance that is remarkable for the way it balances the ridiculous and the real.