The Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon is dealing with two issues here at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. One is a trivial byproduct of the frenetic and high-paced networking that underpins this gathering of the world's global elite. The other is a matter of life and death. The trivial first.
"I was at a dinner surrounded by all these incredible people, and when I turned to the guy next to me and asked him what he did (for a living), he said he was the prime minister of Finland," the star of the Bourne film series told USA TODAY on Thursday, clearly bemused that he failed to recognize a head of state.
Damon's interest and commitment to the issue appears beyond dispute. "This is my one hobby outside of making films," he said Thursday in Davos. "It's my other job."
He said he did not know exactly how much time he spends working for Water.org, but he suspected that it was at least 10%. "It comes in bursts," he said. "It's not really possible to do a quick trip to India."
Speaking to USA TODAY on the sidelines of the WEF on Thursday, Richard Branson, the British serial entrepreneur behind the various Virgin companies including Virgin Galactic spaceflights, said: "I think it is wonderful that Matt Damon is using his profile and connections to campaign on this important issue. I also hope he is continuing his toilet strike," a reference to a humorous -- yet masking a serious point -- pledge that Damon made in February last year saying he would not use the bathroom until the world's water crisis was solved. Branson also made the pledge.
In a USA TODAY brokered riposte, Damon said Thursday that he saw Branson coming out of a Davos men's room.
"Film stars are often in the fortunate position of being able to offer their help on any number of issues affecting the world, and sometimes, they scatter themselves too widely," said WaterAid's Winder. "But Damon's had a very admirable focus on water, and you'd have to say the industry as a whole is grateful."
U.S. actor Matt Damon received the "Crystal Award" from your foundation on Tuesday because he is committed to ensuring that all people have access to water. Why Damon?
Schwab: We single out artists who are outstanding in their field, but are also committed, for example to society or the environment. The idea came together with the late violin virtuoso Lord Yehudi Menuhin, who often came to Davos, played here and was a good friend. We agreed: We want people 'who have both - excellent artist and social activist.
There was talk a few years ago it was the Hollywood WEF, as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Sharon Stone and others stole the show.
We now choose the stars from a little more carefully. We do not want anyone who is portrayed by the media as only a star. Angelina Jolie is a great actress and a superstar, but enjoys too much media attention, although she is also very involved in the humanitarian field.
And Matt Damon?
He is also a great artist. But less hip.
The WEF participants stormed the event with him...
Yes, but as soon as he talks about his projects, the stardom is gone. He is someone who is worried that all children get clean water.
If he was not a star, not so many people would be interested in the issue.
Exactly. He has the ability to arouse wide interest.
Why are Hollywood stars engaged?
These are people who have achieved a lot. And who travel a lot. So they come in contact with misery, poverty and even war. Some are touched by it and they say to themselves, I'm famous, have status, a lot of money, all I want, so I must act. Some give money, some get personally involved. And when they see how they can make a difference, they get the greatest satisfaction.