Matt Damon gets down to earth about taking on ‘The Martian’ role

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Matt Damon gets down to earth about taking on ‘The Martian’ role.

Unlike his astronaut character in Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi film, “The Martian” — an outer-space Robinson Crusoe who is accidentally abandoned by his crew mates during a mission to Mars — Damon wouldn’t be able to draw on deep scientific know-how to keep himself alive.

Nor, despite his generally even-tempered nature, could he withstand that kind of crushing terror and loneliness. “I wouldn’t handle it at all,” the actor — who, oddly enough, has played not one but two stranded astronauts in the past year — said recently. “I would be dead in less than 24 hours.” Yes, Damon is one of the industry’s most versatile and bankable leading men, able to pull off drama, comedy or action with apparently equal levels of comfort. He dedicates enormous amounts of time and energy to worthy causes such as fighting extreme poverty and providing access to safe drinking water in developing countries. And he knows it. “I mean, I’m an actor,” he said, deadpan. “Talk about a skill set that doesn’t really apply anywhere else.” On a late August afternoon, the actor sat on a couch in a Los Angeles hotel room with a cup of coffee, his hair flecked with gray, his muscles sore.

At age 44, he said, the regimen of diet and exercise required to play an unstoppable killing machine like Jason Bourne was far more grueling than it used to be. “It’s horrible,” Damon said wearily. “I’m in way better shape than I was for any of the other movies, but it’s been 10 times harder. I have a horrible attitude.” Just as he is not immune to the aging process, Damon is capable of making missteps — as he demonstrated in mid-September when remarks he made on the HBO reality series “Project Greenlight” touching on the sensitive issue of diversity in the film industry blew up in his face. In a heated conversation with producer Effie Brown (“Dear White People”), Damon seemed to suggest that diversity behind the camera was less important than diversity in front of it.

The actor soon issued an apology. “I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies,” Damon’s statement read in part. “I am sorry that [my comments] offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. In the more than two decades he has been acting professionally, Damon, who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and attended Harvard University (he left before graduating to pursue his career), has seen the industry around him change dramatically. Maybe there will eventually be a glut and people will be like, ‘I’ve had it with these superhero stories.’ But we’ll see.” Jessica Chastain, who co-starred with Damon in “Interstellar” and plays the commander of his Mars mission in “The Martian,” says that, even amid the seismic changes in Hollywood, the actor has managed to carve out a consistently rich and unpredictable career. “Matt is inspiring to be around,” she said. “He is a chameleon, someone who shape-shifts in their roles, and he’s a movie star — and it’s very rare that I think you can be both things.” Finding great material hasn’t gotten any easier, though.

But with the exception of a small role in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” he ended up staying away far longer than he intended. “There just wasn’t anything interesting, big or small,” he said. On the one hand, undertaking an adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel — which blends hard science, humor and a suspenseful survival story — sounded exciting, particularly with Scott, who’d made the sci-fi classics “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” at the helm. It just clicked: I’m in a director’s medium.” Damon’s upcoming slate is a testament to his varied tastes and his interest in working with top-flight filmmakers. Along with the next “Bourne” film, which reunites the actor with director Paul Greengrass, Damon is set to co-star in “The Great Wall” — a big-budget monster epic set in China in AD 1100 directed by Zhang Yimou — and Alexander Payne’s satirical comedy “Downsizing,” in which he plays a man who undergoes a procedure that shrinks him to 4 inches tall.

As for “The Martian,” early reviews have been almost universally raves, with critics hailing the film as a refreshingly original blend of spectacle and smarts.

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