QUESTION: This is not an easy film for the audience. Does the complexity come through in the process of making the film?
MATT DAMON: Yeah. It’s a pretty complicated topic. We all did a lot of reading. [Stephen] Gaghan had a pretty good-sized reading list. He sent me like 12 books and I read some of them. I did my best.
Q: What kind of books did he send you?
MATT DAMON: Well, I read both of Bob Baer’s books, which are terrific, by the way. I highly recommend anybody out there going and picking them up. He’s just a really fascinating guy; really smart, really dedicated guy. And everything from books on oil, like the book The Prize, and one of Tom Freedman’s books, From Beirut to Jerusalem. They’re basically a syllabus for all of his actors. So, I worked my way through that. Maybe there are actors who can just show up and say lines and not have any idea what they’re talking about, but I’m not one of them. I have to be somewhat grounded in what I’m talking about. But, having said that, they had a couple of these oil guys there who were trying to explain to me the derivatives. I’m totally lost when these guys are talking. It really is complex stuff.
Q: How much did you know about derivatives beforehand?
MATT DAMON: I knew absolutely nothing. No. I would sit there and I would talk to these guys and we were talking about mergers and deals that I think anybody can relate to. So, if you just make emotional sense of that in your mind, then the minutia of what you’re talking about can be Greek.
Q: Talk about the emotional stuff your character is going through.
MATT DAMON: That’s the real part of my role that is important to the movie as a whole, the balance of the movie. You’ve got four storylines going. Mine is the most emotional from the outset because of what happens. So, in that sense, it’s the least complicated of the four stories. It’s very easy for an audience to follow what’s going on with the Bryan Woodman story because it’s this big visceral occurrence at the beginning of it. So, that was my job in this one – to try and make that stuff be believable. One of the things I really liked about it is Gaghan is not reductive with his characters. It’s not that the guy is just ambitious. All the characters are pretty complex, are human. They’re various shades of gray.
Q: What were your impressions of how the people thought of you being there? Did you come to respect that community a little more?
MATT DAMON: What, in Dubai? Everyone was very nice. Dubai is a pretty popular tourist destination, certainly for a lot of Europeans; lesser for Americans. But I wouldn’t say that I gained insight into the Middle East. Dubai is very different from other parts of the Middle East. It wasn’t like we were shooting in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Jordan. We stayed in a very nice hotel right on the Persian Gulf, and it didn’t feel like a cultural trip, necessarily. It felt like we were shooting 12 hours a day, and eating and sleeping and getting up and shooting again. It didn’t feel like a cultural exchange program or anything like that.
Q: Do you have any insight into what’s going to happen over there?
MATT DAMON: That’s a very good question. Bob’s second book is all about Saudi Arabia and it’s really interesting. He talks about it as this giant welfare state that’s about to collapse. It’s really on the verge of collapsing. The families keep growing and the oil’s running out; it’s going to collapse. Meanwhile, they’re funding a lot of these fundamentalist colleges. So, these guys are coming out of these colleges with no possible job opportunities but having this hard-line philosophy. It’s like a doomsday scenario over there. The way Bob talks about it, he doesn’t make it seem too complicated.
Q: In this movie, did you get a sense of what it’s like to choose your job above your family and everything else?
MATT DAMON: I don’t know that what I’m doing is necessarily just. He’s pretty ambitious, and he is trading on his son’s death. So, I wouldn’t say he’s doing something that’s totally noble. But, yeah, I do understand people who choose that. I met a lot of them – Bob, or guys like the technical adviser in this other movie I’m doing [The Good Shepherd], who put in 30 years at the CIA. They make huge sacrifices.
Q: How did you like playing a family man?
MATT DAMON: I liked it. I had fun. I really like the little boy, Nick. I hung out with him a lot, and he was a real cool kid.
Q: Are you part of the celebrity crusade against gas-guzzling cars? Do you drive a hybrid?
MATT DAMON: I do drive a hybrid, but I wouldn’t say I’m part of any crusade. Nobody called me that there was a crusade on. I just do it for my own personal reasons.
Q: Which are?
MATT DAMON: Well, I don’t have a car in New York. But we just got a place in Florida, so we got a car there, and it’s a hybrid. You don’t need all that car under you. I don’t need a Suburban to drive myself around. It just seems to make common sense to me. My father drives one; my brother drives one. Why would you ever drive a regular car? There’s no reason to. These cars are just as good; they just use less gas. So, I don’t understand why everyone isn’t driving them.
Q: I saw your character as an ambitious guy who decides to be the reformer and take an emotional interest in the development of this country. How did you come about this?
MATT DAMON: Well, with the death of his son, it’s like there’s this streak of nihilism that’s running through him, where he’s just like, “Fuck it.” He gets humiliated when he goes to pitch and he doesn’t even get into the room. So, now this guy says, ‘I’ll give you this field; one of these fields are about to open up.’ He is professionally a little better and personally pissed off and self-destructive enough to be able to make a suggestion like that. Plus, it’s not a bad idea to hook up with existing and run the oil overland rather than sail it all the way around Africa. It’s a good idea. And it’s kind of one of those common sense ideas, according to them, that is radical, but it makes total sense. Anybody who knows the ins and outs of it goes, ‘Yeah, well, that would be really smart, but it would cut all these people out of the pie.’ So, it never really gets suggested.
Q: Your character essentially gets involved in a coup.
MATT DAMON: Right. These two characters – one is this reformer and idealist, and the other one’s this nihilist who has had this personal tragedy – they just collide at the right or wrong time, depending on what your opinion is, and it goes from there.
Q: Do you come away from this politically more aware?
MATT DAMON: I know a little bit more about it. I’ve read a few more books than I’d read. I met some people that really do this for a living, and were really interesting to listen to, so there is a change. But the movie was made really to spark conversations. I know you guys have to be here and have to ask the questions. But hopefully, if people go see the movie, it’s the type of movie that they’ll go with someone and grab a drink afterwards and talk it through. It’s not meant to give you answers. It’s not like there’s a, ‘ta-dah! Here’s the solution.’
Q: What did you and George do when you were not shooting? Was there a nightlife in Dubai? Did you hang out?
MATT DAMON: No, no, no. He had put on all that weight, and he was really depressed. Did you guys see Super Size Me? The guy puts all the weight on but he gets depressed. And George was like that, because he’s a really active guy and he couldn’t move around. He had to just sit there, and I had never seen him like that before. He’s normally like the life of the party, but he was just really depressed. He also had his neck problem, so he was immobile and a little angry. But, coming out of it, he literally wrote and directed Good Night and Good Luck, and edited it and put it out. It was like he had so much drive coming off that experience because he was made to sit still for four months or so.
Q: Would you ever envision yourself working in the government in any way, shape, or form?
MATT DAMON: Yeah, yeah.
Q: Doing what?
MATT DAMON: Oh, I don’t know. There are so many different jobs that it’s like, ‘what other job would you like?’ I would never say that I’d be in the military, but my roommate from college had a job. He was in Special Forces, and he went to Bosnia and was hunting war criminals. I thought that was a pretty great job. He really would come out of there with these guys, and we’d take them over to the Hague, and I thought that was a pretty noble thing to do. So, I think there are some good jobs in the government.
Q: What do you think the reaction will be from audiences to this movie?
MATT DAMON: My hope is that people will really like it; people have been missing movies like that. There’s a lot of pressure on people who make movies to not make them confusing because you have two hours to tell a story, and the story costs x amount of dollars, and you want the maximum number of people to see it. The problem with that is that you get movies that are just so stupid that audiences don’t like them. I think people want the discourse to be elevated a little bit, to be a little more challenging with your subject matter, and with your characters, and not reductive about them. Look, it’s hard to read people in real life. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now. But a movie is going to tell you that I’m supposed to know exactly everything about you when you walk onscreen and open your mouth? I personally don’t think that’s that interesting. So, when you can make a movie that is a conversation-starter, I hope that the reaction will be like, ‘Thank God, we’ve been waiting for this.’
Q: It seems like you want to avoid the celebrity crusades.
MATT DAMON: Not at all. I don’t look to avoid it. The climate’s changing little bit now. People are starting to catch on. But, before, they were really good at characterizing anybody who spoke out, and cutting the legs out from under their argument. They’re pretty incredible. When you can make George Bush seem like the war hero and John Kerry like the draft dodger, it’s like: how did they do that? You know what I mean? But, no. I just want to say it right when I say it. I think that’s a mistake. People run their mouth off a little too much sometimes.