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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

July 21, 2007

In The Bourne Ultimatum, the closing chapter of the espionage trilogy based on the novels by Robert Ludlum, Matt Damon reprises his role of Jason Bourne, the lethal government operative on a quest to uncover his personal identity. This time, he strikes at the heart of the matter, returning to the CIA to face those who originally recruited him into a top secret program, stripped him of his humanity, and transformed him into a killing machine.

The Bourne Ultimatum may very well be the best installment of the trilogy. Filming locations including New York, London, Madrid, Tangier, Paris, and Berlin offer some epic exterior shots, while David Strathairn delivers a strong, scene-stealing performance as Bourne's formidable adversary. But most impressive of all are the signature action sequences. The fight scenes play out with hand-to-hand combat rather than guns and gadgetry, with that "sweet kung fu action" dished out in a fast and furious close-up style. These highlights are literally breathtaking, leaving audiences with nothing more to do than gasp, laugh, and cheer in their wake. Ultimatum also features a thrilling and brilliantly cool montage in which Bourne helps a civilian to evade CIA agents, feeding him instructions by cell phone and occasionally emerging from the shadows to deliver a split-second beatdown.

The film also stars Joan Allen and Julia Stiles, and is directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93). In this interview, Matt Damon talks about the making of the movie, and how the character of Jason Bourne has impacted his career at large. And in a funny instance of revealing what really goes on behind the scenes of an action blockbuster, he takes a moment to joke about how his age caught up with him while shooting those spectacular fight scenes.

The Interview

MEDIA: How do you feel about audiences really cheering for the movie when you're kicking ass and crashing cars?

MATT: 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 [the Waterloo scene]!" 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 televisions. I showed it to my wife, I showed it do my brother. He was like, "Yeah, cool." And so we'd have these little friends and family screenings. Paul showed it to 25 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, and the BlackBerrys all started going off at the same time, and we heard that it was a crowd-pleaser again. It was Paul [Greengrass] and George Nolfi, the writer, and me and Joan [Allen] and David Strathairn and Julia [Stiles]. And so we just [said] to expect a hung over group coming in the next day, because that's when the champagne came out. [laughs]

What is your favorite action scene in the film?

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...And I always liked all the things that we kind of came up with when we were on the real location. That's the fun stuff, because you get a bunch of guys together and we're going like, "All right, what would be the smart thing to do here?" And we kind of figure out those sequences, and when we 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 I love that sequence, too. [pauses] And the car chase, too.

How did your stuntwork in The Bourne Ultimatum compare to what you did in The Bourne Identity?

There was a huge difference. The first movie, I was 29, and this last one, I was 36, and 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. And so he was so happy. He was like, [British accent] "Mate, I'm in a Bourne fight, this is great!" And 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.

Did he really go for you?

No...I mean, he just was so excited. I mean, I couldn't possibly defend myself against him. [laughs] He'd be like, "Dude, just like three moves at a time. Come on." So he was a good sport about it though. He did a great job.

With its themes of government intrusiveness, do you feel this film is politically and socially timely?

Well, all the movies, I think, are very much of the time that they [were released]. The first one is very much 2002--it's post-9/11, all of the fear, all of the paranoia. 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 saying, "I see now that you led me into something under false pretenses, and now I understand that, and I'm not going to do that anymore." And so each movie is very much, I think, a reflection of the time in which it's made...So all of these things are just little kind of nods to the world that we're living in right now. And I like that about them. They feel relevant. You know, 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, and doesn't always do the right thing or is misled, but is trying to do the right thing. So those things I think are great.

You've said that you won't be playing Jason Bourne again. Has that view changed?

Well, I made that comment at Cannes when we were about nine months into shooting the movie, and I just went, "I'm never doing this again!" [laughs] 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 could kind of trot out the same character. And 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. So 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 has now been told. I love the character, and if Paul Greengrass calls me in ten years and says, "Now we can do it because it's been ten years and I have a way to bring him back," then there's a world in which I could go, "Yeah, absolutely." We could get the band back together if there was a great idea behind it. But in terms of now, in this story, that part [of] the story's been told. [jokes] If we came out with a fourth one and 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 the fourth one about Bourne losing his keys...And that kind of illustrates how kind of "out of story" we are at this point in terms of what was good about these first three.

How has this character affected the course of your career?

You know, it's been seven years, really, for me. I mean, the movies have come out over the course of five, but it's been seven years of my life. And 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...I mean, just as an example, between Supremacy and 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, and George [Clooney] and I cut all our money so we could do it. And 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...You know, his movies classically don't make a lot of money. Even the masterpieces--Goodfellas, Raging Bull--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, "So 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 a script called The Good Shepherd, and everyone went, "Look, this is a tiny, little bull's eye you're aiming at here." And you look at it and you go, "It's a very dense, cerebral, historical epic about the birth of the Intelligence Service in America." I mean, it's not Spider-Man 3. [laughs] But I didn't hesitate because I loved all the scripts, and 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 the creative 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. And starting with the first one, where nobody had offered me a movie in six months, and I was in London doing a play in the West End. And the movie opened, and by that Monday, I had twenty offers. I would have been 32 years old, or 33 years old. It was like 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."

Having reprised roles so frequently for both the Bourne and Ocean's films, would you consider taking on another franchise character?

[jokes] I'm trying to only do franchises. That's my new thing. In fact, the guys who wrote Ocean's Thirteen wrote the movie Rounders (because Rounders was a bomb when it came out, but now it's done really well on video), I said, "You guys are writing the wrong sequel. We should be doing Rounders 2!" [laughs] You know, with Bourne...I know [Robert] 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 the Ocean's movies...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, 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.

Where would you like to see your career go from here?

Well, you know, the career that I think Ben and I look at...Well, [George] 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. And I love writing and I love acting, and I really want to direct. And I've been taking this last ten years to really carefully study these directors that I've been working with. And I've worked with a lot of really good ones at this point. And so I feel like I'm ready to do it. And that, to me, would be great to have a long career. I mean, it's so hard to have a long career in this business. I mean, I'm still here after 10 years, and we're all probably a little amazed by that. [laughs] But yeah, at this point, I just want to be smart about the work that I'm doing and try to have integrity about the choices I make, and that's it.

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