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Filmography: The Complete List
It could be said that Matt Damon, along with his longtime buddy Ben Affleck, was THE surprise cinematic hit of the 1990s. After all, their feel-good smash, Good Will Hunting, seemed to come out of nowhere to win them both Oscars and set them up with starlet girlfriends like Gwyneth Paltrow and Winona Ryder, and regular multi-million-dollar paydays. It's a nice story, rags to riches, a meritocratic dream, with Affleck and Damon's lives mirroring that of their movie's hero.
Damon himself, though, might view his own career path a little differently. Whereas Affleck's parents had connections in the Biz, setting him up with onscreen work before he was 10, Damon had to work that little bit harder. Whereas, before Good Will Hunting, Affleck had appeared only in minor roles and dodgy TV movies, Damon had delivered several excellent performances in several excellent films - each of which had gone painfully unnoticed. Unlike Affleck, Damon had come within inches of fame and fortune. Indeed, he may well have made it even without Good Will Hunting - after all, he had just won the lead in a Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of a John Grisham novel. So Matt's success should, perhaps, not be considered such a shock.
He was born Matthew Paige Damon on October 8th, 1970, in the Cambridge area of Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Kent, was an investment banker and tax preparer, while his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige (hence the middle name) was Professor of Education at Lesley College, specialising in early education. Matt has one brother, Kyle, three years his senior and now a sculptor.
For the first two years of his life, Matt lived in the seriously expensive Newton district of Boston. When he was 2, though, his parents divorced and he moved, with Nancy, to nearby Cambridge. This area, where Harvard is situated, was also well-to-do, but not QUITE as rich as Newton. Nancy's plan was for Matt and Kyle to be well-provided-for, but not shut away from the real world. Thus one neighbour was Howard Zinn, author of A People's History Of The United States, while opposite Chez Matt was a halfway house.
Matt was a happy, if shy child. With his studies overseen by his mother (later described by Affleck as "an activist lefty"), he was a Straight-A man throughout his education. His father was heavily involved too, particularly in steeping the boy in baseball history. When he later appeared as an extra in Field Of Dreams, Matt would pluck some blades of grass from Boston Red Sox' legendary Fenway Park and present them to his delighted father. Matt, of course, played Little League as soon as he could and, along with all fans of the Red Sox, has spent most of his Autumns weeping with rage and humiliation as the play-offs turn bad yet again and those damn Yankees win through. But, beyond his parents, there was another major influence on Matt's early life. At 10, he met a guy, two years his junior, from two blocks down the road - Ben Affleck.
The pair did EVERYTHING together. They played baseball, for real and on video, and Dungeons And Dragons. They attended trashy movie double-features, and they both attended the pricey Rindge And Latin prep school. And it was here that Matt really took to acting.
He'd always enjoyed performing. Indeed, he remembers as a child trying to organise plays with his brother and the local kids. "There are all these pictures of me and my neighbour dressed as firemen," he later told Premiere "and he's always standing there next to me, not really knowing why we're doing it". Yet Damon didn't simply have an early understanding of the satisfaction to be gleaned from putting on a good show. To him, an actor's life, even Hollywood stardom, was a very real proposition. After all, Affleck's father had partied with Dustin Hoffman and Ben himself was in adverts at age 8, TV movies before his teens and had appeared with Madeline Kahn and Armand Assante while still at school. So Damon WORKED at acting, just as he worked at all his lessons. Gerry Specca, his drama coach at Rindge And Latin, remarked upon his "great potential and wonderful talent".
Along with Affleck, Damon took work as an extra in any locally-shot movie that would have him. Then, at 16, he decided to go for it, take off for New York and the bright lights. His parents, deeply disapproving of his career choice, would not fund the trip. But Damon had just scored an advert and placed the money in the joint account he and Affleck used for audition-expenses. He could afford it.
It began fantastically well. In New York, Affleck introduced him to his agent and he was instantly cast in Mystic Pizza, with an about-to-explode Julia Roberts. There was also The Good Mother, directed by Leonard "Spock" Nimoy and starring Diane Keaton as a mum who must prove herself in court. And . . . that was it. Damon's bright beginning led to absolutely nothing - a pattern he would repeat for the best part of a decade.
Matt returned home to carry out Plan B (unlike Affleck - Damon would always have a Plan B). Those Straight-As had won him a place at prestigious Harvard. Once he graduated from there, he reckoned, he could move on to the Yale School Of Drama, Alma Mater of the grand likes of Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. Once more, he threw himself into his studies, eventually receiving one of the first varsity letters in dramatics - a massive deal, by his own admission.
Extremely practical, Damon was also looking for parts, and getting them. In Rising Son, he got into trouble for dropping out of pre-med school just as his father, Brian Dennehy, was made redundant. Then came School Ties, where a Jewish boy battles for respect at a rich prep school. The movie featured the pre-stellar likes of Brendan Fraser and Chris O'Donnell, as well as Damon and, naturally, Affleck. Then came a big, big opportunity - a starring role (along with narrating duties) in Walter Hill's glorious epic of the Old West, Geronimo: An American Legend.
With this part in the bag, Damon quit Harvard with 12 credits still needed for graduation. He took off for Los Angeles, believing he was made. How could Geronimo fail? There was Hill, director of 48 Hours and The Warriors: there were Gene Hackman and Jason Patric: there was Wes Studi who'd just broken through in Dances With Wolves and Last Of The Mohicans: AND there was the eco-friendly, deeply spiritual, pro-Native American message. Surely everything was set for an avalanche of Oscars.
But, for the second time, nothing happened. Geronimo was a great movie, but bizarrely overlooked. Damon, now with Affleck crashing on his couch (which he did for YEARS), went looking again. Now began a dark time for Matt. He turned down a big-money role in Sam Raimi's The Quick And The Dead, only to see Leonardo DiCaprio snap up the part and, along with co-star Russell Crowe, race towards stardom. He lost out to Joaquin Phoenix over To Die For, as he would to Edward Norton over Primal Fear. The only part that came his way was as a member of the Calloway family in The Good Old Boys, a Western directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones.
During filming, sat in a Texas hotel room, he wondered why he was earning less than when he was 19, how it had all failed to go right. His thoughts turned, as they often had done before, to writing a breakthrough role for himself. In fact, they turned to a breakthrough role he had ALREADY written for himself. Back at Harvard, for an English class, Damon had begun a script about a young maths prodigy working as a janitor at Harvard. Later, he'd worked on it some more with Affleck (whose father, as an ex-Harvard janitor, had partly inspired the tale). It was more or less completed by 1992 (it was originally a thriller), but the pair kept returning to refine it. They tried many times to sell it, too, but no one was buying. Now, in the throes of desperate disappointment, Damon decided to give the script, Good Will Hunting, another go.
At last, they found a taker. Trouble was, Castle Rock wanted the movie, but they didn't want Damon and Affleck to star in it (which pretty much defeated their purpose). The pair just weren't famous enough, and had no decent recommendations. Then, all of a sudden, things happened to change all that. While Damon had been battling for classy roles in big projects, Affleck had gone the indie route, appearing in several of Kevin Smith's movies. Now Smith took Good Will Hunting to Harvey Weinstein of Miramax. Weinstein respected Smith, liked the story, liked the price. And, perhaps most importantly, he saw that Damon and Affleck were no longer the nobodies they had been. At least, Damon wasn't.
While shopping Good Will Hunting around for the last time (Damon claims he was on the verge of quitting), Matt's profile was raised considerably. First, he scored a role as a junkie Gulf War vet in Courage Under Fire, starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan. He'd suffered for the part, rather dangerously losing 40 pounds without the help of a professional nutritionist (it took years for his metabolism to return to normal), but his efforts were worthwhile. He was excellent and thoroughly eye-catching. Unfortunately, despite Washington singing Matt's praises in every interview, the critics ignored him.
To Damon, this was an awful blow. He felt that no matter how hard he tried, he could get no further. But, thankfully, his efforts now paid off. Being an ambitious and canny sort, Damon had noted how his friend Matthew McConnaughey had hit paydirt with A Time To Kill, an adaptation of a hugely popular John Grisham novel. He began to chart the course of all the other Grisham projects in Hollywood, putting himself into contention wherever possible. Eventually, he found himself on a short-list of two to star in Francis Ford Coppola's take on The Rainmaker. Ordinarily, this would be exciting. Sadly, his rival was once again Ed Norton. "I didn't think I had anything on him," Damon told Premiere later "so I was really surprised and happy when I got it - literally jumping up and down".
Damon, of course, seized his chance. To pick up the Southern accent necessary, he went down to Knoxville, Tennessee, and worked for free in a bar, listening intently to the customers. He even hired one of them as his voice-coach. But whether or not he was going to be any good in The Rainmaker, just getting the role gave him a new stature in the industry. Miramax decided to pay him and Affleck $500,000 for Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams was onboard, Drugstore Cowboy's Gus Van Sant was to direct. Best of all, Damon could now star as Will Hunting, the intellectual superstar trapped in a South Boston body, with Affleck as his best buddy - first holding him back, then finally pushing him out into a better world.
Released on Christmas Day, 1997, Good Will Hunting was a mega-smash, appealing to all those who like to believe that you don't need high birth to reach high places. Damon and Affleck became heroes to underdogs everywhere (odd, given their privileged backgrounds), and the movie soon shot over the $100 million mark. Come the Oscars in 1998, it received no fewer than nine nominations. In the Best Actor category, Damon was beaten by Jack Nicholson's efforts in As Good As It Gets, but Robin Williams snapped up Best Supporting Actor, thereby revitalising a career that was floundering in a sea of schmaltz. Damon and Affleck, fittingly, were honoured together, sharing the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Their down-home boys-next-door reputation was further sealed when they turned up to the ceremony with their mums.
Also nominated was British actress Minnie Driver, who Damon had been dating for some time. Not only did she not win, but she'd also had to face the humiliation of being dumped by Damon, live on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Now, THIS was a strange story. In public, Damon had and has always been extremely reticent about his relationships. You might even call him a gentleman. So, to announce his split with Driver on TV was most unlike him - SO unlike him, in fact, that you feel there were ulterior motives. Was it for press at Oscar-time? Did Damon, convinced that he stood no chance against the weighty likes of Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall and a resurgent Peter Fonda anyway, risk appearing like a right meanie to boost the chance of Best Movie and Best Director? Was he so very confident of the screenplay award? Did Driver accept the real-life role of the reject in order to tug at the heart-strings of Academy members?
So, by 1998, Damon, Affleck and Good Will Hunting were hot property. But it must be reiterated that Damon was already well on his way. In the same way that the super-smart Harvey Weinstein had recognised the industry buzz around Matt, and his tremendous abilities (he was proved correct by Good Will Hunting becoming Miramax's biggest ever grosser), so an even smarter power-monger had caught on to Damon's potential. Before the Oscars, before the big money, Steven Spielberg had already cast Matt in his forthcoming war epic, Saving Private Ryan. Indeed, Damon was to BE Private Ryan, reluctantly rescued by Tom Hanks.
What a year. Not only did Good Will Hunting remain on screens throughout most of 1998, but the unbelievably brutal Saving Private Ryan was the most talked-about movie of the year. AND there was another US Number One in Rounders, a gambling drama in which Damon starred alongside his former nemesis Ed Norton. Damon did actually spend $10,000 buying himself into the Texas Hold 'Em tournament at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, but was knocked out on the first day. Socially too, Damon and Affleck were in the spotlight - Ben having hooked up with a post-Pitt Paltrow while Matt made hay with Winona Ryder. Ever the good guy, Damon would never talk about this relationship, desperately wanting to avoid stories being told. But stories were told anyway, including one particularly vile one. Damon, it was said, was hopelessly jealous of Mark Wahlberg, a fellow Bostonian who, unlike Matt, was the proud possessor of genuine street-cred. Preppie Matt obsessed over Wahlberg so badly that a squabble began between the two, with Ryder eventually getting so tired of the silly spat that she went to Wahlberg to ask him to make peace. Sadly - and this is the vile bit - Ryder allegedly fell for Wahlberg's charms, which didn't go down well with Damon AT ALL.
How Hollywood relationships survive for a couple of days with this kind of rumour flying around is a mystery. But Damon and Ryder kept it together for over two years. Though at one point engaged, they eventually split in early 2000, Damon denying that Penelope Cruz, his co-star in All The Pretty Horses, had anything to do with it. He did find love again fairly soon, becoming engaged to Odessa Whitmire, Ben Affleck's Personal Assistant. The couple became close, apparently, when Affleck was forced to enter rehab.
The Billy Bob Thornton-directed All The Pretty Horses, where Damon played a young man seeking a better life down in Mexico, and finding both love and deadly danger, was the third in a run of movies that proved he was looking to forge a serious career. After Rounders, he appeared briefly with Affleck in Kevin Smith's Dogma (they also turn up in Chasing Amy and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back), but his next big "solo" role was as the weird and sinister Thomas Ripley, murdering and taking the place of playboy Jude Law in The Talented Mr Ripley. Next came The Legend Of Bagger Vance, where Matt was Rannulph Junuh, a former golfing prodigy who must refind his game in time for a shoot-out against the best players in the world (Damon played golf five hours a day for six weeks in preparation). While on set, Damon invited along his father and, one day, between shots, the pair began tossing a baseball around. Who should wander over and silently join in but Robert Redford, not only the director of Bagger Vance but also the star of one of the Damons' favourite films - baseball epic The Natural. They threw quietly for a while, but soon Kent could take no more, shouting "I'm having a catch with f***ing Roy Hobbs!" (Redford's character in The Natural).
2001 would see him hit the heights in Steven Soderbergh's snappy ensemble piece Ocean's Eleven. An update of the Frank Sinatra original, this created a new Rat Pack, with George Clooney gathering a crack crime squad to rob Vegas casino owner Andy Garcia. Alongside Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts (the star, remember of Damon's first ever movie, Mystic Pizza) and Don Cheadle, Matt would play a furtive pickpocket, essential in the preparation of the heist.
Next, having turned down the lead in The Majestic - the part going to Jim Carrey - he provided a voiceover for the movie, then another for the hit animation Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron. Then came Gerry, another collaboration with Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant. Here Damon and Casey Affleck played two guys, both calling each other Gerry, who get lost in the desert. Contemplating the angst of the younger generation, the movie was hailed by critics as a visual masterpiece.
With Damon's success came a desire to give something back, and this manifested itself in Project Greenlight, a competition that would allow its winner to make a movie. Finance would be raised by documenting the process and showing it as Reality TV. It was a huge success, with Project Greenlight 2 (which led to the making of The Battle Of Shaker Heights) gaining Damon and partner Affleck an Emmy nomination. Damon was now also actively involved (still with Affleck) in production, and next came The Third Wheel, a comedy where Luke Wilson's first date with Denise Richards is radically altered by an apparently crazy homeless guy who joins them. Damon, naturally, would make a cameo appearance.
Following this came his own personal breakthrough when he headlined the strange Robert Ludlum thriller, The Bourne Identity. Here, washed up on a beach with a bad bout of amnesia, and discovering himself to be in possession of serious language and martial arts skills, he had to both recover his memory and avoid all the assassins trying to whack him for, well, he couldn't remember what for. For the role of Jason Bourne, he was paid a whopping $10 million - a far cry from the $600,000 he got for Rounders.
With The Bourne Identity taking over $27 million on its first weekend, and smashing through the $100 million barrier with ease, plans were immediately afoot to make two sequels. In the meantime, there was Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, the directorial debut of his Ocean's Eleven buddy George Clooney. This would adapt the outrageous memoirs of gameshow host Chuck Barris, who claimed to have been an assassin for the Feds. Damon and fellow Clooney-buddy Brad Pitt would appear in flashback, on TV as contestants in Barris's The Dating Game. Matt would also experiment with a trip to London and a spell on the stage in Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, concerning a trio of rich and wayward kids in 1980s New York. He'd be joined in the venture by Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix, the three of them replacing Hayden Christensen, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Paquin.
2003 would be a different kind of year for Damon. First there'd be Stuck On You, a Farrelly brothers comedy that saw him and Greg Kinnear as Siamese twins, joined at the hip and sharing a liver. They run a successful diner on Martha's Vineyard but Kinnear has ambitions to be an actor and drags a reluctant Damon off to Hollywood. Here Kinnear's picked as Cher's co-star in a TV series she hates and thinks he will sink, but when word gets out of Kinnear's condition (Damon is hidden behind scenery and edited out) he's a big hit. Meanwhile, there's romance trouble as both guys find hot babes - with inevitable consequences. If it sounds un-PC, it was, but it was also kind-hearted and wholly unashamed, a brave and funny flick. The year would also see Matt'n'Ben inspire a play, called Matt And Ben. Here, the pair were portrayed by women, Damon being seen as super-bright and Affleck as a dopey party animal, and the script of Good Will Hunting is seen to literally fall into their laps out of the sky. Damon took it in his stride. Well, he had no choice as all his superstar friends had been to see it.
2004 would be another big year. He'd begin it with a brilliant cameo role in the teen sex comedy Eurotrip. Here he'd play a tattooed and shaven-headed singer who's bedding the hero's girlfriend (thus inadvertently causing the trip of the title), his peak moment being a gig where he sings the hilarious and, for the hero, heartbreaking "Scotty Doesn't Know", including the classic line "Scotty doesn't know that Fiona and me do it in my van every Sunday". Damon would also pop up very briefly in Jersey Girl, directed by old pal Kevin Smith and starring Ben Affleck. Featuring Affleck's then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, the movie was seen as a follow-up to the couple's infamous Gigli and (rather unfairly) washed away on the tide of scorn.
Damon's next effort showed just how far his and Affleck's career paths had diverged. This was The Bourne Supremacy, a second Ludlum effort, which opened with Bourne settled on an idyllic Goan beach with Franka Potente. Quickly, though, this paradise is invaded, as Bourne is framed for an assassination and must escape a series of lethal traps as he tries to clear up the mess - a mess, naturally, that has something to do with his former CIA employers. Once again, Damon kept it simple, underplayed his character and added much-needed humanity to the Bourne killing machine and, amazingly for a sequel, the film surpassed the success of the original, raking in $176 million at the US box office. Where The Bourne Identity had been America's most rented movie in 2003, The Bourne Supremacy would sell five million copies in its first week of release.
Oddly, the triumph of The Bourne Supremacy proved to be a double-edged sword. Damon was exhausted and asked the producers of his next project, a follow-up to Ocean's Eleven, if his part could be shortened. There was no chance. When it came to the generation of pure profit, Damon was at this moment the equal of co-stars Clooney, Pitt and Roberts, and his character, Linus Caldwell, would ask to play "a more central role" in the gang as, threatened by former victim Andy Garcia, they must pull off a triple heist in Europe in order to pay him back. Of course, this gave Damon several opportunities to display his comic talents as Caldwell's efforts to become a criminal mastermind were endearingly bumbling and uncomprehending.
Ocean's Twelve would end a year of great excitement for Damon. Having split from Odessa Whitmire, he began 2004 with actress Eva Mendes (who'd played Greg Kinnear's love interest in Stuck On You) then, swearing to never again date an actress, moved on to interior designer Luciana Barroso. Then there'd be the US presidential election, where Damon would throw his money and support behind Democrat loser John Kerry. Onscreen, he'd be lampooned when a Matt Damon puppet appeared in the South Park team's big hit Team America: World Police. And then, attending Hugh Jackman's final performance in the Tony-winning Broadway hit The Boy From Oz, he'd be called upon by the star to join him in a lap-dance for the soon-to-retire Barbara Walters. Oh, and there'd be more glory for the Damon family when his uncle, George Brunstad became, at 70, the oldest person to swim the English Channel.
Another reason for Damon's exhaustion before Ocean's Twelve was that, before The Bourne Supremacy, he had filmed the long-delayed and much-anticipated The Brothers Grimm. This saw the return of the great Terry Gilliam, as he re-imagined the brothers (Damon and Heath Ledger) as con-men who convince villagers they're being persecuted by evil monsters and then get paid as exorcists. Of course, then it gets serious as they're enlisted to fight off real monster Monica Bellucci, a witch queen who's discovered the secret of eternal life but needs a constant supply of virgins' blood on tap to ward off the ravages of extreme age. A marketing possibility for the Olay company, if ever there was one.
In December, 2005, Damon would marry his Argentinian girlfriend Luciana Barroso, who he'd met while filming Stuck On You in Florida, becoming stepfather to her daughter Alexia. By June of 2006 they'd have another child, Isabella - more joy on top of Damon's third Emmy nomination for his Project Greenlight reality TV show. Onscreen, he'd be hard to miss, being involved in a series of prestigious releases. First of these would be Martin Scorsese's The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs, in which he'd join a crack cast featuring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and his old adversary Mark Wahlberg. This would be a tale of massive duplicity in the Boston underworld, with DiCaprio playing a cop who's infiltrated Nicholson's mob and Damon playing a criminal informer who's rising high in the police force. Tension would build remorselessly as the relentless law enforcers went after the increasingly psychotic Nicholson, with Damon finding his loyalties and conscience severely tested.
Following this, Damon would take the lead in Robert De Niro's long-anticipated The Good Shepherd, a part that had long been earmarked for DiCaprio. Here he'd play Edward Wilson, a smart student recruited by the OSS, a precursor of the CIA, to act as an operative during WW2, quickly learning to bury his feelings and ignore his moral impulses. Then drawn into the CIA, he becomes engrossed in the Cold War, his dedication to duty making it hard to maintain a relationship with wife Angelina Jolie and his family. Then would come a brief role in Margaret, a psychological drama where New York teenager Anna Paquin is racked by the thought that she may have inadvertently caused a traffic accident that's left a woman dead and take her guilt and frustration out on her friends, family and teachers. The film would be written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the man behind This Is Our Youth, the play that had brought Damon's London stage debut back in 2002.
Less testing would be Ocean's 13, where the old gang get back together to sabotage a dodgy Al Pacino's business when he's swindled friend Elliott Gould out of his share in a casino. Once again, the action was slicker than slick, with Damon having more fun than usual as his Linus Caldwell donned a false nose and attempted to seduce Pacino's assistant Ellen Barkin. But if this was an easy ride, the same could not be said of the hi-octane, stunt-packed Bourne Ultimatum, like Supremacy helmed by Paul Greengrass. This would see Jason Bourne seeking his maker, the man who trained him, while being hunted by deadly agent Edgar Ramirez and plotted against by a shadowy David Strathairn, all of it leading to a spectacular showdown at Waterloo station.
Damon's next appearance, a cameo in Youth Without Youth, would be a reunion with his Rainmaker director Francis Ford Coppola. He'd also plan to rejoin Paul Greengrass for Imperial Life In The Emerald City, concerning George W Bush's sorry efforts to rebuild Iraq after the invasion. Well taught by his mother, Damon would feel a real responsibility to use his position properly and decently., to open minds and do the right thing. When Live Planet, the production company he shared with Ben Affleck, made Running The Sahara, a documentary about endurance runners, he visited Africa and, learning of the horrific lack of fresh water, set up H2O Africa, a project to raise awareness of the problem.
It's clear that Matt Damon, who's worked so hard at his craft and studies the industry so closely, will be around for many years to come. Capable of carrying an action franchise as well as heavier productions like The Good Shepherd, and having moved into executive production and begun writing again, his possibilities are nigh on endless. One thing's for sure; having waited so long and come so close so often, Matt Damon will do all he can to stay on top.