And when a director connects with an actor, he'll keep working with him, as Steven Soderbergh can attest. Matt Damon has starred in four of his films and will work with him a fifth time in Soderbergh's forthcoming Liberace biopic.
"He really is one of those actors that once you've worked with him, you just want to go back," Soderbergh says. "He always delivers. He's always good."
Eastwood jokes that Freeman is his good-luck charm: "If I was a superstitious guy, I'd be wanting him in every film, since the first two films we did got best-picture awards, but that's not the way I am. I just admire him very much as a performer, not only because of quality, but because he brings it effortlessly. He comes to it extremely well-prepared. And I could say the same thing for young Matt. When he steps up to the plate, he's ready to go."
The director says his favorite actors are "people who are very pleasant to work with because they come in with a great knowledge, a great deal of ammunition, and all you have to do is guide it along. It's a selfish thing."
Douglas said: "I'm just going to get really comfortable so it's not a caricature. Matt Damon's going to be my younger lover. God bless Matt. He's right to take chances. It's smart trying to mix it up a bit and maintain the franchise and get to do a picture that turns you on."
Drew: And because he’d been on the 'Bourne' films, did he and Damon already have a shorthand of sorts?
EB: Yeah, very much. Very much so.
Drew: That had to help somewhat.
EB: Yeah, in a huge way. And Matt is just... Matt’s a great guy for... in every movie, he's just a great orchestrator for that movie. You know, he’s got a really clear idea of how things should be shot and he’s very collaborative like that. He’s very cool.
Matt Damon: Thesp's got game in "Invictus"
Why he'll win: As one of Hollywood's more versatile above-the-line actors, Damon brings immersive verisimilitude to nearly every role, and his South African rugby team captain is no exception, a portrait of internalized pressure and outward leadership that helps lift "Invictus" above most sports movies. Sometimes the Academy likes giving stars their acting props for supporting turns (Clooney, Nicholson), and Damon could find himself a similar beneficiary.
Maybe not: Pic doesn't have the oomph of other Academy-nominated films (no best picture nod, for one thing). Plus, Damon's avoidance of rah-rah sports-pic overacting makes this a less flashy turn than usual for a nominated performance.
Critic's quote: "Most of Damon's screen time is spent in training or on the field, and it's meant as highest praise to say that, if he weren't a recognizable film star, you'd never think he were anything other than a South African rugby player," says Variety's Todd McCarthy.
Damon bulked up impressively and mastered the Afrikaans accent to portray South African rugby star Francois Pienaar and delivered some impassioned speeches. But his finest work was more subtle: In a scene following Pienaar's first meeting with Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), he's asked by his racist father about South Africa's new president. Francois delicately balances his positive impressions of Mandela with a desire not to offend or upend his family's preconceptions.