Mr. Damon, You’re now playing Jason Bourne for the fourth time. Do you recall the first part that came out 14 years ago?
Absolutely! I had a lot more discipline about exercising and my diet then. It’s much harder now that I’m 45. Back then, I thought my film career was going nowhere. I was all set to give up.
Why? You were one of the big young stars in Hollywood …
Well, I’d just had my two bombs and when The Bourne Identity came out, it had bad buzz from Hollywood. Everyone was saying it was going to be a disaster. I thought I was about to have my third bomb, and you don’t get away with three in a row.
What would you have done if that had happened?
I was in London doing a play. I knew something would turn up somehow. Also, I knew I could write screenplays. You can’t sink any lower than at the start of your career.
So you regret nothing?
Regret is the worst thing in the world. There were reasons for all the decisions that I’ve made. And I’ve taken something away from every film I’ve made.
Luckily, the gloomy predictions proved wrong. The success of the Bourne movies even consolidated your status.
Right, they were my insurance. I always knew I had a Bourne movie out there waiting, so I could take some swings and not be afraid to miss. Fantastic.
So with every Bourne movie, you extend your insurance cover?
That’s not what it’s about. I choose the Bourne movies the same way I choose other movies. I wouldn’t do them if they bored me. If you do the same kind of performance over and over, you end up dreading going to work every day.
How have you avoided that?
Pure luck, I’d say.
Could talent have anything to do with it?
I’m talking about success. Success is so transient because the busi- ness is constantly shifting, so it’s pretty rare for anyone to feel comfortable. Everybody is looking for the next good job. It’s impossible to control your career.
Many of your colleagues feel cinema is on the defensive. What do you think?
Everything that’s interesting migrates to television. The film studios focus on big movies, and because they have to be marketed in every part of the world, they produce for the masses. With television, you can give a story serious treatment, really go into the details. When I came into the business, it was all about big mo- vies. No one made anything for television. Now people are saying how cool it would be to have 20 hours to tell the story. We were trained to write for a two-hour production – and even though you know it’s really good, you have to throw stuff out because it doesn’t fit with the narra- tive line and there’s not enough time. Now we can tell epic stories on television, like in big novels, and it’s starting to get really appealing.
You seem very relaxed. How did you acquire such a laid-back attitude?
I don’t know. My brother has this theory that you retard emotionally at the age you become famous because that’s when the world stops engaging with you as it should. I was 27, which is a good solid foundation. So I was lucky I had a chance to grow up a little more.
You and Ben Affleck got your big break with Good Will Hunting, for which you wrote the screenplay that earned you an Oscar. What were you aiming for?
We had no great expectations. We had such trouble getting it made that by the end of it, we just wanted it to be a videotape on our fireplace. As an out-of- work actor you get this feeling of ha ving nothing to show for all the energy you’re putting in, and this was our way of letting off steam. What mattered was that we could say: This tape wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for us.
Everybody is looking for the next good job, it’s impossible to control your career
Is it hard to maintain friendships in this business?
It’s very hard, but it’s not about people, it’s about time. Ben is a wonderful exception, but we don’t see each other as much as we would like. We are rarely in the same place at the same time. That’s why I’ve lost some friends, and I constantly feel like I am failing the friends I have. Last year alone I spent six months filming in China.
But your family goes with you, right?
Of course, if a good job comes along, we’ll take the family and go live some- where. Luckily, my wife loves to travel.
And you don’t?
Oh yes, I do. I got used to it as a kid with my mother. We traveled in ordinary buses through Guatemala in the eighties, attended language schools all over Mexico, lived with ordinary families. Those experiences opened my eyes to a world beyond the USA.
What do your four daughters think of your being a film star?
It’s normal for them. Once, when the eldest was nine, she really wanted to walk on the red carpet because she’d heard about it in school. My wife and I weren’t happy about the idea, but agreed to let her do it with some friends. Then the photographers all homed in on my colleagues and no one took any notice of them. After making it down the red carpet without any fuss, she pronounced it “not that cool.”