Matt Damon looks like he hasn’t had any sleep. Probably hasn’t. We meet in New York just a few days after his wife Luciana Barroso has given birth to their third daughter together Stella.
He is wearing a grey beanie hat, he hasn’t shaved, a thick grey sweatshirt and heavy jeans and boots. A thick silver wedding band his only jewellery.
“This is my guy just had a baby look. I have changed since then. I showered. Took the kids to school and made it here today. They love the new Stella. I’ve got pictures uploaded of the kids holding her.”
Can I see? “Are you asking a dad if you can see pictures of his kids? Sure,” he purrs. We are here to talk about his new movie Adjustment Bureau – a fantastical romance. It’s part science fiction, part love story. But first we look at the pictures of his family on his phone. On one of them his four-year-old Isabella is holding the new baby and looking very proud. “She looks so excited in that picture. It’s awesome.”
I wonder if ten years ago he had this vision of himself – happy father at 40, content in his personal life, the most bankable actor alive and the most sought after one. It’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t always like that and ten years ago he was worried that after two movies had been commercial failures, Bagger Vance and All The Pretty Horses, he feared a third one would wreck his future on the A-list.
“It’s interesting. Ten years ago Bush was about to steal the election and I was in Paris shooting The Bourne Identity, a movie that would change this whole decade in a huge way. I was very focused on making the movie. In that way I haven’t changed at all if I’m working on a part. So that feels the same.”
Did he really feel that it was three strikes and you’re out? “Yes, Bagger Vance and All The Pretty Horses were just coming out and I was acutely aware that I had to do something. I don’t apologise for those movies. I know why I made them, but more so now you’re really aware of where you are in this business. I think turning 30 there was so much in my life that was unresolved, but turning 40 I didn’t feel anything, there wasn’t a hiccup. I felt wonderful to have an amazing and beautiful wife and children and from a work perspective things going really well.
“Forties is a great time for men in the business, much tougher for women. But from my perspective it was an occasion to celebrate.”
The thirties weren’t just a time of uncertainty in his career. Emotionally they were unsettling too. “I knew intellectually that I wanted to have kids and move on with my life but I couldn’t really imagine it. I just hadn’t met her yet and I was extremely aware of that.”
Now contentment and love glow seeps from his every pore. How has he learnt to balance the level of work he does with down time with his family? “On the one hand I’m most excited and most alive when I’m working on something I love. That feels great. But not to the detriment of my family. I try to have my cake and eat it. For instance working with Clint, he’ll shoot an eight or ten hour day. Which is the regular hours most parents go to work. And I feel it’s a great creative experience and then I’m home with my kids and have a good time with them.”
Last year he made the movie Hereafter directed by Clint Eastwood where he played the part of a medium. Did he visit a medium to get in to that part? “No. if I had a line into someone who I’d heard was great I would have done but I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of pretenders. This guy’s relationship is with people on earth and his loneliness. That yearning to have a real connection with another person. So that part was much easier to get into.”
Has he experienced that kind of loneliness and looking for that connection? “I had other relationships that were meaningful and I was very busy so I don’t think I was ever deeply lonely. In retrospect having the wife that I do and the life that I do and the children I can’t imagine living in any other way. But I didn’t feel the absence of that because I didn’t know what it was.”
His character in his new film Adjustment Bureau is a politician who fights his alleged predetermined destiny. He is prepared to risk everything for love. Would he? “Would I risk everything? If you ask most parents a choice between their career and their family I don’t think there’s much of a choice at all.”
One of the movie’s themes questions, is all of life predestined or do you have a chance to make your own destiny? What does he really think? “I am responsible for my life and the decisions I make. Or is it a predetermined course that no matter what I do I’ll be going down? This guy is shown a glimpse of that but he defies it and says he will live with the consequences. It’s like defying Greek gods.
“But do I believe in fate? There are so many things I feel lucky about but at the same time I’m a hard worker and I don’t like to think I didn’t earn anything in my life.”
But does he believe that certain things are meant to be and certain couples are meant to be together? “In the movie I meet Emily Blunt’s character – I catch the bus I wasn’t supposed to catch, and then the higher powers explain the ground rules. I met a girl I’m not supposed to be with but I’m really smitten with this girl and I feel like we’re really meant to be together.”
Is that how he felt about his wife, it was meant to be? “If there is a plan I’m happy with the plan. I feel they’ve intervened on my behalf in a good way. There’s an incredible series of events that took me to meet my wife. When I think of the impact of Lucy on my life and the kids because of a chance meeting.
“The Farrelly brothers were planning to shoot in Hawaii. At the last minute it changed to Miami. If I hadn’t have been in Miami I would never have met her.”
There’s a scene in the movie where there’s a ‘Do I know you?’ moment. When he meets Emily Blunt for the first time it’s as if he already knows her. Was that like it was with Lucy? Did you feel you already knew her? “Yes, not unlike that. I don’t know if it’s me eight years later reimagining it. But I do definitely remember feeling that way.” He nods savouring the moment. And he looks directly at me. He really lets you in.
What has he learnt from living with so many females? “I’ve learnt that we are a completely different species. If one of my friends brings his son over instantly the boy will start playing with a toy in a different way. They’ll smash it against the wall or do some boy thing that I’ll totally relate to and the girls don’t do that. In terms of discipline my wife’s much better at it. If I had a boy I’d be better at disciplining the boy because I understand boys.
“When my four year old was 18 months she was trying to get a treat out of me. I said no and she asked me again and I caved in, and then my wife came into the room and said ‘Isabella’ and Isabella looked up at her mother, shyly smiled and put her head down and I realised that at 18 months old this creature had total control over me. Then I realised men don’t have a chance. I feel we’re such a different species. I am flummoxed by my female counterpart at 18 months old.”
His mother features heavily in his life. Nancy Carlsson-Paige – is an author and college professor who lectures in child psychology . She instilled in him a strong work ethic and encouraged his political awareness.
“I never knew my parents as a couple. They divorced 38 years ago when I was two. They are strong individuals and both present in my life. My mum’s name comes up a lot because she’s a professor of childhood education and people are always asking me if I’m of my mother’s opinion.”
That said his mother comes over as the stronger character. Does he go for a woman who is strong and can take care of herself? “There was something appealing about my wife and that was she didn’t need me. I love that she’s strong. Strength is a wonderful quality for my daughters to see in the most important woman in their life.
“I expect a lot from my daughters. We’re going to parent them as much as we can and hope they are going to contribute to the community. Our 12-year-old (Alexia is Luciana’s daughter from a previous marriage who he has legally adopted her) is a fantastic writer. But their choices are for them to make. There are plenty of ways to get to heaven.”
Does he think there’s a heaven? “I hope so but there’s no way to know till you go up.”
What’s heaven on earth? “I love to be with my family, I love to be with my friends, I love my job. You have to figure how to make the peace and work with your friends and bring your family. My oldest kid and I have been writing a script together based on an idea she had. We’ll see if it’s something she wants to pursue.”
Are you still hoping to have a boy? “No, I still hope to have a marriage. It’s a whole different energy being surrounded by women. I am getting a new perspective on the world that I would have missed if I’d had boys
Traditionally women are meant to be better at compartmentalizing. Has he found that? “Not true for me and my wife. We are both better at doing one thing at a time. We get lost when we have a bunch of things, although she’s better at staying on top of it. I can only do one project at a time. It causes me a lot of anxiety if I’m under pressure in one particular project because it feels very natural to be working out all the problems of that project. There’s a lot of pressure. The day is costing $500,000 and we have to get through that day. And if you say you have to call some people about this and that I am hopeless.”
It’s hard to imagine him being so anxious – he comes across calm, gentle and grounded How does he keep his own life in the glare of Hollywood?
“It’s about not tying your identity to what the business thinks of you. If I fall off that list again I’ll just do what Ben did and find a project and write. We did it with Good Will Hunting out of nowhere. If you want to panic about what people think of you in Hollywood you’re not going to get anywhere. If you know how to write and tell a story you’ll never be replaced. Ben never panicked and he never demanded any kind of status. He was just one of the guys, I’m not doing this, I’ll do this. And it turns out he is a great director.”
He says he is still hoping to direct one day but hasn’t found the right project yet – and he has not slipped from that list so may not find the time either.
What has he learnt about love in the past ten years? “Well I met my wife so everything. The whole world has opened up.”
What has he learned about clothes? “That my wife should dress me.
What has he learned about directors ? He’s known for having special bonds with people like Clint Eastwood and Paul Greengrass and with wanting work with them as often as possible “That there’s a way to do this job and have fun, enjoy this life and not torture yourself.”
What have you learned about your friends? “That it’s tough to keep up with everyone because we’ve all got families. I’ve learnt that I want to do a better job in my forties than my thirties about being in touch.”
What has he learnt about taking care of himself, health regimes? “I exercise better than I used to. I have trouble cutting out all the food that I like. Now I have to start getting ready for movies by preparing earlier. I love food and lots of it, and wine and beer. I could eat a ten course meal pretty much every night if you let me.
“There’s a great philosopher who on her death bed said she would have done three things differently. She would have been nicer to everybody. She would have cared less about what people thought of her, and would have eaten more ice cream. I don’t want to leave this planet thinking that you could have eaten more ice cream.”