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Actor Matt Damon

He is touring the country promoting his new film, The Bourne Identity, a thriller about a man with amnesia flushed out of the Mediterranean sea, riddled with bullet holes. Damon has been in many hit films, including The Talented Mr Ripley, Saving Private Ryan and Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote with close friend Ben Affleck.

44:15

Other segments from the episode on June 19, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 19, 2002: Interview with Matt Damon; Review of the Hives' album "Veni Vidi Vicious."

Transcript

DATE June 19, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Matt Damon discusses his role in the new movie "The
Bourne Identity" and his career
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Matt Damon, is one of the most popular actors of his generation.
He's starred in such films as "The Rainmaker," "Saving Private Ryan," "The
Talented Mr. Ripley," "All the Pretty Horses" and "Good Will Hunting," for
which he also won an Oscar for the screenplay he wrote with his longtime
friend Ben Affleck.

"The Bourne Identity" is based on a spy novel by Robert Ludlum. As the
film opens, Damon's character is adrift in the Mediterranean Sea, where he is
rescued by fishermen. He has amnesia and has no recollection of what happened
to him or who he is. His only clues are a couple of bullets in his back and a
Swiss bank account number on microfilm surgically implanted in his hip. He
goes to the Swiss bank and finds a safe deposit box, which contains lots of
cash, a gun and several passports with his photo, but different names. In
this scene, he's talking to a woman, played by Franka Potente, who is helping
him find his way.

(Soundbite of "The Bourne Identity")

Mr. MATT DAMON (As Jason Bourne): Who has a safety deposit box full of money
and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I
come in here, and the first thing I'm doing is I'm catching the sight lines
and looking for an exit.

Ms. FRANKA POTENTE: I see the exit sign, too. I'm not worried. I mean, you
were shot. People do all kinds of and amazing stuff when they're scared.

Mr. DAMON (As Jason Bourne): I can tell you the license plate numbers of all
six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy
sitting up at the counter weighs 215 pounds and knows how to handle himself.
I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside.
And at this altitude, I can run flat-out for a half-mile before my hands start
shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I
am?

GROSS: Since the character of Jason Bourne doesn't know who he is and isn't
very talkative, Matt Damon had to rely on Bourne's physical bearing to get
into character. Damon trained in boxing and martial arts in preparation.

Mr. DAMON: You know, I try to get at least three months of prep time to just
try to live the life that the character that I'm playing lives, and I'm really
selfish about that time, and it's like my time, and it's usually the best part
of the experience, is the research, because nobody else is around, and I'm
kind of allowed to go as far afield as I want to, and it changes with every
project.

GROSS: Well, you had to get bigger and stronger for this movie and look like
you were comfortable with guns and beating people up and so on. But for other
movies, you've had to diminish a little bit. Like for "The Talented Mr.
Ripley," you got thinner...

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: ...and had to look more physically uncomfortable in your body.

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: And for "Courage Under Fire," you had to lose a lot of weight and, you
know, look unhealthy. Is it ever alienating to see your body as an instrument
that you're constantly having to change? You know, that whole mind-body
disconnect.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: So like when your mind is always telling your body that it has
to change, is that ever alienating?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Yeah. It can be frustrating, because all that work that
goes into it, you know, as I was saying, it's, you know, something that I love
to do, but it's also really lonely, especially when you're doing things like
losing, you know, weight like that. And that was actually, I think, something
that, kind of going back to that time I like to take before a movie, that's
something that really helps me, because I think, you know, the situation like
"Ripley," where I was running a lot and not eating a lot and was physically
uncomfortable, combined with the fact that I was playing piano, and by nature,
I'm not a musician. It was very frustrating and very lonely to be sitting
there and playing the piano for all those hours for months. It affected the
way that I sat. It affected the way that I walked. And it really affected
kind of, I think, you know, emotionally, the way that I was really starved for
kind of human connection, which is very much at the center of that character,
the acceptance that he's longing for, and I think in some way, like just those
months of preparing and of doing those things that he would have done really
informed the performance.

GROSS: You know, I read that for "Courage Under Fire," when you had to lose
weight, you not only starved yourself, but you used laxatives. Now that
can't be very healthy.

Mr. DAMON: Actually, laxatives I used after I started eating again, because I
did it unsupervised, and so all I was doing was I would run 13 miles every day
and I would eat chicken and egg whites and vegetables and one to two baked
potatoes every day for my carbohydrates. But I would run six and a half miles
in the morning and then six and a half at night. And by the end of it, when
my body really started kind of eating itself, like eventually your muscle
just--you're consuming muscle at the end. There's no fat left, really, to
consume. And I was just so tired, I just remember I would wake up in the
morning, I would sit up in my bed--we were in Austin, Texas, shooting--and I
would immediately fall back over because I would get faint. So that was how I
was working out at the end.

I mean, it was stupid and it was unsupervised. And, you know, look, I mean, I
was low down on the totem pole. The studio wasn't going to spend, you know,
1,500 bucks for me to have a trainer. I mean, but I also knew that it was a
chance for me to get more work if I played the role, if I was honest and true
in the role, then somebody would take notice, anybody, you know.

GROSS: Did Robert De Niro create this thing, where like after "Raging Bull,"
you had to put on weight or take off weight or physically change in some
amazing way?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. I'm sure he--I mean, I grew up, you know, with that, seeing
"Raging Bull" and loving that performance in that movie. And, you know, I was
25 when I did "Courage Under Fire," and it was, you know, the young man's kind
of swagger in saying, `Look, you know, this is what I'm willing to do.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DAMON: `This is what I'll put my body through. This is what'--because
the people that you really, you know, idolize did it, too. And it's also this
kind of weird--you know, living out in Los Angeles and not being able to get
acting work, you know, it's a weird way of saying, you know, `No matter what
happens, nobody's ever going to tell me that there's anybody out here with
more discipline or who will give up more, you know, will sacrifice more for
their job than me.' And I don't know, we kind of cling to it...

GROSS: So what'd you get for it?

Mr. DAMON: What's that?

GROSS: What'd you get for it, for all the sacrifice?

Mr. DAMON: Sick. I got sick. And, you know, eventually when I went back to
Boston, yeah, the doctor put me on two different kinds of medication, and he
said I'd really done some bad things to my body. He checked me out and the
first thing he said was, `The only good thing I can tell you is that your
heart didn't shrink.'

GROSS: Jeez.

Mr. DAMON: And then he told me I could never do it again.

GROSS: That's an option? Whoa.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Well, your heart's a muscle, so if I'd kept up with it,
you know, obviously that's--I mean, that's what happens to people with
anorexia and, you know, eventually their bodies just shut down. But, you
know, my big master plan of having people take notice, the movie came out and
I was living in Somerville, Massachusetts, with Ben and his brother Casey, and
we were hoping that "Good Will Hunting" was going to get going. We'd written
it already, and it had been sold to Castle Rock and then gone into turnaround
and was at Miramax. And we moved back to Boston with the expectation that we
were going to make the movie, and it got stalled and, you know, studio
politics and all that stuff, and it didn't look like it was getting made.

And I was on this medication, and the reviews for "Courage Under Fire" came
out, and none of them mentioned me at all. And that was when I just said,
`You know what? This is ridiculous, you know,' but it was heartbreaking for
me. It was really heartbreaking.

GROSS: Matt Damon is my guest, and he's starring in the new movie "The Bourne
Identity," which is based on the Robert Ludlum spy novel.

As we mentioned, you studied martial arts for the movie and gunplay and all
that, and you do a lot of fighting in this...

Mr. DAMON: Right, right.

GROSS: ...a lot of self-defense and offense as well. Now I read that your
mother, who's a child developmental psychologist--do I have that right?

Mr. DAMON: Right, a professor of early childhood development.

GROSS: Now I read that she has always been opposed to, like, war toys and
playing with guns and things like that.

Mr. DAMON: Very much so, yeah.

GROSS: So what was it like for you having been brought up in that kind of
environment, where you're discouraged from playing with guns? And now
professionally, what you have to do is pretend like you're really good at
fighting.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. No. It's an interesting--you know, my mom saw the movie
the other day, and, you know, it's definitely not her type of movie. I mean,
I don't think she's ever seen an action movie, so I don't think she could
compare it to anything. But what gets her--actually, one of our family
friends came walking up to her after and jokingly said, `That's what you get
for not letting your kids play with guns.' But seriously, you know, in terms
of movies, she's most upset about the rating system, and...

GROSS: Oh, that it's sex and not violence or...

Mr. DAMON: That it's--yeah. Well, the entertainment violence, what they call
the entertainment violence, and then there's no one to really, you know,
police it, because, obviously, the exhibitors aren't going to turn away people
who are showing up with money, and the studios want as many people to see it
as possible. So it's hard to create, it's hard to figure out a way to
legislate against, you know, kids seeing stuff that they shouldn't see.

GROSS: Is she angry at you for doing an action film?

Mr. DAMON: Well, I tried to explain to her that this is--you know, I'm going,
`Mom, it's more like a European movie. It's a character-driven action movie.'
And she got it. I mean, you know, I think she thought it should have been
rated R, you know--her opinion of "The Bourne Identity" was, you know, that it
should have been rated R. And when we were talking the themes and the...

GROSS: As opposed to PG-13...

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: ...which is what it got.

Mr. DAMON: Right. And when we were talking about the themes and, you know,
this guy's search for who he is, and at the end when, you know, the choice
that he makes and how he's, you know, searching for redemption in kind of the
only place that he can and, you know, it's kind of dark and, you know, it
doesn't vindicate him. And, you know, we were talking about it and she said,
`Well, these are adult themes, and that's, you know, why the movie should be
rated R.' And it just sent her into a whole thing about the rating system in
general.

Like for instance, in "All the Pretty Horses," when I did that movie, there's
this very graphic scene in which I stab a guy in prison. The movie got a
PG-13 rating. And my mom was saying at the time it should have had a PG-15
rating, but I was advocating for it to get a PG-13 rating, and I wrote a
letter, which I don't know if Miramax ever sent to Jack Valenti, but I wrote
him a very long letter describing, you know, there are two murders that occur
in that movie, one occurs off-screen. It's the killing of Blevins, which is,
you know, signified by a gunshot that happens off-screen. And the other one
is the stabbing, which is a very intense, very hysterical and violent act, but
the next hour of the movie--or what should have been the next hour, it was
probably the next 10 minutes in the studio's version--was this guy trying to
come to grips with both these violent acts.

And at any rate, so Mom's point isn't that there shouldn't be violence in
movies. Violence is a part of the human condition, and it's not to be
ignored, and movies are about conflict at the end of the day, but that just
has to be handled in a way in which, you know, you see the consequences for...

GROSS: Were you able to see action films or horror films when you were
growing up?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah, yeah. And loved them. Yeah.

GROSS: She had no problem with that or you just did it in spite of her?

Mr. DAMON: No. I think she tried to encourage our tastes and encourage our
play. And, you know, for instance, you know, she would give us very
open-ended tools to, you know, play with, whatever, blocks or something or
build your own whatever. And from a very early age, my brother, who's now a
sculptor and a painter, he's a terrific artist. But when we were kids, he
would make costumes for me, and I derived pleasure out of acting out what
these things were, so my mother claims that from a very early age, she knew
that he was an artist and I was an actor.

GROSS: My guest is Matt Damon. He's starring in the new film "The Bourne
Identity." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Matt Damon is my guest, and he's now starring in the spy film "The
Bourne Identity," which is based on a Robert Ludlum novel.

Now you met Ben Affleck when you were about 10. Did he want to act, too? I
mean, was the desire to act part of the basis of your friendship?

Mr. DAMON: Definitely. Well, he was acting. He was known in Cambridge as
the professional actor, because he was on this PBS series called "The Voyage
of the Mimi," which was an educational TV show...

GROSS: Right. I know that.

Mr. DAMON: ...that was on PBS, and they used it as a tool in schools. And so
as far as everyone in our neighborhood was concerned, he was a huge movie
star, and he was like a, you know--and so Ben was probably in the Screen
Actors Guild when he was eight, you know.

GROSS: Wow.

Mr. DAMON: We lived two blocks from each other, but we really became friends
in high school, when he got to high school. So I was 15 or 16 when he got
there, and he was 14. And then we fashioned--yeah--a very, very deep bond,
and a lot of it was based on what we both wanted to do. I mean, it's a weird
thing looking back, in meeting 16-year-olds or meeting 14-year-olds, you know,
at the age of 31 and going, `God, that was what'--he and I were flying to New
York together at that age. Because my parents didn't support the idea that I
would do this professionally at that age. They didn't say that I couldn't do
it. They never did things like that, but they said they wouldn't pay for me
to go to New York to audition for things. And so I did a local commercial in
Boston. Ben and I went and got cast in a local commercial in Boston.

GROSS: Wait, I'm going to interject. I think it was a TJ Maxx commercial.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah, it was. It was.

GROSS: You get the max for the minimum at TJ Maxx.

Mr. DAMON: The max for the minimum at TJ Maxx. And we got cut out of the
commercial, but we still got paid.

GROSS: Did you have to sing or try on coats or what?

Mr. DAMON: No. I forget. I think we were sitting in a cafeteria table, and
a pretty girl walked by and we had to look at her and then look at each other
like, `Isn't it great to be back in school?' or something like that. It was
like a back-to-school ad.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. DAMON: But we opened up a bank account and put the money in, and we
called it like, you know, our business bank account. But the money was for
trips to New York, you know, on the old Pan Am shuttle or on the train or on
the bus.

GROSS: So what'd you do on that first trip to New York?

Mr. DAMON: First trip to New York, first time I went to New York with Ben was
to meet his agent. He had, you know, an agent, a little ma-and-pa agency in
New York that I remember it like it was yesterday, flying to New York and
getting to New York and being overwhelmed, and Ben was really the leader in
that, because I'd never been to New York. I'd never been there for one, and
I'd never been many places without parental supervision. So to be walking
around the streets of New York, you know, with your best friend, yeah, we just
felt like the kings of the world. And then went in, and I remember being very
nervous in meeting with this agent, and they signed me, you know, which
luckily, it didn't amount to anything over the next three years that I was
with them or two years that I was represented by them. I don't think--you
know, I probably had three or four auditions, but I felt like, you know, I had
people in New York, you know, and so I think that calmed me down and allowed
me to kind of focus on school and more important, in retrospect, social things
that had a far bigger influence on the actor that I am now.

GROSS: So you got an agent and you felt like really hot stuff?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. Did you brag a lot to your friends?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Ben and I just were probably so aloof when we were
then--you know, we used to have what we called business lunches, and we would
sit there and, I mean, say things--you know, we would just sit down and go,
`So how's business?' you know. We didn't have anything to talk about, but I
think it was just, you know, a few years of sitting there and, you know,
having these kind of faux serious lunches, you know. I guess we just talked
about, you know, some day, we'll get good roles and, you know, we're not going
to be sitting in this cafeteria forever.

GROSS: Were you involved in high school drama productions?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah, very heavily, both of us were. And we had an incredible
teacher named Jerry Specka(ph), who was just, you know, like an angel as far
as we're concerned. And a lot of the plays he wrote. The way in which he
wrote actually is the same way that Ben and I wrote "Good Will Hunting." You
know, it was all about improvisation, and he would kind of collect all that
stuff and somehow make it into a coherent play.

GROSS: You ended up going to Harvard.

Mr. DAMON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You grew up in Cambridge. That wasn't far to go.

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: Far to go intellectually, but not geographically.

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: And then you left, I think, during or before your senior year...

Mr. DAMON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...to work.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. I left a few times. I left in the second semester of my
sophomore year to do a TNT movie, and then I came back and then left to do
"School Ties" and then came back again and then left to do a movie called
"Geronimo." "Geronimo"...

GROSS: I'm one of the few people who saw that.

Mr. DAMON: Oh, you're the one. Yeah. Which was a great experience. And...

GROSS: A Walter Hill film.

Mr. DAMON: Walter Hill, yeah, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DAMON: And that was a great experience. I mean, I got to work with
Duvall and, you know, Gene Hackman. I didn't really get to work with Gene
Hackman, but, you know, I shook his hand, and he said, `What's your name?' and
I said, `Matt Damon,' and he said, `Mark, great to meet you.' But at any
rate--and Jason Patrick also, who's a really, really incredibly disciplined
actor and a very serious guy and was really good for me to meet at that age
because I was 22 or 23. And had I been exposed to somebody who wasn't as
disciplined and severe a guy, I, you know, could have, you know--I was, you
know, prone to idolizing these people because they were doing what I wanted to
do. And, you know, I probably would have followed, you know, somebody who was
less disciplined, you know, down a silly path.

GROSS: Right. One of the first theatrically released films that you were in
was "Mystic Pizza," in which you had, I think, one line.

Mr. DAMON: One line.

GROSS: Do you remember the line?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. It was, `Mom, you want my green stuff?'

GROSS: Right. OK. So now there are many different ways you could say that.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm sure you wanted to make as big an impression as possible with that
one line. What did you do to prepare for this one line, or to figure out
exactly what your line reading was going to be, to try to make it count as
much as possible?

Mr. DAMON: You know, we were eating lobster in this scene. And it was
supposed to be Julia Roberts was coming back to dinner to meet, you know, her
rich boyfriend's family. And I was her rich boyfriend's little brother. And
we're all eating this big lobster dinner. And it's just the family making
small talk at the beginning of the scene. And I say, `Mom, you want my green
stuff?' meaning the tomalley in the lobster. And the line was actually, `Mom,
do you want my black stuff?'--the line in the original script is `Mom, you
want my black stuff?' And I remember I probably said, `Mom, do you want my
black stuff?' in my room about, you know, a thousand times before I drove down
to "Mystic" with my mother. And when I got there, they had, you know, changed
the line to, `Mom, you want my green stuff?' And I remember being thrown for
a second. And then I went, `Wait a minute. This doesn't change anything.'

So, yeah, I just remember that experience being like, you know, just
really--just the rose-colored lenses just couldn't have been more on--I mean,
it was three nights I was surrounded by these cameras and this crew that was
really nice, and all these actors. And I just remember thinking, `My God, if
I could ever do this'--you know, it just was overwhelming.

GROSS: Matt Damon is starring in the new film "The Bourne Identity." He'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music; funding credits)

GROSS: Coming up, Matt Damon talks about this films "Good Will Hunting" and
"The Talented Mr. Ripley." And rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the new CD from
The Hives, a Swedish rock band that sings in English.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Matt Damon. He's
starring in the new spy thriller "The Bourne Identity." In 1998, Damon and
his longtime friend Ben Affleck won an Oscar for their screenplay for "Good
Will Hunting." Damon was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the
film as Will, a young man from South Boston who works as a janitor at Harvard
but is able to solve seemingly unsolvable math problems left on a blackboard.
Will grew up in foster homes and has a rap sheet. When he's jailed for
instigating a fight, a professor who sees Will's genius bails him out on the
condition that he gets some counseling. Will's psychologist is played by
Robin Williams. In this scene, Will is in the psychologist's office when a
painting catches his eye, a painting made by the psychologist.

(Soundbite from "Good Will Hunting")

Mr. DAMON: The linear and impressionistic mix makes a very muddled
composition. It's also a Winslow Homer rip-off except you got Whitey(ph)
rowing a boat there.

Mr. ROBIN WILLIAMS: ...(Unintelligible) it wasn't very good.

Mr. DAMON: That's not really what concerns me, though.

Mr. WILLIAMS: What concerns you?

Mr. DAMON: It's the coloring.

Mr. WILLIAMS: You know what the real bitch of it is? It's paint by number.

Mr. DAMON: Is it color by number?--because the colors are fascinating to me.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Are they really? What about that?

Mr. DAMON: I think you're about one step away from cutting your (censored)
ear off.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Really?

Mr. DAMON: Oh, yeah.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Think I should move to the South of France, change my name to
Vincent?

Mr. DAMON: You ever heard the saying, `Any port in a storm'?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

Mr. DAMON: Maybe that means you.

Mr. WILLIAMS: In what way?

Mr. DAMON: Maybe you're in the middle of a storm, a big (censored) storm.
The sky's falling on your head, the waves are crashing over your little boat,
the oars are about to snap. You just piss in your pants, you're crying for
the harbor. So maybe you do what you've got to do to get out. You know,
maybe you became a psychologist.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Bingo. That's it. Let me do my job now. We still have a
meeting. Come on.

Mr. DAMON: Maybe you married the wrong woman.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Maybe you should watch your mouth. Why don't you write that,
chief, all right?

Mr. DAMON: That's it, isn't it? You married the wrong woman. What happened?
What, did she leave you or did she, you know, (whistles) bang some other guy?

Mr. WILLIAMS: If you ever disrespect my wife again, I will end you. I will
(censored) end you.

GROSS: Let's get to "Good Will Hunting." The movie, I think, is based on a
play that you wrote when you were still a student at Harvard. What was the
original play like?

Mr. DAMON: I wrote it--actually, it was a play writing course this guy,
Anthony Kubiak, taught at Harvard, which is a terrific course, a great course,
and he was an incredible teacher. And I wrote it as a screenplay because I
knew that I wanted to write screenplays and I didn't want to write plays. So
I wrote it, you know, and it's in screenplay format. And the original one was
41 pages long and, you know, it just had the beginnings of a story. And it
had--what survived of it was--the one scene that survived from that was the
first time that I meet Robin Williams' character in that movie when he
eventually grabs me by the neck and throws me up against the wall because I
say something about his wife. And that scene was verbatim as I wrote in
Anthony Kubiak's class. But nothing else survived.

But the teacher encouraged me when I finished the class, he gave me an A, and
it was, you know, one of the first times I got an A at Harvard. And I didn't
care what I got in the class. I had had such a good time in the class. And
he gave me an A, and next to it, he wrote on the paper, he wrote, you know,
`You should really keep going with this. This really seems like it could be
leading somewhere,' and encouraged me to do it. And so a few months later,
for spring break I went to Los Angeles to audition, actually, for "Geronimo:
An American Legend," and stayed with Ben, and brought the, you know,
work-in-progress thing with me and showed him. And he loved it, and he said,
`This is great. You know, let's--you know, we should do something with this.'
And so we agreed, you know. Neither of us knew which way to go with it,
though, so a little later on I did "Geronimo" and then moved in--Ben and I got
a place in LA with Casey, his brother.

And we were there for like a year before--you know, and this thing was just
sitting on the shelf because neither of us could think of what to do. And
then one night we were literally sitting around talking. It was probably 1 in
the morning. And it just started--I think Ben was the first one. He started
saying something, and the way that things normally work with us is one person
says a little thing, the next person, and it just starts to rapidly--which is
why, you know, we're utterly useless without each other. At least we have
been so far. But it happened really in a--it kind of tumbled out and the
script came really, really quickly.

GROSS: So after you made "Good Will Hunting" and, like, doors really started
to open for you, what was it like for you to suddenly have access to the
things you wanted? People wanted you to act in their movies.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. It was weird. It was really weird, and overwhelming.
Overwhelming in that sense in a really good way to have, you know, Anthony
Minghella cast me in "Ripley" before "Good Will Hunting" even came out. He
saw a rough cut, an assembly of the movie. And I just couldn't believe it,
that he wanted to put--I couldn't--you know, I read his script, you know,
'cause he had did the adaptation. And I just couldn't--you know, it was just
overwhelming that somebody's going to let me play this character. I mean,
this is his--this is an incredible role in an incredible movie with this
director who's, you know, a serious guy.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DAMON: I mean, he's, you know--his shooting schedule was like a 94-day
shooting schedule. You know, we shot "Good Will" in half that, you know.
And, you know, it was just overwhelming to be getting all this work that I
thought was really good work.

GROSS: I want to ask you about "The Talented Mr. Ripley." You were really
just terrific in that film, and you were playing somebody who doesn't have any
of the things he wants: friends, a lover, interesting work, interesting life,
travel, money...

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: ...none of that. And through a little bit of deception, or perhaps a
lot of deception, he's able to kind of change his life and become part of
this, like, charmed circle of wealthy people...

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: ...revolving particularly around this one couple played by Jude Law
and...

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: ...Gwyneth Paltrow. And the first time you meet them you're meeting
them--Is it in Italy?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah.

GROSS: And you're on the Mediterranean on a beach, and they're all, like,
bronzed and beautiful and you've just arrived from...

Mr. DAMON: New York City.

GROSS: Yeah. And you're pale and kind of scrawny. This is one of the...

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: ...roles you lost weight for. And the first time you meet them you
were in your bathing suit and you just look so wrong.

Mr. DAMON: Right.

GROSS: You look so out of place. And it sets the tone beautifully for
everything that's to follow, this physically uncomfortable, out-of-the-place,
wrong-looking person. Can you talk a little bit just about that scene even,
and setting the tone with looking kind of frail and pale and...

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. I just thought it was...

GROSS: ...exposed.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. It was right for--it was just right. I mean, it was right
there in the script when I read it, and it made total sense. And we wanted,
obviously, when Ripley starts to try to take over Dickie's identity for him to
try to look more and more like him, so the bigger gap you can leave at the
beginning, you know, the better that's going to come across. And also we just
loved the awkwardness of it.

You know, the green bathing suit that I wore was, you know, maybe a little bit
kind of over-the-top. There was a scene, though, that Anthony had scripted
just in case he felt we needed it, where they show me buying the bathing suit.
I see him on the beach, and so I buy the bathing suit, and that's the only one
they have, which is how I ended up with that bathing suit, just in case it
seemed too kind of goofy that I would have a lime green, you know, bathing
suit. But, you know, Anthony looked at the movie and didn't feel like we
needed it. And so, you know, there's Ripley kind of showing up as pale--I
mean, they painted me alabaster for that. They...

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

GROSS: You got painted pale.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. And I already was pale. I had stayed out of the sun for,
you know, months and months, and I was as pale as I could be. But they, you
know, even put more kind of gook all over me.

GROSS: What did you do internally to get into the character of somebody who
wants so desperately to live this life that he has no access to, that he
finally ends up not only deceiving but killing for it?

Mr. DAMON: It's just that I can really relate. I really related to that
character in a lot of ways. I really related to that.

GROSS: In what way?

Mr. DAMON: I don't know. I've had that feeling, you know, in my life of
wanting to belong somewhere and not belonging and--yeah, I mean, I've
definitely felt that, and especially kind of in, you know, adolescence and in
teen-age years. I mean, those are--you feel that with such pain and, you
know...

GROSS: Yeah. But you already had an agent in New York...

Mr. DAMON: Yeah, right. That's right.

GROSS: ...that you could brag about to your friends.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. God. So, yeah, I mean, there was a lot to him, to that
character, that I just really related to and loved. And, yeah, I felt--I
still feel bad for that character. I got really mad the first time I saw the
movie, actually, with the final music.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. DAMON: 'Cause there was a scene where I'm walking with Gwyneth and I have
a razor in my pocket, and the music that, you know, which is perfect for the
movie, it's right for the movie, but because Anthony was my kind of, you know,
partner in crime the whole time we were shooting it, every time something--you
know, we would ask some--you know, we'd say,`Well, should Ripley'--I mean, I'd
say, `So I'm going to kill Freddie with this statue?'

And he'd go, `Of course you're going to kill Freddie. Freddie's coming and
you have--Freddie's accusing you of doing--how dare he? He has a lot of
nerve.'

You know, he was very much my ally, you know, when we were shooting it because
that was what got me, you know, ready for every scene was the fact that what
I'm doing makes total sense.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DAMON: It's just--of course I'm going to do this, and this makes--you
know, so Anthony was a very good kind of sounding board for the Ripley
rationale. But, of course, at the end of the day he's the director of the
movie, so when he goes to put the music over the scene where I'm walking
towards Gwyneth with a razor blade, he's not defending Ripley. He's got this
kind of Hitchcockian music over it. And so when I saw it I was like, you
know, how--you know.

GROSS: He told me I was justified.

Mr. DAMON: Yeah, exactly. How dare you? You're supposed to be my friend.

GROSS: My guest is Matt Damon. Here he is in the film "The Talented Mr.
Ripley." In order to impress his new friend, who's a jazz musician, Ripley's
tried to learn to sing like Chet Baker. In this scene, he's sitting in at a
jazz club.

(Soundbite of "The Talented Mr. Ripley")

Mr. DAMON: (As Dickie) My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine. You make
me smile with my heart. Your looks are laughable, unphotographable, yet
you're my favorite work of art. Is your figure less than Greek? Is your
mouth a little weak? When you open it to speak, are you smart? But don't
change a hair for me.

GROSS: We'll talk more with Matt Damon after our break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Matt Damon. He's starring in the new spy thriller "The
Bourne Identity."

I'd like to ask you about some of the advice you've gotten from different
directors...

Mr. DAMON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...over the years, if we could just, like, walk through a couple of
the directors that you work with. Billy Bob Thornton...

Mr. DAMON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...directed you on "All the Pretty Horses."

Mr. DAMON: Yeah.

GROSS: Now I know you've said that the movie was really...

Mr. DAMON: Butchered.

GROSS: ...butchered in the post-production process 'cause of the studio. I
actually liked the film. I wish I could see the uncut, or the director's cut.

Mr. DAMON: I wish you could see it, too.

GROSS: But what kind of advice did Billy Bob Thornton give you?

Mr. DAMON: Advice.

GROSS: If you remember.

Mr. DAMON: Well, no. I remember, you know, Billy Bob had a huge impact on
me. He's a pretty amazing guy. And--really amazing guy. You know, we're
friends...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAMON: ...you know, and so, you know, sometimes you meet, you know,
directors who just kind of, you know--they talk a lot, and they talk, you
know--they talk you to death, and it's not really helpful.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAMON: You know, I mean, sometimes a lot of talk, you know, can be
helpful, you know, but more often than not it's just somebody saying something
simple. And Billy had this tendency to be able to not only do that, but then
to recognize when you did something very, very small, very subtle. And
oftentimes actors get frustrated because there are things that happen that the
director doesn't see, and they don't understand it, and you know when you're
really feeling something. You absolutely know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAMON: And the directors can miss it, you know. But Billy Bob, I never
saw him miss it. He certainly never missed it with me. He would do stuff,
like we'd be doing--we'd be in the first take of a scene and something would
happen, really small, not the biggest thing in the world, just a little scene
about, you know, a guy coming in the building or whatever, you know, just a
small thing, and he'd go, `All right. Cut. Print. We're moving on.'

And the producer would then go, `Wait a minute. We've got to do another one
for safety. What if it was out of focus?'

And he'd say, `If it's out of focus, it's out of focus in the movie. That was
real. I saw what happened there and I'm not doing it again.'

And, you know, as an actor, you have a director like that, kind of, you know,
you'll do anything for him.

GROSS: Right.

What was it like for you when you first became--when you first started acting
in movies with big stars in it and then you became a big star yourself, and
suddenly all the people who you admired when you were young, who seemed so out
of reach, who lived either in the television box or on the big screen, were
colleagues of yours or friends of yours or people you had access to? Was it
awkward at first to be in that circle, to be in that situation where people
who were always just these, like, movie figures were now actually
three-dimensional people and you were working with them or you were talking
with them?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Yeah. That was weird. I mean, the only time I really run
into other people, you know, that I've grown up watching or whatever is at,
like, a ceremony or, you know, an event or something.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAMON: You know, I haven't really run into too many people, although I
have an assistant, and I guess, you know, two years ago for Christmas--I guess
I have a habit of talking about Morgan Freeman a lot 'cause I really respect
Morgan Freeman.

GROSS: Oh, he's great. Yeah.

Mr. DAMON: So this is going to sound really silly, but for Christmas a couple
of years ago she gave me, as a Christmas gift, dinner with Morgan Freeman.
She called Morgan Freeman's assistant and I guess he thought it was funny, and
so they kind of agreed. And it was like a, you know, make-a-wish dinner or
something where I, you know, was like, you know, Chris Farley on the old
"Chris Farley Show" on "Saturday Night Live," like, `Remember that time in
that movie when you did that thing? That was awesome.' So that was an
interaction I had with somebody that was--but for the most part the most I get
to know people is working with them.

And I've been incredibly lucky, incredibly lucky to, you know--starting with,
you know, back with Duvall, and how good he was to me and how--and he didn't
have to do that. You know, the guy is a living legend, you know, and he
tolerated my questions. And I did "Courage Under Fire" with Denzel
Washington, and he was really nice to me. And what came next was, yeah,
"Rainmaker." I mean, God, Danny DeVito. Mickey Rourke was great to me.
Mickey Rourke sat me down the first time I met him, kind of forcefully, and
said, `Don't screw this up. Don't do what I did.'

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. DAMON: `I was a jerk to people. I'--you know, he said, `Appreciate what
you have and be polite to everybody you meet and don't ever screw this up.'
It was pretty, you know, affecting, you know,

GROSS: Right.

Just one last question. I know you get really deep into roles and you can
become very obsessive about it, and you've spent just, like, a lot of time
getting to where you are in movies. Are you going through the kind of thing
that so many of us go through about what is the right balance between work and
everything else in life?

Mr. DAMON: Yeah. Definitely. And I definitely haven't figured it out yet.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAMON: And I definitely--because I'm desperately afraid of ever not
really--you know, the next role that I do not really committing to it and
diving into it just because suddenly I have a life that I really care about.
I hope, you know, from what I've heard, I've heard people like Anthony Hopkins
in interviews say that, you know, he doesn't work as hard as he worked when he
was younger because he knows, you know--because the knowledge--you can
suddenly streamline your kind of energy, your output of energy because you
know what helps and what really doesn't, and you know that because you've been
doing it for your entire life. So he can be brilliant and not put out, you
know, the energy that he would have had to...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DAMON: ...30 years ago. You know, I'm hoping that that's, you know, a
factor later on because I do want to have, you know, a life, and I do want to
travel and have a family someday and keep doing this. But, you know, I have
this weird obsessive thing where I wonder if I've done everything that I
possibly could. It's almost like obsessive-compulsive disorder or something,
or maybe just to prove to myself, maybe just so I won't regret it. And it's
like I'll get out of bed in the middle of the night and go read something or
go do something or get on the Internet and go research this one last thing and
just--you know, it's probably not healthy.

GROSS: But it makes for a good performance.

Mr. DAMON: Sometimes.

GROSS: Matt Damon, thank you so much.

Mr. DAMON: All right. Thanks for having me.

GROSS: Matt Damon is starring in the new film "The Bourne Identity."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new CD by the Swedish band The Hives. This is
FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: US release of The Hives' album "Veni Vidi Vicious"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The Hives are a band from Sweden who sing in English. Their album, "Veni Vidi
Vicious" was released overseas in 2000, but has just been issued here. The
band is heavily influenced by early British invasion pop and '70s punk rock.
Rock critic Ken Tucker says it's a dose of pure pleasure.

(Soundbite of "The Hives - Declare Guerre Nucleaire)

THE HIVES: (Singing) Had an atomic bore in 2004. Did some atomic tricks in
2006. I got out way late in 2008. I'm gonna do it again in 2010. Uh!

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Sometimes an album comes along that's so much fun, so funny and passionate,
that it supercedes a lot of critical analysis or invites an abundance of it.
Such an album is "Veni Vidi Vicious," a dozen songs that clock in under half
an hour featuring song titles such as "A Get Together To Tear It Apart" and
"The Hives - Introduce The Metric System In Time." The names this quintet
uses for themselves sound suspicious. Two of the guitarists are Vigilante
Carlstroem and Nicholaus Arson. The bassist is Dr. Mack Destruction(ph). As
I say all this, The Hives could easily come across as a joke, and a corny one
at that. But listen to the way they tear into this piece of music.

(Soundbite of "Main Offender")

THE HIVES: (Singing) I'm on my way! Can't settle down. I'm stuck in ways of
being an ass and I got a lot of nerve that I'm ready to pass. I'm on my way!
Can't settle down. I'm stuck in ways of sadistic joy. My talent only goes as
far as to annoy. I'm on my way! This is my...

TUCKER: The Hives sounds a little like the early Kinks, elsewhere like The
Beatles when they were still dodging beer bottles in nightclubs in Hamburg,
Germany, or like The Ramones in the heart of the '70s.

(Soundbite of "Outsmarted")

THE HIVES: (Singing) Outsmarted! I used to be the kid who always got caught.
I used to be the one who never let thought interact one bit with intellectual
(censored) diversity and wit. I used to be the kid who waited in line for an
opportunity to waste away time. Trying to be so cool, but no suspicion, no
clue. You've been outsmarted! I'm selling you for scrap. Outsmarted! I'm
selling you for scrap.

TUCKER: Swedish pop music? This certainly isn't Abba. The Hives come from a
small town about 100 miles outside of Stockholm. They sing about being bored,
disaffected, angry, horny and generally very grumpy indeed. You wouldn't want
them in your house unless they were playing a party in your basement, in which
case you'd probably think you'd died and gone to heaven. They even do covers.
Here's their version of The Impressions' "Find Another Girl." Swedish punks
with an affinity for Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, proof positive that
rock 'n' roll is the lingua franca of the heartbroken all over the world.

(Soundbite of "Find Another Girl")

THE HIVES: (Singing) Find yourself another girl who will love you true, true,
true. Find yourself another girl. Save her lovin' kisses just for you. Save
her lovin' kisses just for you. The very first time I fell in love, got my
heart broken bad. People would say when I pass their way there's a hurt young
man goin' there, goin' there. An unhappy lad goin' there. Well, one day my
mother called me to advise, said, `Son, why you so blue?' `Mother, I lost a
girl that I love. Why won't you tell me what to do? Mother, won't you tell
me what to do?' Well, she said, `Find yourself another girl.'

TUCKER: On another song "Hate to Say I Told You So," The Hives say they're
going to, quote, "spread the disease," which I take to mean the disease of
rock 'n' roll. In the liner notes to "Veni Vidi Vicious" The Hives wrote of
themselves, `The future is theirs should they want it.' And, indeed, that
seems to be the only question keeping them from taking over the world. Soon,
please.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Veni Vidi Vicious" by The Hives.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Statecontrol")

THE HIVES: (Singing) I've been around the world. I take credit for the
things I've done. I've done a lot of things and I just turned 21. They tied
me up, put red tape around my hands. I got caught in the web 'cause I didn't
stand a chance. I can't control the state I'm in. Go back in line and repeat
it again. Can't control the state I'm in. Go back in line and repeat it
again. I said, `Please, Mr. Doctor, won't you cure my disease? I got a sore
throat and I got scrubs on my knees.' No matter what I do, I can't get it
straight. I tried to sort things out, but I'm still stuck in the state. I
can't control the state I'm in. Go back in line and repeat it again. I can't
control the state I'm in. Go back in line, repeat again. I'm gonna lie. I'm
gonna cheat. I'm gonna follow their lead then skip a beat. I'm gonna lie.
I'm gonna cheat. And if that don't do it, I don't know what will.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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