An emotional response for Matt Damon after the premiere of Stillwater Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
It’s something that very few stars of his stature manage to do. “That image of me got attached fairly on yet certainly a lot of directors want to subvert it,” he says jovially. “And that’s fine by me. I can play into it or against it … either way I am doing something fun. It is up to the director to use me in any way they want.”
He joked: “I have teams of apple to keep me grounded. I decided that image-wise there was no point in trying to curate an image but just to be yourself, and above all to not take yourself too seriously. I lived a lot of my life as anonymous person. I do not want to the fame to infect my personal relationships or corrupt them. I haven’t really bought into any of that.”
Damon, 50, has been at the festival primarily to promote Stillwater (screening Out of Competition) and to take part in a master class. In the thriller by Tom McCarthy he played an Oklahoma construction worker whose daughter (newcomer Abigail Breslin) is imprisoned for murder in France. Damon’s character tries to prove his child’s innocence and along the way befriends Call My Agent’s Camille Cottin and her daughter (Lilou Siauvaud).
Matt Damon: 'I do not want to the fame to infect my personal relationships or corrupt them' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Damon has made something of a speciality of taking on characters who are much darker than their sunny exteriors suggest such as in Anthony Mingella’s The Talented Mr Ripley as well as the Bourne franchise and the Oceans films, in which Damon played a con-man named Linus.
He has worked with many of the greats including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, George Clooney and Martin Scorsese. Asked to pinpoint his most treasured outing, he defaults immediately to Good Will Hunting with his childhood friend Ben Affleck. They wrote the film together to give them the kind of roles that were not on offer otherwise. They managed to get it made through Harvey Weinstein and Miramax while insisting that Gus Van Sant should direct it and Robin Williams play the inspirational psychiatrist, a role for which he won an Oscar while Affleck and Damon received the Academy Award for best original screenplay.
Damon recalls that he started out working on what would become Good Will Hunting at a playwriting class at Harvard University and then continued to develop it in countless road trips across the States with Affleck. “It took so long to get it made but what happened was way beyond what any of us expected. It was like winning the lottery and then have your best friend win the lottery too. It was a bit surreal and our lives changed for ever. So that was definitely the big one,” he said.
[imagerleft id=21140]It enabled them to each go out and buy matching Cherokee jeeps and to move out of “a shitty apartment.” He remembered that he and Ben’s brother Casey each had their own rooms while Ben slummed it on the sofa. “Every morning I would walk through and say it was ridiculous. After Good Will Hunting we managed find a three bedroom apartment in a nicer neighbourhood by showing the agent an article on the front page of Variety. We said we are these guys and we have money now and we got the place to rent.”
He has wanted to be an actor for as long as he can remember. “If I lost my enthusiasm I would stop and go and do something else. I have been in the job now for more than 35 years and have accumulated some practical knowledge. I regarded film-making as a very practical thing. There is no point in talking theory. It is a tough business and can be pretty brutal but it can also be fantastic.”
He adheres to his credo of taking every job purely based on the reputation of the director. “I don’t care what their style is because it is a director’s medium. They are the boss. Clint (Eastwood for Invictus) will give you one take and no more where as others such as Robert De Niro (The Good Shepherd) would allow us to repeat the lines over and over again.” For Spielberg with whom he has worked on nine occasions, he felt the pressure to deliver on day one of a shoot. “He does not want to wait around. The choreography on Saving Private Ryan was at an insanely high level. I did not know enough at the time to appreciate the enormity of what was going on. I asked as many questions as possible, and even if I did not exactly understand the answer I would catalogue it away on the basis I might understand it much later on.”
The experience of being at this year’s Cannes proved genuinely moving for Damon, whose eyes moistened after the applause following the red carpet screening of Stillwater. “It meant something different because of what we have all been through over the last 18 months. After a year of not being in a cinema and suddenly to be transported to a a crowd of thousands of strangers and to share the experience of watching a film really shows the importance of festivals and movies.”