Cover Story

Bourne Again

Matt Damon breathes new life into ''Bourne'' -- After some questionable career moves, the actor makes a comeback with ''The Bourne Supremacy,'' the anticipated sequel to ''The Bourne Identity''

It's a doomsday-gray January morning in Berlin, where the sidewalks are covered in ice and the temperature is hovering at 1 degree Celsius. But the streets feel positively balmy compared with the Alexanderplatz subway station, where shivering rush-hour workers are racing for their trains. Lost in their own thoughts -- of a beach in Tahiti, if they're lucky -- they miss the occasional posted signs that say ''Bourne Supremacy,'' meant to direct the film crew to the correct platform. They ignore the dozens of men, dressed in Aspen-ready ski bibs, posed behind cameras. And if they occasionally glance up at the person the cameras are aimed at, it's only because he's wearing fuzzy earmuffs so dorky it looks like his mama's still dressing him for the playground.

The cameras begin to roll, the earmuffs come off, and a teeth-chattering Matt Damon rearranges his open features into the gaunt glare of Jason Bourne, the title character of 2002's ''The Bourne Identity,'' and now, its sequel. For five hours, no one stops to stare. Then three teenage girls, adrenally primed for excitement, finally catch the scent. At last, the shriek.

We know that Matt Damon is a movie star. We know this because if it gets $15 million paychecks like a star, and carries a franchise like a star, it must be a star. Now, if only someone would tell him that, maybe he'd learn to send out a frequency audible to pedestrians. He might even go back to his trailer and defrost, instead of stuffing heat packs in his gloves and stubbornly remaining on the platform, fraternizing with the crew and going over script notes with producer Frank Marshall and director Paul Greengrass. But that's not how Damon wants it. What Damon wants is to be seen as a beer-drinking, baseball-watching guy from Boston who just happens to be making interesting choices, even if they don't always work. And at least none of them, unlike those of his famous best friend, involve a trayful of Harry Winston diamonds.

As far as decisions go, saying yes to ''The Bourne Supremacy'' (opening July 23) seems like a no-brainer. The $65 million ''Bourne Identity,'' in which Damon played a laconic, amnesiac assassin who kicked, punched, and murdered his way through Europe, earned more than $121 million and became a best-selling DVD. The film also ended neatly with Bourne and his lady love, played by German actress Franka Potente, running off into the sunset. But as any thriller aficionado knows, no true hero gets to lie on a beach drinking pina coladas for very long.

So Bourne was called back to action for the $80 million sequel with Greengrass, who made the small 2002 Irish film ''Bloody Sunday,'' directing. (''Identity'' was helmed by Doug Liman, who had repeated clashes with the studio during filming.) Reteaming are ''Identity'' producer Marshall, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and costars Potente, Julia Stiles, and Brian Cox. As for Bourne? He's still on the run, and he's still a melancholy, taciturn enigma, which suits Damon just fine. ''Normally, I've played people searching for who they are,'' says the actor. ''This was the first time I played a guy where instead of struggling with his identity, he had a real sense of self. Then, well, then he forgot it.'' Damon might be able to relate -- this is a guy who, after all, said only seven years ago that if he ever made $10 million, he'd quit the game. ''Yeah, well, I would,'' he says with a grin. ''If they made me.''

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