There were so many stars inside the Kodak Theatre Saturday, it looked like a casual version of Oscar night.
Instead of the glamorous gowns and tuxedoes they'll wear for Sunday's big show, the stars were relaxed in jeans and sneakers. And instead of being live on the air in front of millions, they performed behind closed doors for a small crowd of show workers.
Damon wore a hooded sweat shirt and knit cap as he rehearsed, pausing from time to time to marvel at the show's stunning set.
It's been 12 years since Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won an Oscar for penning the screenplay for "Good Will Hunting," launching their Hollywood careers. But Damon, who is nominated for playing South Africa rugby team captain Francois Pienaar in "Invictus," said he doesn't expect to have any jitters going into the ceremony -- mainly because he figures Christoph Waltz is the sure-fire winner. So he figures he can relax this time around. "I'm looking forward to it. My career's in a different place now, my life is in a different place than it was 12 years ago," he told ABC7 . "I'm very happy. It's going to be a nice night."
William Morris Endeavor talent agency topper Ari Emanuel kicked off his Oscar weekend Friday with a celebration for clients and friends -- including Taylor Lautner, Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Janet Jackson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, Victoria Beckham, Renee Zellweger and Ryan Phillippe.
At Emanuel's Brentwood home, old pals (and Oscar winners) Affleck and Damon talked shop while their wives, Garner and Luciana Barroso, chatted up a storm.
The A-listers convened under a large tent in the back of the property, where sushi and cocktails were passed. Tyra Banks posed while Ben's brother Casey Affleck waved to Topher Grace, who was deep in conversation with Kate Bosworth.
"Ask anybody on the street which actors starred in the Ocean’s movies, and they’ll tell you it was George and Brad," shrugs Matt Damon, playing down the stats with which I have just tried to wow him. Stats that say that, in the past decade, his films made $3 billion worldwide, compared with George Clooney’s meagre $2.3 billion and Brad Pitt’s tabloid-headline-assisted $3.5 billion. Damon should like stats — he played the maths god Will Hunting, after all — but he looks nonplussed. "I'm 'support' in Ocean’s. As I was in Saving Private Ryan — Tom [Hanks] carried that movie. You could accuse me of piggybacking on other people’s brilliance more than anything."
You heard it from the man himself. Despite a career reaping both cash and plaudits, the 39-year-old simply doesn’t believe he has the star wattage of Clooney or Pitt. They’re hot enough to make even the stillest heart go boom. Damon? Last month, he was second fiddle to Morgan Freeman in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.
So, those stats. How about he turns the shakes to nods, accepts a compliment and makes sure he catches that flight home? No. "I’m sure they have very accurate metrics on how to compensate people for what they’re actually worth in Hollywood, and I’m not the big-pay-cheque guy, so clearly they know what the reality is," he insists, his inferiority complex so knotted, he doesn’t even believe the films he makes are offered to him first. "No, I think they go to Brad. Which is okay."
I am the last interview of the day, and as we end he’s up, off to the airport to fly back to his Argentina-born wife, Luciana Bozan Barroso, a former bartender, and their children, Isabella and Gia. "Awesome," he exclaims. We shake hands again. He's well built, not particularly tall, quite normal-looking, if truth be told — something that made his award as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2007 all the more of a refreshing break from the George’n’Brads.
On receiving the award, Damon said: "You've given an ageing suburban dad the ego boost of a lifetime." People responded by saying that he was bestowed the honour for his "irresistible sense of humour, his dedication to his family and his heart-melting humility". Not every star needs to burn out on the front pages.
But despite his hectic schedule, Damon admits that he has no plans to start taking things a bit easier.
He said: "I can't see me taking time off unless the work dries up."
But what brought Damon to this place? He seemed programmed to be a nice, upper-middle-class Cambridge academic (the son of a stockbroker and a professor, he studied English at Harvard — but never finished those last few credits). So how did he end up as an Oscar-nominated actor, pal of George and Brad and pseudonemesis of Jimmy Kimmel?
"I don’t know, teenage narcissism?" he hazards with a laugh. "I remember, my application to college, the first line in my essay was, `As long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actor.’ My mother taught early childhood education, and she said she knew from when I was 2. I was always dressing up, making up stories — I had a vibrant fantasy life, and my mom was great about encouraging that."
But getting behind the camera and making his own film is something he wants to do, and soon.
"Of course, Clint didn’t start directing ’til he was 39," he notes. "It’s funny, I never thought I’d do anything but acting. But the feeling of shepherding something to the very end is a much deeper, richer feeling than just coming in as a hired gun. I had that feeling a little bit with 'Good Will Hunting,' and I would just love to keep writing movies like that, directing movies like that. I know so many actors and have so many great friends who I can call up and say, 'Hey — let’s make a movie.'"