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Green Zone - Matt Damon interview

Matt Damon in Green Zone

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MATT Damon talks about some of the challenges of making Green Zone, a thriller about the early days of the war in Iraq, and why talking to real-life soldiers helped to inform the depiction of his character.

He also discusses why he is keeping himself so busy right now and tells us a little bit about his next movie, True Grit

Q. Did Green Zone have immediate appeal or did you have to be persuaded?
Matt Damon: Not at all. I didn’t have to be persuaded. It seemed to me such fertile ground to make a film from. Once we had Rajiv’s book that seemed like, even though we didn’t know exactly what the movie was going to be, there was so much there, and so much that was really interesting. The fundamental question was could we make a film that had audience appeal, and get a good chunk of that Bourne audience over into a film that was about a fictional character in the real world as opposed to a fictional character in a fictional world.

Q. I understand you did some research among soldiers. What were they telling you about their experiences? Was there a sense from them that they didn’t believe in what they were being asked to do?
Matt Damon: Monty, the guy who was our technical adviser and the guy the Miller character is based on, not what he does in the movie but the actual character… Monty led a team in the hunt for weapons. These teams were comprised of scientists, explosives guys, people drawn down from the artillery division to be security for them and help get them into these places. Monty had all of these intell packets and, unlike Miller, who in the movie says this is the fourth time this has happened after coming up empty handed, Monty said the first factory he went into he was sure something horribly wrong had happened because it was listed as a dual use facility. I think it was actually a porcelain factory… and Monty took one look at it and said there was no way this is anything but a porcelain factory and anybody that says otherwise is obviously making it up.

Nobody could stand inside this building and say it was being used for anything other than making porcelain. When I first met Monty the first question I asked him, because he’s exactly my age, and went to high school the same year… I graduated and went to college, he graduated and went into the army, he came from a military family, and was very proud of his service. I asked him: “Why are you participating in this experience, what are you doing this for, what do you want to get out of it?” He said: “[Because] we’ve lost our moral authority.” That all went to the reasons for going in, for invading the country, being the actual guy who goes into the factory and goes this is not what they said it was. At some level that’s the question that everybody’s been asking themselves since about mid 2003. So we’ve got a central character who starts with that question, which is a noble question.

Q. How does public opinion in America towards Iraq differ from that in the UK right now?
Matt Damon: There’s a very different atmosphere in America right now. If you engage any American in a discussion about war right now Afghanistan is probably what is going to come up first. The economy and jobs are what people are thinking about most right now. Iraq isn’t on the front page the way it is here because you’ve got the Chilcot inquiry. I’m interested in seeing how we do [at the box office] there and how we do here. But whether or not it’s at the forefront of everybody’s consciousness at home right now, certainly there will be an appetite for this type of film at some point, whether it’s when it opens on March 12 or some time later. We can never predict what the zeitgeist will be two years down the road, but we wanted to make this movie and we got to make the movie we wanted to make. Hopefully the studio will be rewarded for their faith in us.

Q. We’ve seen cinematographer Barry Ackroyd get an Oscar nomination this year. What’s it like from an actor’s point of view to be on the receiving end of that kind of breathless camera work?
Matt Damon: As an actor working with him it’s great. He and Paul [Greengrass] set up an environment in which you have such freedom. There was never a mark that was laid down, there was never anybody that said: “You have to go and stand here, deliver this line this way.” On the contrary, their interest lay totally in capturing something in real time. And they went as far as re-using something that they did in [United] 93, which was a great idea… and that was normally you are restricted by your camera, by your magazine film load, which is an 11-minute load. What they did was have a back-up camera so they would go for 11 minutes and when one camera would dump they’d pick up another one and keep going. That allowed the actors and non-actors, of whom there were many, whether soldiers or children, to stay in this heightened reality and stay in that world without everybody breaking and going to get a cup of tea, or going to the bathroom. These exercises would carry on for a half an hour and then everybody would say ok take a break.

In [United] 93 they did the full hour and a half flight, one in the morning and a flight in the afternoon. It’s why the acting is so good, so real, because it is real, it is really unfolding. It’s very easy to buy into that reality when the camera is doing nothing at all. They are asking technically nothing of you. I do it professionally, so I’m used to the technical realities of making a film. But to be totally liberated from that really gives you something in your performance that you can’t get any other way.

Q. You seem to be incredibly busy at the moment, are you going to take a break any time?
Matt Damon: I’m on a flight in a few hours and I’m looking forward to putting my head down. I just finished with Clint [Eastwood] yesterday [on The Hereafter] and that’s like taking time off. He shoots no more than eight, 10 hours a day, a very civilised scheduled. Much more civilised than Greengrass [laughs]. But I want to direct some day and I can’t really pass up the chance to work with the people I’m getting the chance to work with – Paul, three times now, Clint twice, [Steven] Soderbergh five or six times. As long as that keeps happening… I’m going to work with the Coen brothers next month [on True Grit], so I can’t see me taking time off unless the work dries up.

Q. So, what can you tell us about creating a 21st century Glen Campbell?
Matt Damon: The Coen brothers have gone right back to the source for True Grit, which is a wonderful book by Charles Portis. Most of the dialogue is culled right from the book, so I’m relying less on Glen Campbell and more on Joel and Ethan Coen for that performance.

Q: So, there’ll be no singing?
Matt Damon: [Laughs] No singing. You’ll all be spared.

Read our review of Green Zone

Read our interview with Paul Greengrass