On a Sunday night a couple weeks after our lunch, Damon calls from a hotel in New York. He got into town a few hours earlier to start two days of reshoots on Shepherd, in which he plays an introverted Ivy League guy who is thrust into a career that causes him to suffer through decades of fear and paranoia (the film happens to concern the Central Intelligence Agency, not Hollywood). There is a long, uncomfortable pause on the line when I tell him that Ben Affleck says that based on the rough footage he’s seen of the film, it’s his friend’s best performance to date. “I think this movie has a chance to be really fantastic,” Damon says at last, quietly. He quickly qualifies that statement with a rushed, “There’s no final cut to judge, and since it’s not overtly commercial, it will likely die at the box office without support from critics” kind of speech. “Movies like this are always aiming at a smaller bull’s-eye, so when they miss, they miss,” he says. “There’s no real safety net. If you’re in a blockbuster action movie, the reviews might suck, and the movie will still make a fortune and you kind of remain solidly on the A-list.”

The next movie he’s doing is The Bourne Ultimatum (slated for a summer 2007 release), so even if the only people who pay to see Shepherd are his mom and Ben Affleck, it’s safe to say he won’t be in any danger of losing his perch at the top. Three days from now he’ll report to the set in Tangiers, then head on to London, Madrid, Paris, and Riga, and back to London. And even though he’s played the same fixed-jawed-sprint-around-the-globe role twice before to acclaim and success, he’s managed to figure out a way to be stressed about it. “It doesn’t feel more comfortable,” he says. “In fact, it feels more daunting. We have a lot to live up to, and I’m nervous about it.”