Matt Damon Talks About the Third Bourne Movie, The Bourne Ultimatum

Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum. © Universal Pictures

Matt Damon is still looking for his identity as the third and most likely final film of the Bourne franchise kicks off. Picking up right where the action of the second movie left off, The Bourne Ultimatum once again puts its star through the wringer as Damon continues to kick some butt while trying to get to the truth about his past.

Matt Damon Press Conference

What did you learn from years of playing an amnesiac killer?
“In terms of playing the character, it’s been seven years really for me, the movies have come out over the course of five, but it’s been seven years of my life.

There hasn’t been a role that’s had a bigger impact on my life, maybe Good Will Hunting did because it pulled Ben [Affleck] and I out of total obscurity. But in terms of having an impact on my career…

Just as an example, between Supremacy and this one, Bourne Ultimatum, there were three movies that I really wanted to do, because I loved the scripts to three movies in particular. All of these movies were on the face of them going to be absolute box office misses and they were Syriana, which was a very complicated movie. George [Clooney] and I cut all our money so we could do it. The Departed, which now looking back obviously was this big hit and it won all the awards. But at the time if you took a Scorsese movie, his movies classically don’t make a lot of money, even the masterpieces. Goodfellas, Raging Bull, they don’t actually make a lot of money at the box office. It’s this incredible experience because you’re working with him, which is why he can get any actor he wants.

Everyone will cut their fee and go and work with Marty. But in terms of looking at your career, you go, ‘Well, okay, so that’s number two. That’ll be two movies in a row that I’m in that don’t perform at the box office.’

And then I fell in love with the script called The Good Shepherd, and everyone went, ‘Look, this is a tiny, little bull’s eye you’re aiming at here.’ You look at it and you go, ‘It’s a very tense, cerebral, historical epic about the birth of the Intelligence Service in America.

It’s not Spider-Man 3. But I didn’t hesitate because I loved all the scripts. They were movies that I desperately wanted to do, and I knew that I had The Bourne Ultimatum off in the middle distance, and that there was going to be an audience that was built in for that. So it really just allowed me creatively freedom to make all these movies, which each individually, I’m just so happy – I’m proud of each of those movies, they all did very well. Some of them did incredibly well and they were all reviewed really well, so they all just made a big impact on my career.

So that’s like an ancillary way that the Bourne character has completely changed my life. Starting with the first one, where nobody had offered me a movie in six months. I was in London doing a play in the West End and the movie opened, and by that Monday I had 20 offers. I would have been 32 years-old, or 31 years-old, the rose colored lenses came off. I went, ‘Okay, I get it. If you’re in a hit you have a career, and if you’re not it doesn’t matter.’ They might think you’re a real nice guy; they’re not hanging a movie on you.”

What’s your favorite action sequence in this movie?
“Well, I always liked the Tangier sequence and the running along the roof because it’s just Bourne absolutely a hundred miles an hour flat out.

I always liked him grabbing the things, all the things we came up with when we were on the real location. That’s the fun stuff because you get a bunch of guys together and you’re going, ‘All right, what would be the smart thing to do here?’ We’d kind of figure out those sequences, and when they cut them together and they actually work it’s really a good feeling. Although Paul came up with Waterloo, that was all Paul’s design and what would it be like to have a guy leading a complete novice through [there] to try to allude. And that was all Paul and I love that sequence, too.”

Is this film more timely now than the first one?
“Well, all the movies I think are very much of the time. The first one is very much a 2002. It’s a post 9/11, all of the fear, all of the paranoia, everything in there. What I love about them is that you’ll be able to look back and know the second one is 2004.

Things are starting to turn in Iraq and now this kind of American guy, this iconic American figure is going and apologizing and atoning for his misdeeds, for things that he’s done. He’s taking responsibility. Now you have the movie ending where Bourne is pulling the gun and putting it to the head of the person who lied to him, who said, ‘This is what you’re going to be doing. You’re going to be saving American lives,’ and Bourne’s saying, ‘I see now that you led me into something under false pretences, and now I understand that and I’m not going to do that anymore.’

Each movie is very much a reflection of the time in which it’s made. …There’s somebody who’s an American who’s killed without a trial, so all of these things are just little kind of nods to the world that we’re living in right now. I like that about them. They feel relevant. Bourne has a lot of integrity. I do think he’s a very kind of American character. I like that about him, his thoughtfulness, his intelligence. The fact that he’s trying to do the right thing, doesn’t always do the right thing or his misled, but is trying to do the right thing. So those things I think are great.”

Page 2: Audiences, Action, and the Backstory

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The preview audience was cheering when you were beating up people and crashing cars. How does it feel to be in that kind of crowd pleaser?
“It feels so good I can’t even tell you. In fact, you guys were the second audience to see the movie so none of us have seen it with an audience. So two nights ago, when the first press screening happened, we were all getting Blackberried during the movie, ‘They’re cheering at Waterloo,’ because we didn’t know.

We came so down to the wire, as we always do on these Bourne movies, that we didn’t even get a test in. We each had little DVDs; we showed it on television. I showed it to my wife. I showed it do my brother and he was like, ‘Yeah, cool.’ And so we’d have these little friends and family screenings. Paul showed it to 25 people. You know, people in the business that we know that make movies. ‘Are we missing anything, guys? Can you help us out?’ Collecting notes as quickly as we could and trying to get them into the edit, and then putting it out.

So two audiences have seen the movie, of which you guys are the second, so to hear that… Last night we were at dinner, we got the Blackberrys all started going off at the same time. We heard that it was a crowd pleaser again. It was Paul and George Nolfi, the writer, and me and Joan [Allen] and David Strathairn and Julia [Stiles]. So we just told Amanda to expect a hung over group coming in the next day, because that’s when the champagne came out.”

Was there a sequence in Washington outdoors in the mall that you shot that didn’t make it into the film?
“Joanie and I have shot over the course of the last two movies, probably – we were talking about it and laughing about it at dinner last night, probably eight scenes. Joan Allen and I have shot, probably three or four in Supremacy and three or four in this one, where… It’s a weird thing.

We make these movies [and they] are changing in such a fluid [way]. It’s a really weird process. We’ll end up doing scenes and we’ll just be sitting there shooting and going, ‘Well, this is never going to be in the movie. This doesn’t work at all.’ But a lot of that we don’t know until we get them up on their feet. So as a result, Joan and I have done a number of scenes together, all of which are on – I mean, you could make a DVD of. We’ve done the same scene in all these different locations and finally what we ended up with is that little quick scene outside the hospital in New York where I give her the thing.

It’s kind of a good indicator. It’s kind of the way – like the amount of attrition, like the attrition rate. Like we shoot, our ratio of scenes shot, the scenes that make the movie are probably about eight to one. That’s what happens when you start without a script.”

How did you deal with the backstory?
”We always kind of had a feeling about kind of where the Bourne character came from, and that he would have been trained, that he would have had a military background. Presumably he was tapped from one of these programs as a good candidate and showed language skills. You know, we had a kind of a loose idea of what that backstory was.

We didn't want to pin anything too far down because obviously making all three movies, we never really knew. But we definitely knew enough that I could do all the physical stuff and get ready so that the character was kind of, hopefully, believable.”

Did you get hurt doing any of the stunts?
“Well, the fighting stuff, yeah, there was a huge difference. The first movie, I was 29, and this last one, I was 36. I definitely felt my age. And particularly because that big fight scene in Tangier, Joey, the other actor, the guy that I'm fighting, is like 23 years old. The first movie came out and he was in high school so he was so happy. He was like, ‘Mate, I'm in a Bourne fight. This is great!’ He is in really good shape and he's already like a much better athlete than me. So I was like, ‘Oh, man, Joey, you're killing me!

You gotta slow down.’ And so I think it took probably a couple extra days. You know, it probably cost the studio a couple extra days because I'm a little older now.”

What kind of relationship do you have with Paul Greengrass as far as shaping the film?
”He's the guy that I do that with because he's so great at that. He's also a terrific writer. You know, I mean, he wrote United 93. He wrote Bloody Sunday. He's a really good writer and he does a significant amount of the work on these movies, too. Which any director does. I mean, you have to take ownership. You're telling a story, even if someone else has written it, you have to tell the story in a way that makes sense for you. So every director working, every director worth his salt is a pretty good writer, too. They never take credit for it, unless it's just them doing it.

You know, generally, that's what the writer's there for. We were lucky enough to have George Nolfi on set with us every day. So George kept out ahead of us. He would literally be in his hotel room working on the pages for the next day while we were working on the pages he had given us for this day, and we were making our tweaks in the real location, going, ‘Okay, well let's change this to that, because that thing's over there.’ You know, it's not an advisable way to make a movie. Like you couldn't teach that in film school and send people out there. But it works for Paul.

There's something about the chaos and the alchemy of like Frank Marshall and Paul Greengrass. And in this case, we had three different guys working on the script: Tony Gilroy, Scott Burns, and George Nolfi, who were on at different stages, and who are three of the best writers working today. So it's like you get this big mix and then you get the actors in there. But they've all gone down to the 11th hour. And we've literally [not known] until two nights ago. It should come with a stamp. It's not an advisable way to work if you want to live a long life.”

Page 3: Film Franchises and His Baby Girl

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Would you consider doing another franchise character?
”I'm trying to only do franchises. That's my new thing. In fact, the guys who wrote wrote the movie Rounders and I said to them…because Rounders was a bomb when it came out, but now it's done really well on video. And I said, ‘You guys are writing the wrong sequel. We should be doing Rounders 2!’ (Laughing) So no, I'm open to it.

I knew Ludlum had written three books, but I signed up for one and they were okay with that.

And then when I signed up for the second one, I didn't sign up for the third. I only signed up for one again because I wanted to make sure that it went well and I still liked doing it. And so I've done it. And the Ocean's movies have just... You know, Steven [Soderbergh] calls and goes, ‘We're doing another one,’ and I go, ‘Okay, I'm in.’ But there was never a kind of an eye to being, for me, for either of them being franchises. I don't think that way. And so I'm open to any good movie. If I enjoy the experience and I love the people I'm working with and I feel like there's a chance to make a good movie, I'll make it if it's a sequel or if it's not.”

At the end of the day, what do you want to be known for?
”The career that I think Ben [Affleck] and I look at... Well, Clooney's definitely doing it right now, and Clint Eastwood. Those are the careers where they're acting, they're writing, they're directing, and they're doing it on their terms.

I mean, I think that's the biggest. I love making movies, and I love everything about it. I love writing and I love acting, and I really want to direct. I've been taking this last 10 years to really carefully study these directors that I've been working with. I've worked with a lot of really good ones at this point.

I feel like I'm ready to do it. And that, to me, would be great to have a long career.

It's so hard to have a long career in this business. I mean, you guys see people just... I mean, I'm still here after 10 years, and we're all probably a little amazed by that. (Laughing) But yeah, so at this point, I just want to just be smart about the work that I'm doing and try to have integrity about the choices I make, and that's it.”

What's your update on fatherhood?
”Being a dad is still great. It's been just amazing. I mean, these stages just go by at such a [fast rate]. .I mean, it's like it's incredibly fast, you know? The little discoveries every day, so much is happening, so much changes in the first year. She's walking around now. She's 13 months old, so it's just amazing. It happens at warp speed. I see why people, when parents see little babies, they get that thing. They go, ‘I want another one,’ because the stages all just fly past. And if you're with her every day, which I'm lucky enough to be...You know, it's only if you're taking pictures or it's only if people you haven't seen for a couple months, that you even realize. It's happening in front of you and you don't even see it.”

Have you figured her out yet?
”Well, I try to figure out what it is...

I mean, right now, she kind of sounds like a crow. She kind of goes like [makes crow sound twice]. Like that, and points at things. This morning, like she pointed at the ceiling, and there was nothing on the ceiling. And she just went [makes crow sound] like that. And I was like, ‘Well, that's the ceiling.’ And she went [makes silly laugh]. And I was like, ‘I don't know what's funny about that.’ So I'm trying to figure out what's going on in her head. Like sometimes, you know, sometimes she goes [makes crow sound] and you go, ‘Oh, you want some milk?’ She goes [makes silly laugh]. And you go, ‘All right, she was thirsty. That's good, she communicated.’ But then sometimes she just has these things that I just have no idea what she's thinking. So I'm working on that.”

SPOILER ALERT

You’ve said you’ll never play Jason Bourne again. Is that still how you feel?
“I made that comment at Cannes when we were about nine months into shooting the movie (laughing).

I just went, ‘I’m never doing this again.’ But I think in terms of another one, the story of this guy’s search for his identity is over, because he’s got all the answers, so there’s no way we can trot out the same character. So much of what makes him interesting is that internal struggle that was happening for him: am I a good guy, am I a bad guy, what is the secret behind my identity, what am I blocking out, why am I remembering these disturbing images? So all of that internal propulsive mechanism that drives the character is not there.

If there was to be another one, then it would have to be a complete reconfiguration, you know, where do you go from there? For me I kind of feel like the story that we set out to tell is has now been told. I love the character and if Paul Greengrass calls me in 10 years and says, ‘Now we can do it because it’s been 10 years and I have a way to bring him back,’ then there’s a world in which I can go, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ We could get the band back together if there was a great idea behind it. But in terms of now and this story, that part – the story’s been told.

If we came out with a fourth one, suddenly I got bonked on the head, you guys would be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Actually, I was talking to a journalist yesterday who suggested that we could do fourth one about Bourne losing his keys. And we could do for the entire movie, ‘Where are my keys?’ And that kind of illustrates how out of story we are at this point in terms of what was good about these first three films.”