With all this in mind, it's little wonder that Damon is at ease with the prospect of turning 40 next year. "I feel good," he says. "I've worked really hard the past 12 years and I've really enjoyed it. I don't regret any of the movies that I've done or any of the choices that I made. Even the ones that didn't work, I got a lot out of them. I'm excited. I've got terrific kids and a great wife. I really couldn't have asked for anything more."
With his mother specialising in teaching "non-violent conflict resolution", Damon admits that it has affected his choice of scripts. "Now I always look at the violence [in a script]. I don't want it to be gratuitous. Because I do believe that that has an effect on people's behaviour. I really do believe that. And I have turned down movies because of that." When Damon first became famous, his mother came out in the press stating that her son had become a product. "He's not a human being any more," she cried. "He's a cog in the capitalist system." Damon admits she still "doesn't think much" of the film industry. "She doesn't give a shit about the star system."
If Damon is enthused about working with Eastwood, it doesn't come close to how he talks about Mandela, whom he met on the shoot. "That was amazing. We got to take our kids. Lucy and I sat and just watched them. The stills photographer from the movie was allowed to come, and I was like, 'Take some pictures!' And so he took all of these shots of Gia – she was about six months at the time. And the kids were captivated by him. They just got it instantly. Looking in his eyes, they understood everything."
He trails off for a second, as he recalls the moment with a mix of pride and wonder. I tell him it will be remarkable for his children to see those pictures, when they are old enough to understand who Mandela is. "Some day, yeah," he says. "And Alexia, our 11-year-old, already does. She came to Cape Town, and some of her classmates came and they went to Robben Island, and they knew all about Mandela. So Alexia was very nervous. Isabella and Gia weren't at all because they didn't know, until they got into the room and were completely taken by him."
Soderbergh: He's really, really fucking good. He will get a lot of props for this, but anybody who has worked with him knows how good he is. That's why they want to keep working with him. He just doesn't tart it up. You look at him in The Departed. He's not the one who got all the attention, but he's really, really good in that movie. He's just doing his thing.
Empire: You don't catch him acting.
Soderbergh: That's exactly what it is. And that's two things: talent and brains. Sometimes you get one or the other, but he has both. He's a keeper.
With an Argentine wife, how is your Spanish?
My Spanish is slowly improving. My daughters understand the language, but, like all children with parents of different nationalities, they prefer to speak the language of where they live and their friends. My wife and my mother in law speak to them only in Spanish. But the girls got very excited when we visited Argentina, where my wife has family. Then they want to talk with the other children. Maybe I should make a film in Spain or Latin America and by spending some time with me they will be truly immersed in Spanish.
22. Matt Damon
He's seriously smart, he's seriously funny (I'm Fucking Matt Damon may be the greatest celebrity pastiche ever), he's hot, he's Jason Bourne and he won an Oscar for Screenwriting. Who doesn't love him? On the bed, on the floor, on a towel by the door; in the tub, in a car, up against the minibar - he's the bomb.
Most alluring as... Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, hesitantly getting together with Marie in a Parisian hotel room.
Interests include... Being awesome, being left-wing, supporting charities that fight AIDS and poverty, sending himself up on various TV shows.
His guests have to put up with his notorious penchant for elaborate pranks, however, and the latest to be on the receiving end was his friend and Oceans 11, 12 and 13 costar Matt Damon, who visited the Clooney villa this summer with his wife and family.
At the time Damon was trying to lose the 30lbs he gained for his starring role in his new film The Informant! and was working out in the gym twice a day and eating nothing but small salads. So Clooney employed a woman to surreptitiously take in the waistband of all Damon’s trousers every day by an eighth of an inch. “He couldn’t understand how he seemed to be gaining weight while he was trying so hard to lose it," recalled Clooney with a laugh.