If Damon has reason to be protective, it’s because he has a beautiful family and a career that is anchored in superstardom. Each gives him cause for concern because as he knows, life and success can be fleeting.
Damon and his best bud Ben Affleck shot to stardom famously with Good Will Hunting and Damon has since eclipsed his fellow Bostonian in the compiling of stellar roles department. From the Bourne series to The Departed to the Ocean 11 series, Damon does it like no other.
In Contagion, Damon is re-teaming with one of his favorite directors, Steven Soderbergh (Oceans 11, The Informant), in an all-star cast that harks of Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning Traffic. Damon visited with Movie Fanatic on one late August afternoon to talk about Contagion, why he has a new buzz cut and where he was on 9/11 in light of the attack’s tenth anniversary.
Movie Fanatic: Tell us how you, Steven and The Informant screenwriter Scott Z. Burns connected again on Contagion?
Matt Damon: We were getting ready to do something else -- another project we're still gonna do -- and Steven called and said I've got this other thing and it's… we really gotta make it now because it's really timely. He said I think it's the best thing Scott's written, which is saying quite a bit. Obviously I think a lot of Scott. So he sent it over to me with a note that said read this and then wash your hands [laughs]. I just read that and I really wanted to be in this movie. It's just a terrific, riveting, really fast read and really exciting and really horrifying -- but managed to be kind of touching too.
Movie Fanatic: How difficult was it to wrap your head around this character in this situation that seems to many a million miles away?
Matt Damon: It was kind of easy to relate to, it was just on the page. Working with Steven’s very different than working with anybody else. To give you an example of a day: We’d go and we’d shoot. We’d talk about what we were going to do. We’d figure it out and we’d execute the plan. And then we’d go back to the hotel, go to the bar and in the backroom of the bar, they’d deliver the footage. We’d just sit there and talk while Steven put on his headphones, opened up his laptop and kind of sat in the corner for 45 minutes or an hour. Then at the end he’d take his headphones off and turn the computer around and he’d show us what we shot that day. Cut. So, when you’re working that way it’s kind of like making a movie in your backyard with friends. The body is kind of out on the operating table and wide open. You just kind of talk about, “All right, what else do we need?” It’s very different from going off on my own, doing three months of research and showing up. It feels more like the hocus pocus is taken out of the experience.
One of my favorite scenes we did was the scene where I find out that my wife is dead very early on in the movie. I went to Steven and said, “I don’t know what to do. How do you do this scene? It’s five minutes into the movie. We’re not invested in me or her. You can’t have this big scene. What do I do?” And Steven goes, “The slump?” Everyone knows the slump [demonstrates a hunched over depressed look]. I said, “I don’t know. What do you do?” You’ve gotta have some shorthand. You can’t dwell on this thing. We’re five minutes into the movie. We had a guy there who’d done this a lot and we talked to him, this doctor who delivered the news. We asked for certain trends. And he said, “Sometimes people fall apart. But there is this other reaction that we get just as much.” I said, “What is it?” He said, “It depends on what kind of death it is. Is it the kind of death where you’re not expecting someone to be dead?” We said, “Right, exactly.” He said, “Oh, well, what you get a lot is absolute shock. It’s just too much.” So they have this specific way they put it, and Scott had written it in and it was close. But, he had written words like, “She passed away.” And this guy said, “No, no, no. She did die. You have to be completely specific and look at the person. You have the social worker with you.” There’s a whole script that they go on and they expect you to not even get it. They expect you to go, “OK, can I go talk to her?” Because that’s the reaction that they have. Working with these guys, I get up in the morning and I’m freaking out about how the hell I’m going to do this scene and I end up going to work and getting this scene that’s really interesting and I’ve never seen it done that way. I totally believe that’s the way. And these doctors that really do it say that’s actually the way it goes down a lot of the time. Great long-winded answer to a short question [laughs].
Matt Damon: In terms of an outbreak like this? With kids I'm probably more protective than I've ever been now that I have children. I try not to be. I mean my wife's nickname for me is Red Alert. [Laughs] My tendencies would be a little overprotective without trying to be a helicopter parent.
Movie Fanatic: So do you like the buzz cut?
Matt Damon: Well, it’s for a movie. I’m doing a movie with Neill Blomkamp, who directed District 9. This is what the character looks like. I did shave my head once when I did The Brothers Grimm. I had a wig and it was easier to get the wig on rather than lacquering my hair down, so I just shaved my head and walked around in my regular life like this. I love it. It’s great in the summertime, real easy getting out of the shower [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: Do you have a favorite type of film genre?
Matt Damon: If the director's good and the script is good it all comes pretty naturally. And if those things aren't in place, it's impossible no matter what the role is.
Movie Fanatic: In light of the anniversary of 9/11, do you have any thoughts about that day you could share with our readers?
Matt Damon: I lived in lower Manhattan at the time. I just remember walking out of my apartment and seeing it and then going back in and watching CNN because I was so hungry for information, trying to figure out what was going on. I remember being glued to my television despite the fact that it was happening right outside my door.