Matt Damon is Bourne again in `Supremacy'

Movies offer a more mature role for Damon's boy-next-door style

July 21, 2004|By Katie Leslie | Katie Leslie,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - In a crisp, light blue button-down and jeans, looking more attractive and surprisingly younger in person than on screen, he extends his hand and smiles warmly.

"Hi, I'm Matt. Do you want juice or anything?" he asks before settling into a chair to eyeball his already cold oatmeal.

It's all so ... normal. Despite the penthouse suite setting, the publicists and staff flitting beyond the study doors, and the fact that the warmly smiling young man is Hollywood mega-star Matt Damon, ready to discuss his latest film, The Bourne Supremacy, things seem relaxed, casual, almost familiar.

And suddenly, it's easy to understand why Damon has been cast in the almost 30 roles he's played in the last decade alone: The 33-year-old actor has a kind of non-threatening appeal that puts those in contact with him - even journalists - at ease, a boy-next-door type if ever there was one.

He's used that boyish appeal to great advantage in film, whether as a troubled but brilliant young janitor in Good Will Hunting, a young cowboy in search for life's meaning in All The Pretty Horses, or as a young, waifish psychopath in The Talented Mr. Ripley - all divergent characters that share a deceptively simple trait: Each is young, and each looks just like everyone else.

Until recently, that is. As expert assassin Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy (sequel to 2002's The Bourne Identity, based on author Robert Ludlum's spy trilogy), which opens Friday, Damon is larger than life. Dangerous. Rugged. And his hard, muscular physicality is nothing of the slight-bodied Tom Ripley character of days past, leaving one to wonder: Is Hollywood allowing baby-faced Damon to make the transition from boy to man?

"What drew me to the role was that the character was older than I was and there were a lot of challenges for me to be believable as this character," Damon says, taking a drag from the cigarette he's been nursing.

"It was the first chance I had to play a guy who was a grown man. Most of the roles I've had were guys trying to find themselves, in their mid-20s, like Ripley or Will Hunting. They were guys in search of their identity, whereas this one was about a guy who had had an identity, but has lost it and is trying to find it again."

In the films, Bourne is a trained U.S. assassin who suffers from amnesia after a particularly harrowing mission and loses all memory of his life. The CIA, thinking Bourne has snapped and turned against it, makes him its No. 1 target. In the first film, Bourne uncovers who he is while running away from a danger he doesn't understand. In the second installment, Bourne is drawn out of hiding to finally put an end to his former life.

Damon, who speaks in low, earnest tones, explains that he originally tried to talk himself out of the role after it was offered by Bourne Identity director Doug Liman.

"I thought that because I look young that it would be a big challenge to get an audience to accept me as credibly having worked professionally for a certain number of years," Damon says.

To overcome this handicap, Damon and Liman decided that months of intense physical training, including weapons and martial arts instruction, would add to his credibility as Bourne. With six months to get in top form, Damon was paired with celebrity trainer Mike Torchia, who put him through rigorous training to transform him into a believable assassin.

"Matt basically wanted to be able to perform the stunts. He loved getting into the training and being pushed harder and harder. He told me that from the training, he was actually becoming like Jason Bourne," says Torchia, 47, a former professional body-builder who trained Kevin Spacey for his acclaimed role in American Beauty.

"He was driven like the character he played in the movie, and Matt was awesome in the fight scenes," adds Torchia, whose workouts Damon continued to follow for the sequel. "People now can look at him as a man, instead of the boy he's always been portrayed to be."

Audiences seemed to buy it. The Bourne Identity opened in 2002 with moderate success, becoming Universal Pictures' highest-grossing domestic release of the year. But the film really took off through word of mouth and was the premier DVD/video rental last year.

Of course, Damon was a full-blown celebrity long before the film, having burst onto the movie-star circuit with his portrayal of lawyer Rudy Baylor in Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker (1997). And there was that Oscar he and buddy Ben Affleck won in 1998 for their screenplay Good Will Hunting, in which Damon played the title role and also received an Oscar nomination for best actor.

He has worked steadily in the past several years, and while always within the parameters of youthful characters, he says he's tried to reinvent himself with each role.

"My goal always, if there is any kind of overarching strategy, is to not do the same kind of thing, to try to keep as different as possible in terms of genres," says Damon.

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