The success demanded that Damon's part in the who's who-packed "Ocean's Twelve" be expanded. It also may have placed him on the radar of Martin Scorsese, who recently directed him in "The Departed," and Robert De Niro, who cast Damon in his latest directorial effort, "The Good Shepherd." The latter is on location now, putting Damon in his fifth CIA-themed film in three years. The next one, "Syriana," opens in November. "It's a total coincidence," Damon says. "They're all different films."
Damon conceded that his "Project Greenlight" reality series is "on a respirator," but he is busy acting anyway. So much that he has no time to write. He has not attempted a screenplay in earnest since "Good Will Hunting."
"It's not just an insecure desire to work while you can," he says. "I can't honestly look myself in the face and turn down any of these things offered. They're just too great, and if the only drawback is that I'm tired, then I can't say `I'm not gonna do that.'"
Damon lives most of the time in New York, but his spiritual home remains his native Boston, where the Red Sox reign as world champions after an 86-year drought.
"There's kind of this psychic calm because we won, and honestly I feel like I might be overstating it, but I felt that in my own life," he says.
Once upon a time, Damon and the Weinsteins were a happy, independent family. Damon believes they will be again.
"Every time I get out," he says, "they pull me back in."
"Matt's got this cute little nose," says director Terry Gilliam. "And it seemed inappropriate for his character, Will. He probably had to fight to protect his dreamer brother, Jake. So he would have gotten his nose broken."
Just days before beginning the shoot, the detail-mad director fashioned a very un-cute bump for Damon's schnozz - and was delighted with the results.
"The difference was astonishing! He looked like a young Marlon Brando," Gilliam says. "He even walked differently. Girls looked at him differently."
Geekily excited as they were to be on the Prague set of Gilliam's movie, Damon and Ledger were still somewhat unprepared for the experience. Instead of being the center of attention, the two found themselves merely a small part of a very large, very busy picture: crowds of extras, herds of livestock and elaborate sets.
"It's not like you're sitting in your corner, brooding about your character," Damon says. "You're just part of this larger choreography - everything has to go right. What was frustrating was when Heath and I had a really good take, and then the geese didn't cross from left to right, or something."
For Damon, the biggest challenge was slimming down. While shooting the Farrelly brothers movie "Stuck on You," the actor packed on nearly 30 extra pounds - not all of which he managed to shed before shooting "Grimm."
"There are actually shots from early on where I'm a good 20 pounds overweight," says Damon, who disguises the weight underneath elaborate period costumes and burly mutton chops.
Running a close second was Damon's love scene with an amphibian, an enchanted toad he has to lick to find his way out of the forest.
"Yeah, I'm living with the toad now," says Damon, in a very Gilliam-esque manner. "The toad and I lived happily ever after."
For his part, Damon says he was stunned the role was even available. He's been a Gilliam fan forever, with 1981's "Time Bandits" close to the top of his favorites. Gilliam recalls seeing Damon perform in a play in London and then, afterward, being buttonholed by him. According to the director, "He was funny, almost aggressive, in saying, 'Why aren't we working together?'"
''By his own admission, his specialty is creating worlds," Damon said. ''He oversees every detail, every little angle of the roofs of the buildings that were kind of off-kilter, those decisions all went through Terry. Maybe it's because he's an animator and he just sits there and sketches, but he's constantly refining the visuals on his movies. Each frame is packed so densely."
"I’m suddenly hot again," Damon says. "Before Ocean’s Eleven and The Bourne Identity I was pretty cool — I had a box-office slump with The Legend Of Bagger Vance and All the pretty horses. (But) this whole hot and cold thing is completely ridiculous and totally beyond an actor's control. It's a really insecure, bizarre profession and it’s compounded with the whole celebrity and fame thing."
Damon says he’s proud that celebrity hasn't blurred his artistic vision.
"There are a lot of people who get a taste of fame and are terrified of losing it," he says. "They try to protect it like a beachhead so they make really safe choices. I have refused to do that. If I'm going down, then I'm going down swinging."
It helps that Damon has made enough money that he doesn't need to work.
"I'm definitely one of the lucky ones," he says. "If you see me in a movie that doesn't work it's because I made a bad decision. There’s no trying to explain it away by saying I needed to pay the rent."