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The Bourne Ultimatum - Matt Damon interview

The Bourne Ultimatum

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MATT Damon talks about his involvement in the Jason Bourne movies, some of the challenges of bringing The Bourne Ultimatum up to scratch and why he loves working with British director Paul Greengrass.

He also talks about the comparisons between Jason Bourne and James Bond, what it feels like to be named as Hollywood’s most bankable star and whether or not the Star Trek rumours are true…

Q. Did you always intend to make multiple Bourne movies?
Matt Damon: No, I signed on for one at a time because I didn’t know how it was going to go, whether or not I was going to like working in that genre, or whether there would even be another one. There were a lot of things that could have happened. But we always said after the first one that we’d do another one if it wasn’t just a cynical money grabber; if we could actually make a movie that we felt was as good as or better than the previous one. With both the two subsequent films that was what we said and going into the third it was only that Paul [Greengrass] wanted to direct it that was my cue to sign up. He didn’t need to direct a third Bourne film because he’s about as white hot as you can get by Hollywood standards, given United 93 and everything that happened with that film, and The Bourne Supremacy and everything that happened with that. So when he said that he wanted to, and that it would be a laugh and some fun, we all went “OK”.

Q. How did you find shooting in a crowded place like Waterloo or Tangier?
Matt Damon: I think it all helps with the urgency and the paranoia of the performance because we’re right out there in the middle of everything. A lot comes out of really being put in locations. I was actually reminded this morning about the rooftop in Tangier and the sequence where I grab these towels and use them to jump over this wall that has glass on it. We got up there and there was just glass on the walls and we had to get around that somehow, so we set up a clothes line and said: “Why don’t we grab one [a towel] from this roof and then go a couple more rooftops and grab another thing…” There’s thousands of things like this that we come up with on the day and we just leave the good ones in the movie. [Laughs]

Q. How hard did you have to train physically for this film?
Matt Damon: For me actually it was different than the other two. I used to not have a life at all. I would go in work all day, then go home and go to the gym and then go to sleep. I’d do that every day until the movie was over. But now I have a step-daughter, I have a daughter and a life at home, so I didn’t go to the gym after work. I showed up in really good shape ready to go. I was wearing that jacket and by the end of the movie that zipper was creeping up higher and higher. Paul actually had to cut around it at the end because I looked at a rough cut and said: “Remember that scene? Maybe we could use a tight shot there!” [Laughs]

Q. Will there be a fourth Bourne movie?
Matt Damon: Well, you’re going to have to ask Paul Greengrass because if Paul did it then there would be a case for me doing it…

Q. What do you like about working with Paul Greengrass?
Matt Damon: Well, his style really is helpful. The very first day that I worked with Paul [on Supremacy] in Russia we were shooting in this tunnel and we were losing the light. Usually when that happens people start to panic a little bit. We had to get this shot where Bourne is walking though about a hundred extras, he’s just been shot, there’s someone chasing him and he has to check where the bullet has passed from his back through his shoulder and check for blood on his finger. So I said to the A camera operator: “Hey, what’s your bottom frame so I can show where the blood is, because if it were up to me I’d check for the blood down at my waist.” But if he was cutting the shot higher I’d have to bring my hand higher.

Paul heard this and came running over from the other side of the tunnel and said: “No, no, no, absolutely not. You just do what you do. And if it’s low then we’ll go down low and if you don’t see the blood then don’t worry about it, we’ll know what it was.” That was my first day working with him and that is basically the best thing you can hear as an actor, a director saying: “I want you to do this as honestly and truthfully as you possibly can and I will capture it. You have no responsibility to me or to my frame whatsoever.” The experience of that whole movie and this one was the same.

Another thing about the hand-held aesthetic is that you don’t have to hit marks necessarily but at the same time the lenses are a little longer. So, if you have a scene between two people, there’s not a camera in between us – a lot of times that happens in films; between you and the other actor there’s this giant camera with somebody operating it and somebody pulling focus when you’re trying to have this intimate connection to this other person. It’s like having a giant elephant in the room.

Paul’s whole style is about not interfering with what’s happening. It comes out of documentary filmmaking. The tension happens because the camera reacts to the action, it never anticipates the action. If someone’s going to get shot, they get shot and then the camera is going to move to them. It’s never going to know that somebody’s about to get shot. So if you’re feeling as an audience member as though you’re on the edge of your seat that’s because you’ve become paranoid because the camera is in this paranoid world. As an actor, there’s something about not encroaching and not disturbing the real event as it’s unfolding but standing back and capturing it like a little paranoid fly on the wall.

Q. Is it true that you’ll be working with Paul Greengrass again, on something else?
Matt Damon: Well, there’s a scheduling issue but we’re hoping. It’s based on a book called Imperial Life in the Emerald City.

Q. What makes these films so successful as opposed to some of this summer’s three-quels which haven’t been up to much in terms of quality?
Matt Damon: I think it’s that collision of perspectives and directors coming out of an independent world. To me, Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass are really just top quality directors and they’ll never let a movie be derivative. I think what people like about these movies ultimately is that they can expect their money’s worth when they go and see them because they’re popcorn movies and Saturday night kind of entertainment but they’re not cynically made… ever.

Q. What do you think about being compared to an iconic film series like James Bond?
Matt Damon: The Bond thing I understand the comparisons because they’re both agents and its the world of espionage and all that. But the characters really are so fundamentally different that they almost don’t bear comparison. The Bond character is anchored in the 1960s and in the values of that time. It’s so anachronistic to put it in the world that we live in today that Mike Myers made a fortune making his own spy trilogy about that and what happens when you pull somebody from that era into today. It actually makes great comedy. We’ve talked about this before, the Bond character – he’s an imperialist and a misogynist and he kills people and laughs about it.

He drinks Martinis and cracks jokes and that’s just so different from the Bourne character who is not with the government; the government is after him. He’s got this one woman he’s in love with, so he’s a serial monogamist – she’s dead but he does nothing but think about her. He doesn’t have the support of all the gadgets and he feels great remorse for the things he’s done. He feels compassion for others and he’ll hurt when he does things that hurt people. He’s evolving as a human being, he’s growing as a human being. It’s not better or worse [than Bond], it’s just different and it’s impossible to compare I’d say.

Q. Who would win in a fight between Jack Bauer [of 24 fame] and Jason Bourne?
Matt Damon: That’s not even close. First of all, there’s only been one Jack Bauer and I’ve got Richard Chamberlain on my side, so I think Chamberlain and I would jump Jack Bauer coming out of the [Twentieth Century] Fox stage and we’d make short work of him.

Q. You were recently named by Forbes magazine as Hollywood’s best value star. Considering the banter that took place between yourself and your Ocean‘s co-stars Brad Pitt and George Clooney when they were named the world’s sexiest stars did it give you some bragging rights?
Matt Damon: [Laughs] Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. In fact, the email that went out to George said: “Suck it sexy boy!” He wrote back: “That’s great. I had that read to me by one of my servants!” [laughs] But those things are pretty arbitrary. It’s great for me because in the short term it means I get some freedom to choose the movies that I want to do. But if you look at the list in five years time who knows what it would say. I don’t know any actors who take a job based on how well they think it’s going to perform at the box office.

In fact, I don’t know which movies the list was drawing from. Of the movies that I’ve done since The Bourne Supremacy, none of them would have been commercial on the face of them – they were Syriana, The Departed and The Good Shepherd. All three of them were just the best scripts that I’d read. I’m pretty sure that Syriana and The Good Shepherd ended up in the black. The Departed ended up being a big hit but classically Martin Scorsese’s movies don’t make any money; even the absolute masterpieces like Raging Bull and Goodfellas. They’re not huge hits in the way that a Spider-Man movie is.

So, when you take a movie like that you take it knowing that it’s probably not going to be a good box office and all the actors cut their fee just for the honour of working with him. But it was because of the Bourne movies that I had the freedom in the last two years to do those kinds of movies that I thought had wonderful scripts. I didn’t even give a second thought to what they would or wouldn’t do at the box office.

Q. What kind of extras can we expect on The Bourne Ultimatum DVD?
Matt Damon: Well, one of the DVDs came out and said there were explosive extra scenes. But it was all these scenes that weren’t good enough to be in the movie [laughs]. So, I went to the studio and said: “That’s kind of like walking into a house and holding a bunch of dog shit and saying ‘hey, look what I almost stepped in!’” But I’ve seen the extras for this DVD and they’re very good. It’s more behind-the-scenes than anything. I don’t know if there are any explosive extras.

The Hollywood factor was more addressed this time around. The EPK [electronic press kit] crew was with us just about every step of the way, every day, whereas normally an EPK crew will be there on a particular day, that week and towards the end of the schedule for another four days again. They then get all their material and that’s what you see on all the shows when all the promotion starts. But for Ultimatum they were there the whole time and so you have a lot of footage of the making of the film and there are some really good bits that show the ambition of shooting the major set pieces.

The major set pieces were ambitious – being Waterloo, the Tangier sequence and then the New York car chase. When we were in Tangier shooting in the Medina we’d say: “This has got to be the hardest we’re gonna see on this movie.” But then suddenly we were in Waterloo saying: “Give me back the medina!” And then we ended up doing a car chase in New York and the resources that were brought to bear to pull that off were beyond anything we’d done in either of the other movies.

Q. Are the rumours about your appearance in the new Star Trek movie true?
Matt Damon: I heard those rumours too but usually at press junkets, so I ultimately called JJ Abrams to ask what the deal was. But he said I was way too old. He said: “We’re doing Kirk and Spock from when they get out of the flight academy so it’s guys that are 15 years younger than you that are playing the roles.”

Q. You mentioned your new family commitments. How difficult was it to film this Bourne movie given the number of locations it visits? Did they travel with you?
Matt Damon: Yeah, we all went together. It’s a work in progress. We all have families and kids as they get older and it’s got to be worked out for all of us. We travel a lot. But it’s why we were based in England, because Paul’s got kids so our hub city was London.

Read our review of The Bourne Ultimatum

Read our interview with Paul Greengrass