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Matt is Bourne again

Aug 9 2004

Hannah Jones, The Western Mail


Fresh from filming Ocean's Twelve with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matt Damon tells Hannah Jones why he wanted to step back into the shoes of secret agent Jason Bourne

HE said he'd never do the sequel. But now, even though The Bourne Supremacy has passed the golden $100m mark at the US box office, Matt Damon is toying with the idea of making his third movie as sexy super agent, Jason Bourne - if the conditions are right of course.

"After I did The Bourne Identity I was really sceptical about doing the second one because it's just very hard to make a good sequel," he said.

"A friend of mine said to me, 'You have to be really careful about doing sequels because there are only three sequels in history that are better than the originals'.

"The New Testament is better than the Old Testament, Huck Finn is better than Tom Sawyer and The Godfather 2 is better than The Godfather."

Yet the busy actor, who did eight films back to back after the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting hit the screens in 1997, found himself unable to say no.

"I changed my mind when Paul Greengrass came along.

"He's one of my favourite directors - Bloody Sunday is one of my favourite films in recent years - and once I started to talk to him about his vision for the movie and heard his enthusiasm, I just felt like I couldn't say no.

"He had such a definite idea of what he wanted to do; a bold sequel that wasn't going to shy away from the darker stuff, and I liked the idea of taking a revenge story and kind of turning it on its head a bit."

The plot of Supremacy, like its forerunner The Bourne Identity, involves Damon's character trying to survive shadowy forces pitted against him by using his skills in spying and martial arts - oh, and running real fast while looking gorgeous in a black polo-neck jersey.

The movie works because Damon does these things well, and because he embodies Bourne without adding any flashy heroism. As one critic said, a show-off would be deadly in this role.

There is, however, lots of violence in the film, an adaptation of the book of the same name by Robert Ludlum.

But like the actor himself, it has a measured and purposeful quality to it.

Says Damon, "There is a lot of violence but one thing I like about it is that you see the consequences of the violence.

"That's a good thing to see in a movie at a time when everybody is hell-bent on revenge.

"And you don't see many mainstream movies where the protagonist shoots a woman in the face.

"Normally, the protagonists in big Hollywood movies tend to be simple characters because the studios don't want to take risks when they're spending so much money.

"You now, the good guy has to wear a white hat and the bad guy has to twist his moustache. But with this, the studio allowed us to make the guy more complicated than that.

"I started boxing three months before shooting started. That came from the first one where the director said, 'I want you to walk like a boxer, I think there's a directness and efficiency to the way they walk'.

"So I went to a gym and started taking boxing lessons. It changed my body but it also changed my bearing, the way I carried myself.

"We had to do it because in the book Jason Bourne is 10 years older than me and I already look young for my age, so we needed to do everything we could to make me as believable as possible."

Damon says it was the depth of his character which first attracted him to the role, and which helped draw him back to revisit it saying, "He's a deeply flawed character and so I was in a good mood going to work each day because I had something to play, rather than kind of twiddling my thumbs playing a bland good guy role."

Not that Damon could ever be described as being bland.

His is virtually a rags to riches story, a young Harvard student who gave up his studies to pursue acting and became one of Hollywood's most influential stars, seemingly overnight.

Despite matinee idol looks and his vast popularity and fame - after Good Will Hunting he was Hollywood's new Golden Boy, gracing countless magazine covers including the business magazine Fortune - he continued to be generally under- appreciated and unrecognised for his talent as an actor.

Prior to 2002 he still hadn't carried a big-budget film (Ocean's Eleven was an ensemble cast and George Clooney was more of a draw).

But opportunity knocked that same year when he was offered the lead in the action- packed The Bourne Identity.

Since then the offers have been rolling in and despite being able to pick and choose what movies he makes, Damon can't forget his days as a struggling nobody in Tinseltown.

"I choose my projects usually by the same three things - the script, the director and the role. Really, if I get any two of those, then that's usually enough.

"Even if the roles are kind of similar; like when I did Rounders after Good Will Hunting, people said, 'Oh it's Will playing cards'. I don't mind if they're good.

"It's hard for me to turn down work because for so many years I was desperate to get a job and I couldn't.

"They're just really well-written scripts and I feel like I'd regret saying no just because I'm ready for a break.

"So I don't know if it's as much about being a workaholic as it is about using my common sense and feeling like these movies are really good."

Now a multi-millionaire with an Oscar for screen writing on his mantlepiece - he co-wrote and starred in the story of a troubled maths genius with friend and fellow actor Ben Affleck - Damon is still uncomfortable in the spotlight.

"I've kind of avoided it up until now and I don't see that really changing," said the 32-year-old, who has been romantically linked with actresses Minnie Driver, Penelope Cruz and Winona Ryder.

"After Good Will Hunting, the paparazzi followed me around for about a week and then they realised they had the story and it was over. I think in most cases you kind of get back what you put out.

"I think of the story of Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen in the '80s, when they both had huge records out, and Michael Jackson couldn't leave his house but you could see Springsteen at a corner bar.

"He just exuded a normalcy and he was allowed to have that because he wasn't trying to be a super-celebrity."

Which is why he prefers to share the spotlight with 11 other actors in Ocean's Twelve, including Wales' own Oscar winner, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

"It's been really good for all of us," he said.

"I mean, Brad goes from a movie like Troy and I come from a movie like this and then we show up on Ocean's Twelve and suddenly the workload is divided 12 ways so we work less.

"It doesn't feel like a vacation in that sense but you still have to keep your eye on the ball."

So, then, to the future, and Damon shows no sign of slowing down.

He says he "swore" to himself he was going to take a break after making Ocean's Twelve, but he's already signed on the dotted line to make The Informant with Steven Soderbergh and then a thriller called Syriana.

And there's also the little matter of the return of Jason Bourne.

Ludlum wrote a trilogy of works featuring Bourne, and The Bourne Ultimatum is still waiting to be made.

"I'm considering it, but I really feel like I did at the end of the first one," he admits.

"I'm very happy to leave it at this.

"It was a lot of pressure and now that's gone because I'm very happy with the way the movie has turned out.

"To go and do the third one, we'd have to get a great script and it's hard because, personally, I don't have an idea about where to go with it.

"But who knows?

"Maybe there's a rocket scientist out there who can figure it out."

The Bourne Supremacy is released on Friday


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