The Strong Violent Type

Image credit: Jasin Boland

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before The Bourne Identity came along you'd just done All the Pretty Horses and Bagger Vance, neither of which did well. You kind of needed a hit.
MATT DAMON: That was the end of my run after Good Will Hunting. It was 2002 and the offers really stopped coming.... I'd had two movies that didn't open well, and a third in the can, which had horrible word of mouth: The Bourne Identity. It was delayed for a year, it had all these rounds of reshoots, and the word around town was that it was terrible.

So it was a pretty grim time?
Yeah, but I always felt like, ''I don't need to sit here and wait for someone to give me a good script. If I'm in trouble I'll go write one.'' [Damon and Ben Affleck won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting.] But I did take note that offers had completely stopped coming to me. Then I went to London to do a play [This Is Our Youth] and had a great time. We closed the weekend Bourne opened, and I got a call saying Bourne was going to make $25 or $27 million opening weekend and everyone in L.A. was going crazy. I flew home on Sunday, and by Monday I had 15 or 20 movie offers. Bourne gave me the freedom to do all of these other riskier movies like Syriana and The Good Shepherd. And if you're gonna do a sellout movie, it's great if it's this.

On the first Bourne, director Doug Liman clashed with the studio, which explains why he wasn't back for the second one. How bad did it get?
As an actor, my job is to back my director. That's the horse you start the race with and that's the horse you finish with. It was tough. I think what happened ultimately is Doug's process, which yielded them such great results in the end, was so frustrating for them because it was so chaotic.

But it sounds like this new one was just as chaotic.
I know, it's kind of ironic! Paul can marshal all the things together and get them done quicker. If Doug has a drop-dead release date, he'll ignore it just because he won't compromise his creative process. I admire that. But he's a suit's nightmare.

Between The Good Shepherd and Bourne and The Departed and Ocean's, this is kind of your moment.
It's like being on a good wave and hoping it lasts. I'm really happy with The Departed and The Good Shepherd. I love that movie and that we got to make it the way Bob [De Niro] wanted. The whole culture of awards and what people say is good is f---ing bulls---. The only way to judge a movie is 10 years down the line. I think they should do the Oscars that way. I wish this year we were voting on 1997.

L.A. Confidential, Best Picture...
That's right! Sometimes you take an old movie out and watch it and you're like, ''That person won an Oscar?!''

NEXT PAGE: ''My bachelorhood was kind of squandered making movies''

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