Matt Damon: Mr. Nice Guy

Nobody does the everyman better and few people in Hollywood are as successful as Matt Damon. He also happens to be one of the nicest guys on Earth. We spoke with the forty-nine-year-old actor about setbacks, real tears and the women in his life. By the way, everything you’ve heard about Matt Damon is true: he really is an incredibly nice guy.
Text Rüdiger Sturm
Photo Nigel Parry / thelicensingproject.com

Mr. Damon, you’re one of the most successful Hollywood actors, with an estimated net worth of $200 million. How do you define success?
It’s the work. It’s the process itself. I have done enough movies now — movies that have failed, movies that have been successful. All we have as the people making it is the love of the doing of it. I am aware of the results because I have to be; it has an impact on my career so I can’t be ignorant of the movies that I am doing. But it’s really about feeling that I did my best work, the best work I could do under the circumstances, feeling that we told the story we wanted to tell in the way we wanted to tell it. That’s really the definition of success.

Is that like the old saying that the journey is its own reward?
The journey is everything! It’s a cliché, but I have really felt it in my own life, in the twenty-five or thirty years I’ve been in this.
Was there ever a point at which your career hit rock bottom?
Definitely. Especially before the first of the Bourne films came out. I had had a series of flops, Hollywood wasn’t offering me any more roles, and so I ended up doing theater in London. Ahead of the release, the pundits were expecting another box office bomb. I stayed calm. If you can’t control something, you just have to take it as it comes. You’re never immune to change.

What was the last major disruption in your life?
In 2017 I took a year off to be with my father, who had cancer and passed away in December. That certainly puts things in perspective. The last few years changed me profoundly. I spent more time with my family. When I started making films again, I noticed the change in the business too. The movie business is so different from twenty years ago. And from the types of movies that were my bread and butter, dramas with serious themes, hardly any are being produced for the big screen anymore.

How did you react?
I definitely got a little uneasy about it. It’s just something new that puts you in a state of unease. The next twenty years are not going to look anything like the last twenty. But the good news is that a lot of great stuff just migrated to TV. There is wonderful stuff being made there. So there’s still work available, it’s just not being done the way we did it before.

»Filmmaking speaks to that impulse that we have to tell stories to each other. It’s a very human impulse that we have had since we were drawing pictures on cave walls.«

Matt Damon

Would it have been more reassuring if you had accepted the offer for the lead in Avatar, which would have earned you $250 million from box office profits alone?
At the time, I had no choice. I would have had to screw over the people working on The Bourne Ultimatum and I couldn’t do that ethically.

How exactly do you see your professional future at the moment?
I still love filmmaking, with all its different aspects. I think I will write more, and I can see myself directing, but I will certainly continue to act. Filmmaking speaks to that impulse that we have to tell stories to each other. It’s a very human impulse that we have had since we were drawing pictures on cave walls. And art is the best way to tell each other those stories.

Is it true that you move around a lot?
My wife and I decided to move every five years and we are constantly talking about where else we could live. We have that wanderlust. We both love to travel. We’ve lived in Florida, New York and Los Angeles.

But always in the United States.
We lived in China for six months doing The Great Wall – and we’ve been all over Europe. My wife is from Argentina, and we have family down there. So we could definitely go and live down there too.

»I am living my life at work through the conflicts of other people and feeling what they are feeling.«

You have four daughters. What do they have to say about that?
We are trying to be mindful of that. We are trying to take them around the world to give them a sense of the world they live in and understand the kind of privilege that they have.

You’re a co-founder of Water.org, an organization that aims to help people in the world’s poorest countries get access to clean drinking water. How is that going?
Better than we could have hoped. We’ve reached twenty-two million people. The concept is the brainchild of my brilliant partner Gary White who had this idea about applying microfinance to the water and sanitation sector. It’s this amazing story about these women, the poorest and the most vulnerable on the planet, who are paying back these loans over 99.9 percent. We have a lot of supporters in the United States, people who like ideas that work – it’s totally non-partisan.

Was there one specific moment where you realized you had to do something to help?
That’s probably a common feeling for people. It was not an epiphany that I had. I have always believed we are here to affect as much positive change as we can and use our own spirit or influence or whatever that is to do it. It was more about trying to find the focus of how to deal with it. That took a while. Bono’s organization DATA organized a trip for me to learn about extreme poverty. And that was incredibly helpful in helping me to focus on what I wanted to do.

Does this social conscience run in your family?
That was a tradition I was raised in. My mother took me to the No Nukes rallies in the seventies. I grew up understanding that as an American you are allowed to go out in the street to express your opinion. That was an important right that you had and a way you could affect change. I also had the opportunity to speak with Barack Obama about these sorts of things. He told me, “If you want change – make me change it.” You have to agitate at the grassroots level. My kids will hopefully be able to understand that and to live that. I do have the hope that this next generation is more engaged. They have to be. Because we have completely let them down.

You lead a charmed life. What is the biggest challenge you have ever coped with?
I don’t think I could name one. Life is full of challenges. I don’t really like talking about them, because there are people with greater challenges than I’ve ever faced. It would be embarrassing to wax on about my own challenges.

I’ve learned they are an entirely different species. I know from my own childhood that my brother and I fought like crazy. There wasn’t any malice behind it; that seemed the natural state. And I don’t see that at all with my girls. They seem much more cooperative and nurturing.

Matt Damon

Maybe you’re more resilient than you think?
Everybody is. Everybody is stronger than they think. Watching my dad do what he did convinced me of that. Because he battled incredibly and kept going in the face of everything. If you look at human history – the things human beings have done throughout history – hopefully most of us will never be pushed to that point.

How do you deal with negative emotions?
I am lucky because I get to exercise a lot of it in my work. These emotions move through me all the time. Because I am living my life at work through the conflicts of other people and feeling what they are feeling. So those things pass through me a lot easier. It really struck me that I cry all the time.

When do you cry?
I get as emotional as every other parent and husband gets. Life is frustrating at times. My kids can frustrate me to no end. And then there are these moments of joy as your kids make new realizations about the world, have those little incremental moments where they grow or get excited. They would be too numerous to count. Any relationship you have with anybody where there is deep and abiding love, there is a chance that you are going to get emotional.

You live in a female household. What does that do to you?
I’ve learned they are an entirely different species. I know from my own childhood that my brother and I fought like crazy. There wasn’t any malice behind it; that seemed the natural state. And I don’t see that at all with my girls. They seem much more cooperative and nurturing.

Would the world be a better place if women were in power?
No doubt about it. Look, men are hard-wired to fight. That’s a pretty gross generalization, but I do see it that way. We certainly seem quicker to resolve our differences physically. Obviously, that’s not the state we want to live in on planet Earth. Fighting is not going to solve our problems.

There’s another turning point in your life that we haven’t talked about yet. The time you met your wife. What went on inside you when you first saw her?
She was working at a bar, and somehow our eyes met in this magic way. I was overwhelmed by the power of it. And my wife and I, we fit perfectly together in every way. We have always had that. If I put my hand on her shoulder, it’s like my hand was always meant to be exactly in that part of her shoulder. If our feet touch, they fit perfectly together. Some people can rub you the wrong way. It’s a chemical thing. But Lucy and I have always had a very honest and open relationship that is based on a very deep trust of one another.

full interview, published in rampstyle #20 erschienen.

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