The Adjustment Bureau: in conversation with Matt Damon

Posted on 7 March 2011
By Prairie Miller
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Matt Damon is no stranger to following direction as an actor in movies, especially under his new mentor Clint Eastwood, but as a character with a mind of his own in The Adjustment Bureau, obedience is another matter.

Playing a NYC politician running for office in the US Senate, Damon finds himself faced with an offer he can’t refuse from bureaucratic bullies in fedoras, in the Philip K.

Dick adapted sci-fi psychological thriller. As well as being hopelessly drawn to the irresistible allure of a dancer (Emily Blunt), who repeatedly catches his eye while he’s on the run.

Our NYC movie reporter Prairie Miller caught up with Matt, (Ed’s note – although it looks like she surprised him by hiding in his wardrobe) to talk about The Adjustment Bureau, and mull alternate identities, cheating fate on and off screen and devouring donuts on the sly on set.

Hey Matt…

Matt Damon: “Whoa… I thought this was my hotel room!”

Well, surprise!

MD: “I looked around and was like, what? Uh, good morning.”

So do you have any stories like what we see in this movie, to share from your own life? You know, where fate has ever seemed to take over your life so strongly, in like a wow moment.

MD: “Hmm… I think Emily’s chance to work with me, must have been one of those moments. Uh, well clearly for me, passing up the chance to be in Avatar, in order to do Green Zone, was one of those moments. Because Avatar didn’t do very well at all.

“But I do end up thinking about jobs, and the roads not taken. There’s a Garth Brooks song that goes, ‘Thank God for unanswered prayers.’ And I think of all those movies I auditioned for, jobs that I was desperate to get and didn’t get, that really turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“Looking back on my life and my career, and everything, I feel like even when I tried to control as much as I could, and worked as hard as I did, a lot of it is really down to luck. And I’d say one of the biggest ones, there was a Werner Herzog movie called Rescue Dawn that Christian Bale did.

“Werner and I were talking about that. This was eight years ago, about me possibly playing that role. And I was really, strongly considering it. And instead, I met with the Farrelly Brothers.

“I remember talking to my mother and she said, you know, you don’t always have to go into a jungle and lose a bunch of weight. You’re allowed to have a little fun.

“So I did the Farrelly Brothers movie (Stuck On You). And that’s where I met my wife! So four kids later, I mean…Yeah, that was a pretty fateful decision.”

And what would you do if you were like your character David, and could change your fate?

MD: “I’d go straight for Avatar!”

David also has his eye on running for president. So what would you do about Egypt if you were president?

MD: “Well, that’s kind of a Superman versus Mighty Mouse question. I don’t know what kind of president David would have been, or what issues would have been important to him. But he’d probably respond to… how things were polling.

“So I honestly don’t know, But I’m thrilled about what’s happened so far in the Middle East. It’s very exciting to see this nonviolent revolution. And this dictator toppled in 18 days. That’s pretty incredible.”

Any big surprises on the cutting room floor?

MD: “There is a lot of footage of me running around in a white shirt and a blue fedora! Dancing. Certainly on the set, I definitely burst into song and dance a lot. When I was in a costume. Because it felt appropriate.

“But no, I left the dancing to Emily. Thank God. And it was nice to actually be in one of those movies, where I wasn’t one of those guys training my ass off – it was somebody else.”

So what were you up to instead?

MD: “I was sitting in the corner, eating doughnuts! And watching Emily eat celery.”

Matt, your character risks everything for love. And I wanted to ask you, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?

MD: “Hmm…I don’t know what’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done for love is. What the hell is the craziest thing…I don’t know, I don’t know.

“I mean, you build your life around somebody. That’s kinda crazy! But it’s more incremental. You know, there’s no moment where I’m like Tom Cruise in Born On The Fourth Of July, running down the street in the rain.

“Like, what the f**k are you doing? I thought because it was raining, I’d just run! Get in the house. What’s wrong with you? No, nothing like that leaps to mind…

“But look, any minute I’m not working, I go home. And we have a two week rule. There’s no job I can take, like when I did True Grit. I asked Joel and Ethan to just board the movie, so that I was never away from home for more than a week.

“So they did that. So I was working two days a week, and then I’d fly back here. And I just took this big movie in LA, but we’re all there together.”

PR: You’ve said that Ben Affleck will tell you when you have terrible ideas for movies…

MD: “He tells me that a lot.”

Well, how much of it is a benefit, when he’s brutally honest with you?

MD: “It’s everything. Yeah. Look, when I have a cut of a movie I’m in, I always show my friends. I always show my wife. And I show Ben. And I probably saw six different versions of The Town when he was working on it. And I read the script. We always do that.

“And it’s always good to have another set of eyes on something. And our deal was always, like on a movie set, you can always see a lot of time being wasted on diplomacy. Because people don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

“It’s just so much easier if it’s implicitly understood that like there’s a deep respect for the other person. So that I can tell you, that’s a f**king terrible idea.

“You know, and then you can just move on. Particularly when you’re writing. And you get so excited about what you’re writing. Like, ‘then the guy comes in the room and..’ And then your writing partner will be like, that’s terrible.

“And then you can just abandon it right away. Instead of spending two hours going, well I wonder if that’s what we really want to say. It’s just a waste of time.

“The quicker you can cut to the chase…Like the idea is that the allegiance is to the great idea. It’s not up to any one person, or any agenda. It’s just to the idea.

“Ultimately, a director is a dictator. I mean, it’s an absolute. You are God in that. You are the absolute arbiter of taste, in that the buck stops with you.

“So why not listen to every idea. Because you’re gonna make the decision. So you want to have as many choices as you can get from as many places as you can get. And then ultimately, you decide.

“So a big part of that, is just having people that you believe in. And believe will give you good ideas. The other thing that we always said is, judge me for how good my good ideas are, not how bad my bad ideas are.

“Because we all have terrible ideas. And particularly when you’re creating something, and doing something creatively, the faucet is like, just open. And stuff’s just pouring out of you. And it’s not all gonna be good.”