Matt Damon walks into a hotel room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, flashing his pearly-white smile. As he sits down, he says hello before groggily asking, “What time is it?”
Although he’s shown up on time to participate in the Los Angeles press day for his new film The Bourne Identity, Damon’s body clock is still in London, where he was just hours beforehand starring in the London production of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This is Our Youth.” Damon looks quickly at his watch, noting that in just 45-minutes, a “very happy but very scared” understudy is about to make his debut alongside long-time friend, Casey Affleck. “The poor guy, I know just what’s going on in his mind right now,” he says with a laugh.
Only in the “States” for two weeks before jetting back to London, Damon clears up the rumors about some angry producers back in London — “They knew before I took the job that I had this movie coming out and I had press obligations” — and his winter wedding — “No, I’m not getting married. I just have a girlfriend” — before talking about his latest big-screen adventure, The Bourne Identity.
It isn’t long though before the Academy Award winner is bombarded by the press with another question dealing with Hollywood rumors — this time focusing on the filming of the espionage thriller itself.
Based on the best selling novels by Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity tells the story of an amnesiac rescued at sea (Damon) whose only connection to the life he once led is a passport with a name — Jason Bourne. Although as time passes certain abilities come back to him — self-defense tactics, speaking several languages fluently — outside of the fact the government would rather have him dead than alive, his background remains a mystery. On the run with nowhere to hide and no one to trust, Bourne finds himself on a race against time to not only save his life, but also remember the life he’s trying to save.
Can I Get Another Revision?
With The Bourne Identity being filmed months before Warner Brothers’ Ocean’s Eleven, rumors were quick to circle around Hollywood that the film’s theatrical postponement could only mean one thing — the film’s production was a nightmare. Although Damon admits the film had its share of production issues, he insists that they all occurred before the movie was shot and had nothing to do with the fact it was released six months after Ocean’s Eleven.
“We were never in trouble, we just had our backs against the wall,” Damon says. “What happened was that we brought in another writer to work on the third act when the film’s original writer, Tony Gilroy, had to go do something else. Tony had never read the book though — he had only been pitched the book by Doug (Liman) — so Tony came up with The Bourne Identity based on the character. He kept the things he wanted in while at the same time going in a totally different direction because he felt that what the books were all about was kind of passé.”
“The writer who got hired to come in though went back to the book and did a page one re-write of Tony’s stuff. So when I went to France I got this script that was unrecognizable from Tony’s script and unrecognizable in a way I was really uncomfortable with. It became the exact kind of movie I would pass on, that I don’t want to do and that I avoided doing because there was the perfect number of explosions and everything. And not to knock this writer — because I think he did everything that those writers are supposed to do when they write one of those scripts — it was just totally different from the movie Doug and I wanted to make.”
“So what happened,” he continues, “was we were then in the position where we were trying to get permits to shoot and we were already on-location, but now we didn’t know what script we were shooting. And we were under the gun because everyone was already there, I had to leave for Ocean’s Eleven at the end of February, and it was already October, and with a strike looming over our heads, if it hit we wouldn’t have time to finish Ocean’s Eleven.”
“So that’s how shooting became a struggle, and when I hear people saying that the production was a nightmare it’s like, ‘a nightmare? Shooting’s always hard, but we finished.’ We just eventually went back and finished Tony’s script, because that was the script we had all wanted to make and that the studio signed off on.”
Being Matt Damon
With The Bourne Identity being the first starring role Damon has taken since starring in the box-office disappointments The Legend of Bagger Vance and All the Pretty Horses, Damon admits that he feels the pressures of being a leading man. Even though The Bourne Identity earned an impressive $27.1 million during its first weekend in release, Damon knows that Hollywood will be watching his film closely, given the fact that Ben Affleck’s The Sum of All Fears earned $4 million more during its opening weekend and stayed atop the box-office charts for two weeks (The Bourne Identity only peaked in second place).
However, Damon says he isn’t too worried about how the film will perform at the box office and that he’s definitely not competing with his long-time friend over whose film will make the most money.
“At the end of the day you can’t really control it,” he states. “Yeah, the last two movies I headlined have not been successful, but I think Bagger Vance made its money back and, although All the Pretty Horses was an unqualified failure, it was my favorite movie that I ever worked on. I’ve seen a version of it that I think is a masterpiece, that version just never got released and it serves them right (laughs). I’m sure there’s a lot riding on The Bourne Identity, but at the end of the day I can’t decide the value of my performance simply by box-office numbers because that will always go up and down.”
“As for Ben and I, I think we’re both pulling for each other. At the end of the day if both those movies perform well it’s obviously really good for both of us, and if they don’t then it’s not so good for both of us. We both know how this business runs and neither’s success is good if it means the other’s failure, so I think we are both really rooting for each other.”
A New Kind of Action-Thriller
Whether or not The Bourne Identity is the movie that proves Damon is worth his $10-million price tag, Damon is just happy to have had the chance to participate in a movie that he feels redefines the action genre. For unlike numerous other action films with their calculated action sequences viewers can set their watch to, Damon believes that like Die Hard and The Matrix before it, The Bourne Identity is that rare action movie that gives viewers something new to enjoy.
“I just think there’s nothing worse than coming out of a movie feeling mediocre — that there was nothing that interested you or surprised you,” Damon says. “By and large the average movie is just derivative. And sure derivative action movies are something that’s successful — because if people are going to buy widgets then people are going to try and sell them widgets — but I think that it’s a lot more fun for audiences and for filmmakers to make something other than a widget. The main point with The Bourne Identity is that it’s an action movie that’s character-driven. The violence isn’t gratuitous, the action in the movie is actually driving the story, and in between the action sequences there’s tension that’s building — it’s just like one of those Hitchcock films that I love. I think it’s tough to find an action movie that can be a relief from the genre, but there’s definitely room for movies like The Bourne Identity to come out that are just really great, surprising and fun.”