Dad is now retired, having worked as a stockbroker, schoolteacher, then in the business of helping corporations invest in low-income housing. Their mother is a professor of early childhood education at Lesley University who tried to talk her kids out of watching TV. She often took notes on the boys, using them in her studies. For several years she and her sons lived in a communal home with five other families in Cambridge.
In his adulthood, Damon's mom has been a careful, sobering influence, viewing his celebrity with a wary eye, worrying that it might make him into a "commodity," as she once put it, a "cog in the capitalist system." She once said that before her son appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in the late '90s, she'd never seen the magazine.
Matt Damon, star of "The Bourne Supremacy," clings to a remnant of privacy.
(Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
Damon has inherited his mother's progressivism, which in Hollywood makes him utterly unremarkable. He stumped for Al Gore's campaign. He's read Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men" and a polemic called "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," and says he'd happily return the "millions and millions of dollars" that Bush's 5 percent tax break gave him to "get some of the social programs back." He recently did some voice-overs for Fleet Bank and -- after consulting his family on how best to give the money away -- donated it all to organizations working for peace and conflict resolution.
Damon has credited his mom's focus on "open-ended play" with helping him discover his love of acting as a kid, and helping his brother, now a sculptor, develop his own creative spirit. Kyle would make his brother costumes -- a bionic arm out of construction paper, for example -- and Matt would wear them. Kyle created; Matt became.
This is the story of how Matt broke his leg:
"Do you remember Shazam?" he asks. He talks about a childhood superhero who, "whenever he needed his superpowers, he'd call 'Shazam' and suddenly he'd be transformed and he could fly and stuff like that. And so, I was on top of a jungle gym with my towel around my neck and I screamed 'Shazam!' and jumped. I think I was 3 years old."
Perhaps it's silly to read into this incident. People are always trying to psychoanalyze celebrities, and how much can you interpret from a 3-year-old's behavior, anyway? Still, you find yourself considering the stories you've heard about Damon's intensity as an actor, and wondering if his ability to believe in his own transformations is what makes him good. Because he is good.
Remember him in "Ripley"? (Please don't remember him in "Stuck on You," wearing those awful bangs, playing a conjoined twin for comic effect.) As Tom Ripley, Damon was so pasty, so selfish, so needy, so creepy, that he actually became ugly. Remember that awkward stance, those too-big glasses atop a nose that -- next to Jude Law's delicate features -- looked crudely fashioned? Remember him on the beach, wearing a pair of lime-green bathing trunks, pale amid golden bodies? Remember his blank stares and his rows of gleaming, barbaric teeth?
Ripley kills several people in that film. Damon says he came to believe fully in his character's rationale for these murders. He says that when he watched a completed version of the scene where Ripley walks toward Gwyneth Paltrow's character with a razor blade, he was angry when he heard the scary music that director Anthony Minghella had layered over it.
"Anthony was so deeply involved in Ripley's point of view also, and he and I were connecting in that way," Damon says. "So to see Ripley doing something and to know that Anthony had put this music on it was almost like editorializing negatively something that Tom was doing that made total sense to me and I know made sense to him. . . . It was alarming to me how deeply I felt that sense of betrayal."
Damon talks about himself as compulsive, with a mind-set that's "all or nothing." For "The Rainmaker" (1997), Damon tended bar in Knoxville for about a month to acquire the right accent. For "Courage Under Fire," which came out the year before, he lost 40 pounds by running 13 miles a day and eating a diet of chicken, egg whites, potatoes and other vegetables. He did it without the supervision of a doctor and inadvertently induced what he has described as an adrenaline disorder, for which he had to take medication.
For "The Bourne Identity" (2002), based on the Robert Ludlum books, Damon took up boxing and martial arts training, and for "Supremacy," the sequel, due out on Friday, he kept up the boxing. In both movies Damon does most of the fight scenes himself, to make them more believable -- this time, he threw out his back. He was lifting an opponent "and slamming him back and spinning around with him and, y'know, I just should've maybe reached down and touched my toes once or twice before I did that," he says. "It was pretty much my own fault."
Damon has said he likes the Bourne series because it is character-driven, setting it apart from more vapid action movies. In both of the Bourne movies, you observe some of Jason Bourne's thought processes. He is clever but not indomitable. Instead of magically knowing where to go when he's speeding along in his car, he studies a map. In "Supremacy," Bourne's personality begins to take shape despite the amnesia that has plagued him since "Identity."
Still, an action movie is an action movie, the way Damon's mom sees it.