Matt Damon is the quintessential Boston celebrity. By all accounts smart, talented, hardworking, and affable, he seems not to have changed much with the success that vaulted him from Cambridge boy to Oscar winner and beyond, which lets us think that even though he now hangs with the biggest names in the business, he's still one of us. But is he, really?
Damon lives in Manhattan now, and he admits he's lucky if he gets to spend a couple of weeks a year in his home state - this year being a rare exception because, beginning in midmonth, he'll be here filming Martin Scorsese's The Departed with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and fellow Bay Stater Mark Wahlberg. Technically, Damon isn't any more connected to Massachusetts at this point than, say, Uma Thurman, who most people forget was born in Boston and raised in Amherst. Still, he remains our guy because he embodies our ideals, the same way that his boyhood buddy and Good Will Hunting co-writer Ben Affleck became the antithesis of our guy when he put a pink rock the size of Plymouth on J.Lo's finger before enduring an embarrassing split.
"If [New Englanders] see somebody being flashy, they'll say he doesn't remember where he came from," Damon says of highfliers in general. "The values that people want to see me bring to my work are pretty simple; they're the kind of values that most people are raised with in Boston." Values that he's reminded of every time he shakes the hands of Hub residents, who he notes are actually quicker to approach him than fans he encounters anywhere else.
"Work hard, don't take it for granted, and if you fail, fail trying," Damon says when I ask what fans in Boston say to him. Their collective advice, he says: "'Keep it up, but don't embarrass me.' I think that's the unspoken contract."
And it's where Affleck probably should have read the fine print on his birth certificate, because as radio and TV personality Billy Costa points out sympathetically, the Pearl Harbor poster boy was huge for Boston, "but then he became a liability . . . and now we don't want to acknowledge him as one of ours."
Meanwhile, straight-arrow Damon gets grouped with those who do us proud -- names that in the old days would have included Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon, Leonard Bernstein, and Ruth Gordon, and these days might run from Errol Morris to Aerosmith.