Shortly after sitting down for lunch, Matt Damon delivers a line that makes you think you should have chosen an easier career than interviewing celebritieslike teaching cats to play chess: “The only thing a celebrity can do in one of these articles is hurt their own career. If I give you a really good interview, am I going to get a movie out of it? Fuck no! So what’s the argument for saying anything, unless you have this rampaging need to please?” He’s dressed in full don’t-look-at-me camouflageand not the kind of ripped-crotch shit Fred Segal sells for thousands of dollars to stars who want to look unstudied. This is dudewear: a Patriots ball cap pulled down tight, a shapeless pair of jeans, and a wrinkled, blue-and-white-striped short-sleeved shirt that looks like it was recently balled up in a corner. He’s chosen to meet at Ago, an airy Italian place on Melrose in L.A. that’s partly owned by Robert De Niro. And he makes it immediately clear, in the friendliest way possible, that he will not be telling me damp-eyed stories of how getting diddled by an uncle as a toddler helped him channel the fury he needed to convincingly bash Jude Law’s head in with an oar in The Talented Mr. Ripley. “I’ve worked very hard in interviews to portray a very polite and boring person,” he says. “I’m trying to actively get away from the overexposure that happened eight years ago.”
It’s yet another chapter from Damon’s Big Book of Scary Hollywood Stories With a Moral, this one gleaned from what took place after Miramax realized just what kind of marketing gold it had struck with Good Will Huntingthe true story of how an (almost) Harvard grad and his childhood buddy Ben were two out-of-work actors who decided that rather than wait around for Spielberg to call, they’d write their own star vehicle. Harvey Weinstein trotted the boys out to every publication that requested them. That made Damon itchy. He says he believes that excessive exposure will turn an actor into a “personality” and distract audiences from buying him in a variety of rolesbut the discomfort clearly runs deeper.
“Matt is rare in that he’s an actor who doesn’t like attention,” Affleck tells me. “He’s not really comfortable with it, or all that comfortable with himself for that matter. Any attention just makes him feel self-conscious.” Which is why when Hunting was set for wide release and Rolling Stone called, Damon said no. “Harvey came to the set of Rounders and was yelling at me, going, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? Did you ever think you’d be on the cover of Rolling Stone?’ And I said, ‘Sure, I dreamed about it when I was a kid, but I’m already on the cover of nine other fucking magazines. My own grandmother told me she’s sick of seeing me. I can’t do this anymore.’”