All over New York City, a shadowy image of a man in a fedora and trench coat is plastered on subway station walls and the sides of buses, with a message: YOUR FUTURE HAS BEEN ADJUSTED.
No, you have not fallen down the rabbit hole and into an Orwellian society. Rather, it’s a clever promotional tool for the latest Hollywood adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, writer-director George Nolfi’s THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. The sci-fi romance marks the directorial debut of Nolfi, who penned the hyperkinetic action-thriller The Bourne Supremacy, and stars Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon. Damon plays David Norris, a young, charismatic politician running for U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, he finds himself the subject of a scandal on election night, and, right before he’s to deliver his conciliatory speech, crosses the fetching Elise (Emily Blunt), a contemporary dancer. Sparks immediately fly, but Norris soon learns that forces–men in the aforementioned fedoras and trench coasts known as The Adjustment Bureau–are conspiring to keep the two apart. Norris must ultimately choose between his career, or potentially missing out on the love of his life. “As it turns out, romance for grown-ups isn’t dead in Hollywood,” wrote The New York Times in its glowing review of the film.
Fresh off his role as a dimwitted lawman in the Coen Bros. comedy-western True Grit, as well as narrating this year’s Best Documentary Oscar winner Inside Job, Damon is arguably the most reliable–and immensely likeable–actor in Hollywood right now. He’s also an avowed Democrat and father of four young children with his wife of nearly six years, Luciana Barroso.
MMM sat down with Damon to chat politics—including the situation in the Middle East, married life, his own twists of fate, and his upcoming thriller with Steven Soderbergh, Contagion.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: What did you do over the holidays?
MATT DAMON: We went to Miami, and we were down there and then I started a job soon after, like January 4.
MMM: What movie were you shooting?
DAMON: The Cameron Crowe movie, “We Bought A Zoo,” and we are about four weeks into shooting. It’s really good, it’s going really well, so we are about a third of the way through.
MMM: What is the need would you say for so much work? Because you are a family guy, you have a lot of kids, at the same time you said to us a bunch of times you are having the best years of your life and I get it, but you seem to be going and going and going.
DAMON: I think it seems like that more than it is. Like, last year for instance, I had a bunch of movies come out, but “Hereafter” for instance, I shot in three weeks, because Clint is just Clint. [Laughs] So I shot that in 3 weeks, and then I did the Coen Brothers movie, I did “True Grit,” but I worked 25 days and my deal with them was just I was never going to be away from my family for more than a week. So my family was here and they cut my schedule up so it was like two days a week of work, so I would commute to Texas, I’d fly, land in Austin, go shoot for two days, and turn around and catch a flight and come home. And so I felt like a traveling salesman or something. [Laughs]
MMM: Like you’re in “Up in the Air?”
DAMON: Yeah, George Clooney. [Laughs] But then I was off for six months. So I had six months off, and we spent the summer on vacation with my family and then all Fall was just here in New York, taking the kids to school and just doing daily stuff. And then I did a two-week job in December, with Steven Soderbergh, but again, that’s a job that would have been six weeks with another director, but it’s Soderbergh, so it’s two weeks.
MMM: So what’s your idea of fate and when do you think it’s played a part in your life?
DAMON: Well, I certainly think that looking back, I mean, I remember wondering whether or not I was going to do this Farrelly Brothers movie…
MMM: “Stuck on You?”
DAMON: Yeah, “Stuck on You,” and they wanted to shoot it in Hawaii, and I remember talking to my mother, and she said, why don’t you, you can have fun when you go work, because at this time, Werner Herzog and I were talking about something, and Werner’s questions were like, “Would you ever eat a live snake? Would you lose 40 pounds?” And I said, “Yeah, I will. I’ll do that.”
MMM: That was “Rescue Dawn?”
DAMON: It was “Rescue Dawn.” Christian (Bale) did it, and it was great. But then, I was trying to decide between that and “Stuck on You” with the Farrelly Brothers, and I remember my mother saying, “You know, Matt, you can have fun in your work, it doesn’t always have to be this rigorous grind.” And then I met Peter and Bobby Farrelly and I really liked those guys, and I decided to do the Farrelly Brothers movie. And they ended up not shooting it in Hawaii, they shot it in Miami, and down in Miami I went into a bar with some of the crew one night, and saw my wife. And now I have four kids [Laughs] and so that seems like a real twist of fate, or some real incredible luck that we found each other.
MMM: Is being pregnant fate or so? At what point do you have to twist the fate and say enough is enough?
DAMON: No, I think enough is enough for us. Four is plenty. I think that’s it, yeah. [Laughs] That’s it. If you have a number for a good doctor, please let me know. [Laughs]
MMM: “Hereafter” was also about spiritual issues. Are you in a spiritual phase right now?
DAMON: No, I don’t think so. When Clint Eastwood calls and says I have a part in my movie, I don’t really care what it’s about. [Laughs] I’ll do it, you know?
MMM: What do you think about how it was received?
DAMON: “Hereafter?” It was interesting you know, I wish more people saw it, but the reviews, if they were good, they were extremely good. And if they were negative, they were extremely negative. And I thought that was really interesting, and people were completely divided by the movie, and I just thought that was very interesting, because obviously you can go on Rotten Tomatoes now and you can see how everybody reacts and that’s a very atypical way for people to react to a movie and I wondered if it was the subject matter, or that some people were just like allergic to it, and could just not go there, and wouldn’t, and were pissed off that a movie was trying to. And then other people were really moved by it, and I mean, some of the reviews like, the big reviews in The New York Times and The L.A. Times and USA Today were fantastic. Like really great reviews, and then some of the other were just scathing, just brutal, ripping it to shreds, like taking it personally, like when there is that level of vitriol for a movie that’s, whatever you want to say about it, it’s still that level of craft, right? I always wonder what that is, it’s like, some people reviewed that like we took their lunch money. [Laughs]
MMM: What do you like about this movies?
DAMON: About this one, the love story. I think to me that’s what it always was. Tonally it’s very unique and that was all down to George, that’s a very ambitious thing to do, to make a movie you are kind of cross pollinating these genres, you know? But the whole thing is anchored in the relationship with me and Emily and Anthony too and so that was what my kind of favorite part of the movie is, those scenes with us.
MMM: Do you feel that you are living in a free country, or is there an Adjustment Bureau that is controlling your life?
DAMON: Well I think that’s what he wrote it out of, he wrote it at a time I think when he felt he had that paranoia, and he had that question. But no, I feel like we are certainly living in a free country, yes.
MMM: Isn’t that element a bit downplayed in this film, the political context, because it was in the book…
DAMON: It’s certainly changed, yeah, so I don’t know what George ever saw it as. I think George literally saw it as a higher power, not necessarily Big Brother, but an actual higher power. He was a philosophy major at Princeton and Oxford and I think his whole thing is about the fate versus free will. Like that to him is the interesting question, and I think that’s rooted in his decision to be a screenwriter. Coming from that background, there were a lot of jobs he could have taken that would have been more stable. But he opted to do what everybody in our business did opt to do, which is take a road that’s very unstable and promises a lot of insecurity down the line. So to him I think this movie is a celebration of that kind of choice, of taking the road less travelled, and embracing your freedom to choose a life that isn’t the life that’s kind of laid out for you, but rather one that might be a little tougher.
MMM: If you didn’t go into the movie business, would you have gone in politics, because you are pretty convincing.
DAMON: Thanks. No, I don’t think so, but that’s not a life that I would…
MMM: Maybe baseball? [Laughs]
DAMON: Yeah, if I was about four inches taller and threw a fastball about 20 miles an hour faster.
MMM: What changed your view about politics? You’ve always been pretty vocal about Africa and stuff that matters to you. You always say that you don’t want to be into politics, but you have a voice.
DAMON: It’s not that I’m not interested in politics, I’m very interested in politics. I’m just not interested in being a politician. I just wouldn’t want that job. But I think it’s all of our responsibility to be actively engaged, to be an engaged citizen, and to push back and voice our opinions about the things that we want and are important to us. I mean, any great movement started from people, not from politicians. Politicians follow, they are not leaders, they are followers.
MMM: Give me your opinion about Egypt and what’s happening there?
DAMON: I think it’s great, I think it’s amazing. It’s obviously, we’ll see where it goes from here, but I think it’s really incredible, and my friend Khalid Abdullah, who was in “Green Zone,” he played Freddy, has been in Tahrir Square for 19 days now, and I’m really proud to know him.
MMM: Have you been in touch with him through e-mail?
DAMON: No, he doesn’t get e-mail right now, his phone has been busy, and I’ve been trying to call him. Paul Greengrass has talked to him, and just said it was deeply, deeply affecting, we are very proud of him.
MMM: I want to ask you about the Soderbergh movie that might go to Cannes for the festival in a few months. What can you tell me about it, what’s your part?
DAMON: “Contagion?” Oh, I didn’t know they were thinking of taking it to Cannes. I hope you are right. It’s a pandemic movie, but a real, like Scott Burns, who wrote “The Informant,” researched in depth what would really happen if there was an outbreak of a real bad virus, and what the response would be, kind of around the world, and so, like “Traffic,” it follows different storylines: one in Hong Kong, one in Minnesota, one in Chicago, and it bounces all over the world, and follows all these different characters. I represent probably the most human of them, because Gwyneth plays my wife, and she buys it in like the first five minutes of the movie, and I’m trying to kind of, my storyline is about this guy just trying to keep it together. He loses his wife and his stepson, but he’s still got his daughter. I think this is the most realistic pandemic movie that’s ever been made. I think it’s an adult horror movie really.
MMM: So what about you? Are you romantic, and what are you ready to do for love?
DAMON: I’m the kind of guy who will go to a premiere on Valentine’s Day. [Laughs] Believe me, I know how to win points. [Laughs] My wife, who has had four children, is the greatest woman on earth, and I won’t even be with her on Valentine’s Day. No, I don’t think I’ve ever been a very romantic person. I don’t think I’ve been good at romance, big kind of sweeping gestures of my love, l walk it more than I talk it.
MMM: What are you going to do to make up for that? Will she be getting flowers?
DAMON: Yeah, but don’t print that now. Yeah, I’m sending flowers, but Flowers.com doesn’t really, [Laughs] 1-800-Flowers, yeah, thanks a lot honey! [Laughs] I pushed out four kids for you, thanks for the flowers! [Laughs]
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is now playing in theaters nationwide.