Matt Damon: ‘Bourne’ to run

Photo by John White/Chicago Sun-Times

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 9, 2002

Matt Damon has portrayed All American boys (“Good Will Hunting,” “All the Pretty Horses”), gaunt junkie soldiers (“Courage Under Fire”) and creepy thin killers (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”). But unlike his good friend Ben Affleck, who showed off his action hero prowess in “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and “The Sum of all Fears,” Damon has been slow to capitalize on his hunk factor.

But “The Bourne Identity,” opening Friday, will in all likelihood catapult Damon into the realm of action heroes. In it, he shows off a rock hard body that’s as agile as Jet Li’s. But he doesn’t slack off as a musclehead. Instead, the Oscar winner inhabits the character’s psyche to dig through his emotional turmoil.

“I wanted to do this movie because Doug Liman [of ‘Swingers’ and ‘Go’ fame] was directing it,” says Damon, 31. “It’s a genre movie, but because he’s from the independent film world, I knew his vision was really unique for this genre. He’s obviously not afraid to buck the system and I have to say I’m really proud of the way it came out. It’s a little smarter than the average action film.”

Based on Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller, “The Bourne Identity” stars Damon as Jason Bourne, who wakes up with two bullet wounds and no memory of who he is. Slowly, he beings to remember. When he is accosted by police officers in Switzerland, he realizes he is multilingual and able to speak to them in German. When he is nudged with a billy club, his reflexes kick in and he expertly disarms them. Bourne maneuvers down the outside of buildings with the ease of Spider-Man. He can navigate a tin can of an automobile like a racecar driver. And he has perfect aim.

He’s obviously a spy. Or is he? You may assume many things about Bourne, but you really don’t know who he is until he does. But like Marie (played by the wonderful German actress Franka Potente), moviegoers want to suspend their belief in reality and believe in Bourne.

While he’s not certain he’d be as trusting as Marie, Damon says he relates to her willingness to accept him.

“I often place unconditional trust in other people,” he says. “I’m definitely an optimist in all my relationships. I tend to put myself in a position to be burned, but then I don’t get burned again from that particular person. It’s a better way for me to live. I get more out of it and am happily surprised more often than not.

“I’ve flown halfway around the world to see a family or friends for a day. When I hear people complaining about not being able to have a long distance relationship with someone in New York, I want to scream, ‘It’s a two-hour flight, you wuss! You should be prepared to fly all around the world.’ ”

Not that he’s revealing who’s traveled for, but he has a non-movie star girlfriend (Affleck’s former personal assistant Odessa Whitmore) who accompanied him a few days ago to Chicago. But he is not engaged, as rumor has it. Nor has he ever dated Affleck’s ex, Gwyneth Paltrow, for whom he has nothing but nice things to say.

“She’s so bright and beautiful that if you stand next to her, no one even notices you’re there,” says the actor, who stands 5-foot-11. “When she’s got heels on, she towers over me so I’m not sure she knows I’m there, either.”

Today, Damon looks more spiffy than spy. Wearing a grey Kenneth Cole shirt, faded blue jeans and black shoes, Damon still looks young enough to be carded. Seated on a love seat at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, he lights up the first of two cigarettes and enjoys a second cup of coffee.

“I’ve never released a movie in the summer before, except for ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and that was very different obviously,” says Damon. “It’s weird ’cause we’re a $60 million film, which is a lot of money by my standards, but these other movies are way over $100 million. We’re kind of like the little engine that could compared to Spielberg and those guys.”

Those guys, being “Spider-Man,” “Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones” and Spielberg’s upcoming “Minority Report,” which stars Tom Cruise.

” ‘Minority Report’ is going to be a great movie,” he says. “Steven is a prodigy who grew into somebody who has an incredible wealth of experience now, so he’s basically a person who can basically do anything.”

Laughing, Damon adds, “But I hope people still go see my movie instead of ‘Minority Report.’ ”

We’re used to seeing Cruise tackle the bad guys. But perhaps because Damon has rarely played this kind of hero before, he is all that much more believable as the tough guy. His face has little residue of the baby fat that was visible just a few years ago, but it still projects the type of vulnerability that makes women’s hearts skip a beat.

Men should be mighty impressed with Damon’s willingness to not wuss out on screen.
“Nick Powell, who choreographed ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Gladiator,’ is English, and they have a different way of doing fight scenes than Americans,” says Damon. “The American theory is you never come within 18 inches of the other person, because if you put the camera in the right place and the person snaps their head and sells it, it’s believable.

“Nick’s theory was the actors were to come as close as you possibly can without hitting the other person. There were many accidents. We did six weeks of rehearsals just for the fighting, so it almost became like a dance. Except we got hit.”
Damon doesn’t pretend his movie martial arts prowess would ever translate into a real world brawl, but he’d put his money on Jason Bourne to kick any other movie character’s butt.

“Not a lot of people could take him,” Damon says. “He’s a pretty tough guy.”

Apparently, so is Damon.

*****

MATT DAMON ON…

Steven Spielberg: “Boy, that’s tough to boil him down to one sentence. I am in awe of how many decisions he can make in such a short time. I used to joke with him that he made six decisions every 10 seconds. That’s not far from the truth.”

Director Kevin Smith: “[Laughs.] He’s an [expletive deleted]. I love Kevin. I’m in every one of his movies. Although, Ben [Affleck] is the lead in his new one, ‘Jersey Girl,’ and I don’t think there’s a part for me. I was over at his house a couple months ago for a birthday party he was hosting and I was bitching about that to him.”

His starring role in the London play “This is Our Youth”: “I only have four more performances left. I’ve done it so many times, but the trick is not to take it for granted. When I was flying over to Chicago, I ran the first act again in my head. I don’t want to get back out on stage and totally forget it.”

“Project Greenlight”:  “It got picked up again for next year. We’re going to hopefully do a better job of it and make everyone happy.”

Post-Oscar Pressure Syndrome: “That was four years ago. There’s no more pressure to follow up.”

Robin Williams: “I have the highest regard for him. It just makes me happy when I think of him for so many reasons, not the least of which is that his participating in ‘Good Will Hunting’ made the movie. Ben and I will always owe him so much for that.”

“Will and Grace”: “I want to go back on and guest star again. But one of the problems is I developed a television show called ‘Pushing Nevada’ that got picked up, and that’s going to be on opposite ‘Will and Grace.’ So I don’t think I’ll be able to go do that again.”

“Ocean’s Eleven”: “If Steven Soderbergh calls, you go do whatever he asks. I would’ve done a much smaller role in that film.”

A reporter’s ability to disarm him with a pen (as his character does in “Bourne Identity”): “You probably could. But I’m holding a cup of coffee.”

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