"District 9" director Neill Blomkamp didn't want Matt Damon to star in his follow-up film, "Elysium." As Damon recalled, Blomkamp -- a South African native -- doesn't like the "Hollywood people." Yet, after meeting with the star, the director was apparently charmed. Which isn't surprising, considering that Matt Damon has made it look easy for an extremely famous person to appear accessible, be it showing up as a pierced rock singer in "EuroTrip" or the viral sensation of "I'm f-cking Matt Damon." Damon has made a career of poking fun at his own image -- something that actor discusses here at length.
"Elysium" -- scheduled for release next March and teased here at Comic Con -- is the much anticipated second film from Blomkamp, following his 2009 breakout, the aforementioned "District 9." The plot of the film has remained a mystery, but -- as Damon explains -- it centers on a space station called Elysium, a utopia compared to the poverty stricken Earth it floats above.
I met with Damon at a hotel near Comic-Con's storied Hall H to get some insight on the secretive film, discuss his feelings (or lack of) toward "The Bourne Legacy" (and whether he'd return for a fifth "Bourne" film), and walk us through his fascinating relationship with Jimmy Kimmel.
Have you been to Comic Con before? I've never been.
It's crazy. After this I have a joint interview with the guy who voices Optimus Prime paired with Larry King.
Why? They arranged that for you? That's so random. You could probably do a whole piece on that.
I know. You can come, too.
Yeah ... and Tim Burton will be joining us later. "What? Why is Tim Burton talking to Optimus Prime? Holy sh-t, wait a minute. Why is Larry King here?"
Details concerning "Elysium" have been kept fairly secret. I know your character's name is Max.
Considering I don't know much more, we could dive into that. Is that short for Maxwell or Maximilian?
[Laughs] No, it's just Max.
And there's a space station.
Yeah, it's an orbital habitat. It's where the super rich have moved in 2154. They've all f-cked off to Elysium, which is this orbital habitat.
Is that the official term? "F-cked off"?
Well, they've all "left." That's how the English say it. They've all "immigrated." But it sits up there -- it just kind of hovers over how you would look up at the moon -- people look up at Elysium and aspire to go up to Elysium. The way "District 9" was a metaphor, this is also a metaphor. So the movie is about Earth becoming this third world planet and Max is a kid who grew up in an orphanage who always dreamed of going to Elysium, but is kind of resigned to life on Earth. Early on in the first act he gets irradiated at work -- basically because everyone is treated like sh-t at the factory that he works and he was told to do something really dangerous or he'll lose his job. So he now has to get to Elysium because, of course, on Elysium they have health care. They scan you and even if you have the tiniest pre-cancer cells, they eliminate them.
It does seem to have a class aspect, like "District 9." Considering that you're in this movie, I assume you liked "District 9."
I love it. I love it.
Taking this role, is it that easy? Because you liked what Neill Blomkamp did with "District 9"?
It was that easy for me. When I saw "D9," I was completely on board with him. I really hoped I'd get the chance to work with that guy. Then, soon after that, my agent called and says, "He's got this movie and I don't know anything about it, but he wants to sit down and meet with you." Neill was leery of what he called "Hollywood people." Like, he didn't want to work with anybody who was a movie star.
He has his own group.
Yeah, he has his whole crew.
Like Sharlto Copley.
Yeah, he's got Sharlto. But he came and met me at the diner around the corner from my house in New York. And he was looking at me the whole time, "You're not like what I thought." And I'm like, "What did you expect, dude?" We walked home and he's like, "All right, this doesn't seem so horrible."
That's an interesting point. But, for you, specifically, for as famous as you are, you come off very accessible. From the Jimmy Kimmel, "I'm F-cking Matt Damon" stuff to "Scotty Doesn't Know" in "EuroTrip." Does that help in this situation?
I guess so. I guess it helped in this one.
Your public perception is that you're up for anything as long as it sounds fun.
Yeah, if I think it will be good, I'll do it. In terms of the viral stuff, if it's funny, I'd love to do it. I think that stuff is great. I kind of, long ago, just decided not to bother with trying to micro manage an image. It just seemed like, (a) impossible to do and (b) just way too much work. Way too much energy. If I had to sit and strategize about how to live my life away from work? I mean, I'd go crazy and my life wouldn't be any fun. So I just try to not put on any airs, really. And I work really hard. I love my job. I love making movies and the rest of it is ... you know. I'd rather have as normal of a life as I can.
But we see a lot of people in your position micro manage.
I just think now it's kind of jumped the shark. There's just no way to do that. There's no way to control an image anymore. There's no way to have mystique anymore -- unless you really remove yourself and lock yourself away somewhere. But, then, what kind of life is that for you? You know?
People like to see that stuff. Especially the Kimmel stuff.
I guess! I think it's funny, but [laughs] I don't know if people like it or not.
I think it's funny, but each concept was a one-off. I love Jimmy, but it's not like we said, "Let's do this." In fact, the first time that I went on his show, he'd been doing this thing, "My apologies to Matt Damon. We ran out of time." And I had been called about it. Friends of mine, you know, would call me, "Do you know Jimmy Kimmel? Have you ever done that?" I'm like, "No, I've never met him." So, when he did his primetime special, like, years ago, he called me up and was like, "Would you come on an we'll do a bit where you get bumped at the end of the show when I finally have you on?" I was like, "Yeah, that would be great." So, I went and met him backstage for the first time and said, "Dude! What is the deal?" he goes, "Man, I was doing a show and our ratings were in the toilet. I was doing a show and our guests were like a ventriloquist and a guy in a monkey suit. I was so depressed. And we were wrapping the show up and I just said it; it just popped out. And I have no idea why it was your name. Maybe I had just seen one of your movies." And he's like, "My producer was standing behind the camera and he fell over, buckled over, laughing. Just he and I thought it was really funny. So, we started doing it every night just because we thought it was f-cking funny."
So, it turned into this thing where I went on and pretended to get mad at him. And we did a fake "Bourne Ultimatum" sketch, then Sarah came up with "I'm F-cking Matt Damon." And then it was like, you know, we were off and running.
I interviewed Will Forte who used to be on "SNL"...
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
He said he didn't really miss leaving "SNL" until the season started again and he saw everyone back, only he wasn't there. I understand the reasons concerning Paul Greengrass, but do you feel that way about "The Bourne Legacy" now that the marketing campaign has really kicked in and the commercials are on television all of the time?
No, I mean ... I don't have anything to do with that movie.
Your character's name is in the title. So there's no emotion?
No, no. Look, all of my friends are working on that movie. They have a lot of the same crew and Frank [Marshall] is producing it. You know, I made the other three and Frank was there every day for the other three. You know, I wish that movie well. But it doesn't feel like ... I don't feel a ... I guess for one, Jeremy is not playing Bourne.
So, it feels like a very different movie.
But then Frank Marshall comes out and says that his dream is to have you and Jeremy back for a fifth movie.
Yeah, I mean, if they could get a script. You know what I mean? All Paul and I ever wanted was a script. And nobody could crack it. And that's the thing, if you really look at the mythology of the character, we would have to figure out some reason to get him going again. Because he is a guy who walked away from everything, so we just have to solve that. And Paul and I haven't been able to do it. And we really wanted to make another one; we almost were making one a couple of years ago -- and then we just couldn't crack it. Because the second we said that we'd do it, they would announce a release date and then we would be making the movie. That happened to us on the last one. We did not have a script and we had a release date. And that was just harrowing.
Paul and I have talked about it -- it took years off of our lives. Without question. The amount of stress that we were under and it was just nonstop for nine months -- in a kind of semi-panic. It was just a sh-tty feeling. He turned to me on day 100 of the last Bourne movie we did -- and we are really good friends -- and he just finally shook his head and he said, "This just isn't fun." And it wasn't. And there's no reason to make a movie -- particularly for the two of us -- there's no reason that a Bourne movie shouldn't be fun for everybody.
I would imagine that's why you did them.
That's why you do them! You believe it's going to be great from the beginning to end, and it was just a really tough shoot. And we didn't want to do that again. So if we can figure out a script -- we've been saying it for five years -- if we can figure out a way to do it, we really want to do it. I still talk to him about it. I still say, "Man, it would be great if we could go do it." So, we'd like to, but we haven't cracked it yet.
It failed at the box office, but are you surprised just how popular "Rounders" still is today?
Yeah! And it eventually made it into the black on video. Well into the black. Harvey Weinstein called me years ago and he was like [doing a Harvey Weinstein impression], "Matt..."
That's a good impression, by the way.
"Matt, 'Rounders' is in the black. I thought you'd like to know." I was like, "No f-cking way." he was like, "Yes, you did it. I knew we made a good movie." But Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the guys who wrote it, have been talking about a sequel, potentially. Because it's really interesting what's happened in the poker world since then. The world poker tour on The Travel Channel showing people's whole cards, suddenly poker took off. And Chris Moneymaker won, so, suddenly, there was the poker boom. Then there was the whole internet bubble and then it turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. All that sh-t is really kind of cool. So, where that character would be 15 years later is interesting. So, we've talked about it. And I know John Dahl, the director, would want to do it. And Edward would want to do it.
I hope that happens.
So do we. So do we. We'll see. It's always about the timing.
It was nice to meet you, sir.
Good luck with Optimus Prime and Larry King.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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