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The Two Faces Of Matt

"I asked her if she liked it and she said, 'I did like it.' And she was trying really hard," Damon says. "The first movie she -- I don't think she'd ever seen an action movie and so she really didn't like it. . . . Last night, I think she was set up a lot better to accept it, but still she said, 'I got a little bit of a headache.' "

'Mattfleck'

It's hard not to compare Damon with Ben Affleck, with whom he entered mainstream consciousness in the late '90s with the success of "Good Will Hunting." They received an Oscar for the screenplay, and Damon was nominated for an Oscar for the title role as Will, the genius janitor of MIT.


Matt Damon, star of "The Bourne Supremacy," clings to a remnant of privacy. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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Affleck and Damon grew up a few blocks from each other in Cambridge and shared a love of acting as kids. They are still best friends, and have collaborated on a number of projects, but their public images have diverged.

There was a moment last year when Affleck was asked if he was going to marry Jennifer Lopez, and he joked that he would marry Damon instead. The papers dubbed this Mattfleck. But Mattfleck -- the perception of Matt and Ben as peas in a pod, as conjoined twins, if you will -- had long since been killed off, in part by Bennifer.

While Damon was lying low, trying to stay normal, Affleck was showing up in Ms. Lo's music video and on celebrity magazine covers and in rehab -- embracing, it seemed, all the trappings of modern Hollywood stardom. While Affleck took on mainstream movies like "Bounce" and "Changing Lanes," Damon seemed to be more discriminating. There is real acting muscle behind Damon's face, while Affleck's charm is his face. Damon's "All the Pretty Horses," a disappointment at the box office, did not become a punch line like Affleck's "Gigli."

In short, you take Damon seriously. He went to Harvard before dropping out to pursue his dream. He does not come off as needy or too charming. He does not require you to love him and damn, that's appealing.

He talks about missing the ordinariness of his former life, and the way anonymity allowed him to be a fly on the wall when he was developing characters, and the way it allowed him to simply live.

"You have to preface everything by saying, 'Look, I'm not complaining, I'm incredibly blessed,' " he says. "But anonymity is something that is an incredibly valuable commodity and you're not aware that it's gone until it's gone. And the experience of it going, it's insidious. You meet people who've been famous for a long time and as much as they try and safeguard against it and as vigilant as they are about trying to protect their humanity, it has an effect."

For years he has been close-lipped about his love life. Privacy is next to normalcy, perhaps. After dating Minnie Driver and Winona Ryder, he has vowed not to date any more celebrities, or come as close as a cautious guy can get to vowing.

"It's always silly to say 'never' in these interviews -- then people come back and throw it in your face," he says. "But no, I can't imagine being in a position where I would -- I mean, my present situation notwithstanding, even if I wasn't in my present situation, even if I was single -- I can't imagine being with a celebrity. . . . It kind of magnifies exponentially the whole part of this thing that I don't like, and that really gets in the way of doing my job and interferes with the life part of life. I mean, just look at what happened to Ben."

Damon's "present situation" is with a single mom he met while she was bartending. They've been dating for about eight months. When asked about it, his face softens and he looks down into his lap. You can hear the smile in his voice.

"I mean, she's great. Without getting into it too much, she's, uh, she's yeah, she's great. She's a mom, and yeah, she's fantastic."

He looks like he'd like to say more, the way people in love do. "It's going well," he says. But he stops himself.


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