Doane Gregory
Josh Wolk
December 22, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

As a pioneer of participatory “new journalism,” George Plimpton dabbled in such careers as professional football (“Paper Lion”), baseball (“Out of My League”) and boxing (“Shadow Box”). Each time, however, he quit his temporary job as soon as the ink was dry on his writing, with one exception: acting. Most recently, Plimpton plays a stuffy psychiatrist in “Good Will Hunting.”

So far, Plimpton has appeared in 16 feature films, including “Rio Lobo,” “Reds,” “Little Man Tate” and “Nixon.” “I think I’ve been in more films than I’ve written books, I’m ashamed to say,” Plimpton tells EW Online. Reading his C.V. aloud, he is mystified by some of his own credits. “‘Easy Wheels’?” Plimpton says quizzically of a 1989 biker-flick parody.

Back in 1962, Plimpton began his acting career on the set of “Lawrence of Arabia” in Jordon, where he had gone to write an article. Even though he never got to interview director David Lean, who bellowed at him to get off his sand dune, Plimpton won a role as a Bedouin extra. His scene was cut from the film, but his second career flourished nonetheless. “Producers would think that I was going to write about their projects,” Plimpton says, “so they were happy to give me small roles.”

With his usual self-confidence, Plimpton admits, “I like acting, and I think I’m fairly good at it.” Still, the sometimes-thespian suffers from one limitation: stage fright. While shooting 1995’s “Just Cause,” Plimpton repeatedly slipped up during a long speech, provoking stern words from Sean Connery. Finally, his lines had to be written on cue cards. In “Nixon,” the line “The charges against you are very serious” gave Plimpton trouble, earning him another rebuke, this time from Oliver Stone.

But the pressure seemed to vanish while filming “Good Will Hunting.” His scene with Matt Damon went off without a hitch. “Everyone was so comfortable to work with,” Plimpton recalls. “Matt Damon and [director] Gus Van Sant and I kicked around some ideas, and they were very agreeable to my suggestions.”

Currently, Plimpton is remaining near the cinema, if not in frame, by writing a script for director Whit Stillman (“Barcelona”). It’s a love story set in Paris in the 1950s. But Plimpton’s ever ready to get back into the spotlight. “I hope my talking about this gets me more roles,” he says. “Because my palm is out right now.”

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