Matt Damon on “Stillwater” and a return to the movie theater
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The red carpets were out of storage and back on sidewalks in the French Riviera city of Cannes this month, after remaining rolled up last year due to COVID
The delay did not dampen the glitz, and only added to the anticipation of this month’s Cannes Film Festival where, at the premiere for the movie “Stillwater,” Matt Damon and his team received a five-minute standing ovation.
“You got choked up,” said correspondent Seth Doane.
“Man, I just was overwhelmed,” Damon said. “We’ve been sitting on this movie for so long. And the idea that I was back into a theater with, like, a thousand people?”
“Were you surprised that it touched you so much?”
“I don’t know, I’m getting old, man! I think I get choked up easier now ever since I had kids. It’s like, my job has become a lot easier because I don’t have to try. I don’t have to reach for any emotions – whether it’s joy or whether it’s pain – because it’s all just nearby, because the stakes are so much higher when you have kids.”
He’s famous as a leading man and action hero, but we learned the role this actor prioritizes most now is dad to four girls – and in the film “Stillwater,” set to be released in the U.S. later this month, he plays a father who travels to France to free his daughter (portrayed by Abigail Breslin) from prison. The mission is all the more complex because Damon’s character, Bill Baker, an oil rig worker from Oklahoma, does not speak a word of French.
The movie had all the elements you’d probably expect Damon would consider, including one that has nothing to do with any studio: “We kind of had a family meeting about it, and my kids let me do the movie,” he said. “I really wanted to do it. I’ve been dying to work with Tom McCarthy, the director, and I just thought it was such a beautiful story and such a great role. So, I went for it.”
To watch a trailer for “Stillwater” click on the video player below.
“Tell me about that family meeting; you sit down with your wife and your girls and you say, ‘What do you think?'” Doane asked.
“Yeah, I mean, I like that they know that I love my job. They know it’s time-consuming and that it’s a lot of work, and that it fills me up, you know? And actually, this movie is the first time – we have a two-week rule in our family, that we’re not apart for more than two weeks – and this was the first movie where we violated it. So, that was really tough, tough, and really actually helped, I think, the performance, because it was very easy to kind of, you know, access, you know, what I needed to access, ’cause I was really missing my kids.”
“Are you going to keep the two-week rule?”
“Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s firmly reestablished, and, yeah, it’s off the table. We’re never breaking it again!”
The work was intense even before they started shooting. Damon took a road trip with the director through Oklahoma to uncover the details he says are key to making a film believable. That’s where they met an oil rig worker named Kenny Baker.
“He’s one of the guys who took us around, and he’s just a great guy, and we’d call him throughout the shoot to just get, you know, maybe tweak a little line of dialogue or ask him a question,” Damon said. “There’s one moment where my co-lead, Camille, is an actress and she invites me to go to the theater. Tom’s like, ‘The-ter or the-A-ter?’ And Kenny just goes, ‘The-A-ter, man!’ You know, and like, so it’s stuff like that, it’s just very, very helpful to have an expert in your corner.”
The studious actor who went to Harvard appeared just as at-ease during our time together, quoting ancient Greek authors like Aeschylus, or discussing his beloved Boston Red Sox. It’s that same range we’ve see on screen: As Tom in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; a stranded astronaut in “The Martian”; or as the title character in “Saving Private Ryan.”
He’s earned five Oscar nominations, with one win, over the course of making more than 70 films. But he’s not afraid to hit “pause” on his career, like when his father died in 2017, and his wife, Luciana, guided a sort of plot twist for the family: a temporary move to Australia:
“You know, when my dad passed, I had so many vivid memories of little camping trips or things like silly things, like we went for two days and got rained on somewhere, but all of this stuff was flooding back to me. And so, I was talking to my wife about it and she said, ‘Why don’t we just go do that?’ And we went down there and we traveled all over Australia. We camped and we just had an adventure for a few months.”
The 50-year-old actor told us he’ll not work again this fall, as the family gets settled in New York, the kids in new schools. “Look, they’re growing up with a lot more stuff than their mom or I ever had, and so we keep an eye on that,” he said.
“Do you worry about that?”
“Yeah, I worry. But you know, I think when I got to Harvard I met a lot of kids who are very wealthy, some of them were in a lot of pain. Their parents weren’t there for them, you know, like at all. And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I get it, like, money doesn’t solve anything.'”
He’d left Harvard to finish that screenplay which made him famous, with co-writer and childhood friend Ben Affleck. It would win them the Oscar.
Doane asked, “Do a lot of people still connect you with ‘Good Will Hunting’?”
“Sure, yeah; fewer and fewer. You know, younger people don’t know it as much. My 15-year-old refuses to see it. She doesn’t want to see any movies that I’m in that she thinks might be good!”
“What do you mean?”
“She just likes to give me s***,” Damon laughed. “My daughter said, ‘Yeah, remember that movie you did, “The Wall”?’ I said, ‘It was called “The Great Wall.”‘ She goes, ‘Dad, there’s nothing great about that movie!'”
“So, she keeps you down to Earth? Humble?”
“She keeps me, right, my feet firmly planted on the ground!”
We found the superstar unfussy, happy to clap to synchronize our cameras, and self-deprecating during our stroll through Marseille, where they shot the film.
“I mean, normally I’d be wearing, like, a T-shirt and a baseball hat. And like this, I’m dressed like a waiter,” he laughed. “But maybe that’s helping me blend in.”
Damon told us he blends in so much that he remembers when he was single and shooting “Bourne Identity” in Prague, he could not strike up conversation with women in a nightclub. “My friend turns to me and goes, ‘Oh my God, your movies didn’t come out here. You’re not famous here!’ And he goes, ‘And you got no moves. You’re Matty No-Moves!’ So literally, that became my name: Matty No-Moves.”
He’d come to Marseille to thank the local crew with a special screening. The pandemic may have delayed “Stillwater”‘s original 2020 release date, but that delay only deepened Damon’s appreciation for being in, and at, the movies.
He said, “I’ve been watching stuff on my television like everybody else for a year-and-a-half. And to go back into a theater and be reminded that turning the lights out with hundreds or a thousand, you know, strangers and taking in something together, is really wonderful!”
For more info:
- “Stillwater” opens in theaters July 30
Story produced by Sara Kugel and Erin Lyall. Editor: Steven Tyler.