Matt Damon dreams of working with Ang Lee

Nancy T. Lu,The China Post

Bigtime Hollywood celebrity Matt Damon may be riding high in his career. But he has his two feet on the ground.

The son of a retired banker and a college professor works hard, taking each role he gives his commitment to very seriously.

Steven Spielberg cast him before in “Saving Private Ryan” while Francis Ford Coppola gave him his break in “The Rainmaker.” “This is a fickle and vicious business,” he realized. “I have to keep a real perspective. Otherwise I can get eaten alive.”

This Hollywood’s golden boy recalled having been panned by critics, who showed the power “to turn him into a bronze boy quickly.” “I want to be able to look back at what I have done and not regret it,” the 32-year-old star said.

“My dream is to work for Ang Lee,” said Damon. “I met him before.”

Of the award-winning director from Taiwan, known for his “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Damon further remarked: “There are not many directors who are doing work at Ang Lee’s level.” Of Damon’s preparation for the roles, he said: “It is different each time.” The actor added: “I try to ask for as much time as possible.” To portray Jason Bourne in the action film “The Bourne Identity,” he underwent martial arts training. There are many fight scenes in the movie. The character suffering from amnesia of his real identity meets assassins sent by the CIA network at every turn.

Jason Bourne in Robert Ludlum’s novel “walks like a boxer.” So Matt Damon went to take up American boxing to live up to the description in the movie.

“I had to get in shape because the director did not want any excess muscle hanging out on my back,” he revealed.

In the early part of the movie, the injured Bourne (Matt Damon) is rescued by the crew on a fishing boat somewhere in the Mediterranean. A doctor pulls out two bullets on his back.

“I don’t get to fire a gun much but the first time I pick up a gun, it feels comfortable in my hand, according to the script,” said Damon. “And so I went and took lots of firearms training with the New York squad and fired hundreds and hundreds of rounds.” He also mastered in detail the typical stance of a man standing with a gun on his hips. The side where his weapon is kept tends to be moved slightly away from the people he is listening to, pointed out Damon. Thus did Damon go to great lengths to explain the “touches” incorporated into the movie to give “physical clues” about the identity of Jason Bourne, a confused man with six passports. Damon added, apparently joking: “I even went to cosmetology school to learn to cut hair.” As a man on the run, he snips off the hair of Franka Potente — his gypsy companion Marie in the movie — to change her looks a bit in order to help her elude the people out to gun her down with him.

Damon had praise for director Doug Liman’s genius casting. “Franka Potente made some choices which helped the movie,” he said. Instead of getting hysterical and crying upon seeing an assassin make a fatal jump out the window, she chose to show herself in a state of shock. As he put it, “She made her character very interesting and human.” Damon himself has acted in different movie genres over the years. He chose to do an action movie for the first time because the script presented to him showed that it would not be a “derivative and predictable” kind of action thriller. “When I read a script,” said Damon, “I usually try to read it with different hats on — as writer, actor….But once I am committed, I try to do the job as good as I can.” He stressed: “The script must be well-written and it must move me emotionally.”

When he did “The Rainmaker,” he moved to a town in Tennessee alone. He didn’t know anybody but he wanted the people there to think he was from there.

“When preparing for the film `All The Pretty Horses,’ I rode the horse everyday, brushing it and feeding it,” he remembered. “I could not have nervous energy around the horse. You see, I could not just walk into a role like Sean Penn.” In “Courage Under Fire,” he had to undergo training “to get my body smaller.” He went on: “My shoulders were too big. So I had to shrink my shoulders.” He lost 40 pounds to play the role of a drug addict. His other film credits have included “Oceans Eleven” and “Finding Forrester.”

Damon said he’s waiting for Ben Affleck to finish his present movie project. “We all miss writing the way we write — it’s interactive like a sport,” said Damon, who with co-writer Ben Affleck won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” four or five years ago. Affleck, in fact, was his bosom buddy since his Harvard days. Damon felt creatively alive when he was working with Affleck on the screenplay. This went on for one year.

“We had a joint account which we used for business travel,” he explained. “We would go and audition for a TV show in New York.” Of their working relationship, he put it this way: “Being so close, we argue. We don’t waste time on diplomacy conversation. We tell each other: That sucks! Or, you suck! We scream and swear at each other.”

Damon confessed to being interested in participating in many aspects of movie-making, not just acting. He did not deny aspiring to direct movies.

As he has been getting steady work in the last five or six years, Damon — who came to Taipei with his girlfriend Odessa Whitmire — has tried “to get anecdotes and tidbits of information” from different directors to help him to direct someday.

Of acting, Damon opined: “This profession tends to choose you.” From his perspective, it is “more like a compulsion than a chosen profession.” Like many of his colleagues in the profession, he admires Marlon Brando. But there are many others who make his roster of favorites. Meryl Streep is one actress he hopes to have a chance to work with one day.

Damon was only so many credits shy of graduation when he dropped out as an English major at the Harvard University. He clarified yesterday that he dropped out on different occasions, mainly whenever he got a job.

He finally quit Harvard University in 1993.

“After staying in Los Angeles for a year, I made the choice not to go back to school,” he said.

Asked if he would consider going back to finish off his course, he replied: “I was an English major. That would mean doing my things backward. I am now writing professionally.” He, however, added: “I would consider going to school in New York but not for the purpose of getting a degree.”