Matt Damon on "Promised
And His Clashing of Cultures
On Celebrating Christmas
The Road to Hollywood
versatile Matt Damon is Ilario in "Courage Under Fire," Rudy
in "The Rainmaker," Will in "Good Will Hunting," Private
Ryan in "Saving Private Ryan," Tom in "The Talented Mr.
Ripley," Rannulph in "The Legend of Bagger Vance," Steve
in "Finding Forrester," Linus in "Ocean's Twelve,"
Wilheim Grimm in "The Brothers Grimm," Bryan in "Syriana,"
Colin in "The Good Shepherd," Mark in "The Informant!"
Francois Pienaar in "Invictus," Miller in "Green Zone,"
George in "Hereafter," Mitch in "Contagion," Benjamin
in "We Bought a Zoo," "David in "The Adjustment Bureau,"
and while each of his performances are distinct and memorable, his character
of Jason Bourne, in the Bourne trilogy, has earned a permanent place among
some of the most exciting action film characters ever created.
Matt Damon co-wrote with
and stars in "Promised Land." Courtesy
An international movie star, Matt is also a devoted
husband and father and he and his wife Luciana Barroso have four daughters:
Alexia, Isabella, Gia, and Stella.
Matt recently sat down with a select group of journalists
to discuss, among other personal topics, his latest film "Promised
Land" which he co-wrote and co-stars in with John Krasinski. Directed
by Gus Van Sant, the film also features Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook,
and Rosemarie DeWitt, and explores the controversial subject of hydraulic
fracturing, or "fracking," a process of drilling and injecting
fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale
rocks to release natural gas inside.
The following has been edited for content and continuity
for print purposes.
John (Krasinski) and Matt
wrote every Saturday and Sunday while he was shooting "We
Bought A Zoo." Courtesy Photo.
What is the genesis of "Promised Land?"
Matt: Originally, John (Krasinski) had kicked
around ideas with Dave Eggers (story writer) and they had come
up with salesmen coming to a town to sell leases to drill for natural
gas and the story was starting to coalesce and they started to think
about these characters. Then Dave had to go write a book and John brought
this to me and we agreed to sit down and write it and see what happens.
We really wanted to write about American identity - where we've come
from, where we are now, and where we're headed. We knew we wanted a
hopeful ending and we wanted it to be a pro-community, pro-democracy
type of movie.
How did the collaboration work?
Matt: He was doing the show ("The Office")
and I was doing "We Bought A Zoo," so I was out in California
and John would show up Saturday mornings for breakfast. We would write
all day and then do it again on Sunday. Then during the week we would
revise on our own and scribble notes in the margins and then we would
come back and do it again. Within a couple of weeks it was clear that
we were really making progress and that we might actually make a movie.
The film attempts to present a balanced perspective
Photo by Scott Green/Courtesy of Focus Features.
You presented a very balanced perspective on fracking.
What kept you on that course?
Matt: We just didn't want to have an answer because
it wasn't about that. In the end my character (Steve Butler)
says, "This is your decision" and that's what why we didn't
show the outcome of the vote. He goes to this woman (Rosemarie DeWitt)
and is about to pitch her on a lease and she talks about not being the
one to let her land go and talks about the garden where she brings the
kids and he jokes "You're teaching farming kids how to garden?"
And she says, "I'm teaching them how to take care of something."
That idea of stewardship starts to get at him and he begins to feel
like the democratic process is being hijacked by corporate malfeasance.
Matt's character of Steve Butler tries at first
to convince the town that fracking is in their best interests. Photo
by Scott Green/Courtesy of Focus Features.
Is this a good way to get across the message across?
Matt: Maybe it's a way to start a conversation because
at the end the point is if you don't get involved in the decision, it's
going to get made for you and that true. But nobody wants to go see
a movie where they get a message so that really wasn't our intent. It
was just to show this moment in time in our country and the stakes when
big money collides with real people who are struggling on the back end
of a recession.
Did you know a lot about fracking?
Matt: I had seen stories on fracking but hadn't really
paid much attention to them. With four young kids, I just wasn't engaged
with that subject, but when it became a potential backdrop for our movie,
I started looking at it and the more we looked at it, the more we saw
how people were divided. For some, it is a temporary lifeline, but there
are potential downstream horrific outcomes. If you believe the energy
industry, there are potential downstream benefits that we can't even
imagine and geopolitical benefits. It's such a high stakes game, that
it's a perfect place to set a movie because it's about the decisions
we make as communities and taking responsibility and to show the human
side without making it a polemic.
"It's a very complex issue (fracking) and people
feel very strongly about it."
Photo by Scott Green/Courtesy of Focus Features.
What did your research reveal?
Matt: There are cases where people have refused to let
companies drill on their land and these guys have gone to a neighboring
property and came under their property taking it anyway (the natural
gas). Those are the conversations that are going on and the decisions
that a lot of these communities have to make are based on if they don't
do it, they're going to do it next door so if there is a downside, we'll
experience the downside anyway, and then there's obviously money in
the middle of it. You have a lot of people who have become millionaires
and did so to save their farms and to save their way of life. It's very
complex and people feel very strongly about it.
Matt's character meets with a town official to sell
him on the financial advantages
of fracking. Photo by Scott Green/Courtesy of Focus Features.
Did you get feedback from the local farmers in
Matt: The first day we were filming some farmers showed
up and asked if this was a movie about fracking and that we shouldn't
say anything bad about it. There were people from the other side saying
don't show a good side of this. It's terrible. It's ruining our water.
It's causing climate change. People are getting sick.
When you're in character, as the writer if you
hear a line that's not working how do you handle that?
Matt: If you and I were doing and scene and having a
conversation, if a line wasn't working, it wouldn't be working for both
of us. You'd feel it because something in the interaction wouldn't be
quite right. It's not like putting on a different hat because there's
so much overlap in all the disciplines, like writing and acting are
intertwined a lot of the time. It's really about problem solving and
I've come to look at it like a magic trick rather than when I started
out when I believed that I had to live everything and live it all the
time, but the more I learned about making films, the more I found that
it is a magic trick pulled off by the creative team involved in making
What's an example of making a shot work?
Matt: Let's say the shot is over my shoulder and it's
on you. Now if I'm angsting away, all I'm doing is screwing up the shot,
so the best thing I can do is to make sure I am exactly on my mark and
then just be locked on you giving you whatever you need because the
shot's about you and not about me.
So when can we do this? (laughter)
(Matt continues his previous thought)
Matt: I think acting becomes less selfish and the more
experience you have making movies, the less selfish you become about
Was it hard to let go of your original intention
to direct this film?
Matt: It was tough for me to give it up, but you know
the joke John (Krasinski) made was that my greatest contribution
as a producer was firing myself as the director and hiring Gus. (laughter)
I would have been away too long from my family and that would have distracted
me and I wouldn't have done a good job.
Do you have the same "giddiness" you
had when you first began your acting career and how has your outlook
Matt: I really love working. My life is different from
fifteen years ago, but my love of doing this hasn't changed at all and
I feel equally giddy to go to work and feel unbelievably lucky to work
with people like (Steven) Soderbergh or Clint, (Eastwood)
or Paul Greengrass. I've become more convinced fifteen years later that
it's a director's medium and the most important choice is the director.
I use to think script, director, and role and I do look at the role,
and do I have something to bring to it, but it's really for me about
working with the director. A great director can make a mediocre script
into a great film, but a bad director will make a great script into
a mediocre film.
Matt with his wife Luciana Barroso, (far right)
and their four daughters.
Will you put directing on the back burner until
the kids are older?
Matt: I could take them and we could go on an adventure
together somewhere. Originally this was supposed to be shot in New York.
We were going to try to do it in the zone which meant I could live at
home and then as we started looking at stuff, we realized we were going
to either go upstate or go to Pennsylvania so I would have been twelve
weeks away in pre-production, six or seven weeks shooting and then I
could have posted it (post production) and stayed at home and
edited it wherever the kids were, but still it was too much.
Matt and his wife worked out their cultural
differences on how to celebrate Christmas. Courtesy
You're married to a woman (Luciana Barroso) from
a different culture. Does it effect how you celebrate the holidays?
Matt: A big difference is they celebrate Christmas Eve
and we celebrate Christmas Day and so we have this bizarre Christmas
fusion where the kids open a bunch of presents after dinner on Christmas
Eve and then again on Christmas morning. We're basically working it
out, but it's a win win for the kids. (laughter) When I met my
wife I was like Christmas Eve, what are you crazy? Who wants to get
up on Christmas morning? What do we tell the kids - that Santa Claus
came while we were having dinner? (laughter) And what does that
teach them? This guy is working his ass off flying around the world
and we don't even invite him to sit down and eat with us? (laughter)
That's not a good lesson.
Are your children bi-lingual?
Matt: Some of them are. My two-year-old is bi-lingual.
My four-year-old is not. We've been reading about how to do it and are
still learning, so we've been hit or miss, but now we're very rigorous
with our two-year-old. I speak a little Spanish but you really want
one parent speaking one language and the other speaking the other language.
I keep dreaming that Pedro Almodovar will give me a job (laughter)
and I can go to a Spanish-speaking country and bring the kids. Spanish
was my wife's first language and she went to kindergarten not speaking
English because both her parents spoke Spanish in the house and she
learned English right away. She was raised in Florida and here in southern
California and you wouldn't think she spoke Spanish if you talked to
her. So she's truly bi-lingual. So the kids hear a lot of Spanish around
the house. They know more Spanish than they even think they know, but
the only one really speaking it is our two-year-old.
Matt Damon starred as the iconic Jason Bourne in
the Bourne trilogy. Courtesy photo.
I can't resist asking this question. Is Jason
Bourne out of your psyche?
Matt: No. I want to do another one. We were very close
to making one a few years ago but we just couldn't crack the story.
The studio made a deal with the estate that they had to get a Jason
Bourne movie out for 2012 so when we couldn't figure out a story, they
figured out another way to get a Jason Bourne movie out so they wouldn't
be in breach of their contract with the estate and that's when Tony
(writer Tony Gilroy) came up with the idea of doing one with
Jeremy (Renner) and that's what they did. But, I talk to Paul
(director Paul Greengrass) about it occasionally and it's really
just a question of how do you bring a character back and is there a
movie as good as the other three we did. If we felt like there was,
then we'd do it, but we haven't cracked it yet. I gave it to Jonah Nolan
who did such a beautiful job with the Batman mythology and met with
him. He took a month to work on it but came back and said he can't figure
out how to do it. We intended it to be a trilogy so the question is
how do you get that character going again.
What gets you out of bed every morning and are
you in fear of ever losing "it?"
Matt: Kids literally get me out of bed. (laughter)
The important things I have and as far as my career
what happened to Ben (Affleck). He got put into actor jail for
a while but we always felt we could write our way out of that. We came
from nowhere, but if you can write, you can write yourself a part and
that's what Ben did. He did it once with "Good Will Hunting,"
and then again with "The Town" and now "Argo," so
that gives me hope that no matter what happens there's always that fall