BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Lunch at the legendary Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills has to end precisely at 1 p.m. because Matt Damon has a date.
His 13-month-old daughter Isabella is asleep in an upstairs hotel suite, and she is expected to wake at that time. Although Damon’s wife, Luciana, is with her, of course, Damon doesn’t want to miss a single event in his little girl’s life, including when she wakes up from a nap.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Paddy Considine, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 3 Aug 2007 (General release); 2007)
“It’s just wonderful,” the unashamedly gushing actor says of fatherhood. “I don’t even know how to describe how wonderful it is.”
And, sure enough, Damon doesn’t elaborate on how wonderful it is. He rarely talks about his private life in interviews. Oh, who are we kidding? He doesn’t talk about it at all. But he broke his self-imposed ban long enough to explain why he had to call a halt to the interview at 1 p.m.
Before he left, however, the 36-year-old actor was willing to discuss his new movie “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which opens Friday, and what he suggests is the unbelievable good fortune that has brought him an Oscar, the unwavering respect of his peers and a diverse movie career that has run the gamut from action films (“The Bourne” trilogy) to serious dramas (“Syriana,” “The Good Shepherd” and “The Departed”) to lighthearted romps (“Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13”).
“Oh great, now you’re going to make me look for some wood to knock,” he says with a grimace as he starts to feel around the corner booth on the Polo Lounge patio. Unable to find the wood he needs, he climbs out of the booth, walks a few feet to a nearby wooden post and knocks several times. He pauses dramatically to breathe deeply, as if relieved that he was able once again to stave off the bad karma that that would surely end his lucky streak in Hollywood.
“No one appreciates how lucky I’ve been more than I do,” he explained between sips of a Diet Coke. “The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is thank Doug Limon for giving me the role of a lifetime. That completely altered the trajectory of my career.”
Limon was the director of the first Bourne movie, “The Bourne Identity,” and he has admitted that it was a struggle to persuade studio executives to cast Damon in the role.
“No one else would have put me in that role,” Damon insisted. “I didn’t even see myself in that role. The screenwriter on the movie said he didn’t get it. Nobody got it.”
Paul Greengrass, the British filmmaker who was nominated for an Oscar for directing the 9/11 drama “United 93” and who helmed the second and third “Bourne” films, called Limon’s decision a bit of “genius casting.”
“Matt is not only one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met,” said the director, “but he has phenomenal range as an actor, which is evidenced by this rich vein of roles he’s gotten to play in recent years that include both mainstream blockbusters and cerebral dramas.
“He is the perfect actor to play Jason Bourne,” he added, “because he is ferociously smart with a dream temperament so he is able to play this character’s duality, which is at the heart and soul of Bourne. Here is a man confronting his dark past and seeking redemption. At the same time, he is a trained assassin who must elude people trying to kill him.
“In order to play both aspects of the character, you need an actor with conviction and precision. He must be a fantastic physical actor who can run, jump, fight and drive while conveying the inner demons that torture him. There aren’t many actors around who can do that, but Matt is one of them.”
In “The Bourne Identity,” the CIA-trained killer suffers from amnesia and tries to assemble the pieces of his life. In the first sequel “The Bourne Supremacy,” Bourne seeks revenge against the people who killed his girlfriend. Now, in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Bourne is again the target of rogue CIA agents, but this time he returns to New York City to confront those responsible for transforming him into a monster.
All three films are based on the late Robert Ludlum’s best-selling Cold War novels.
Joan Allen and Julia Stiles return in “The Bourne Ultimatum” as CIA agents who are sympathetic to Bourne when they’re not trying to lure him into a trap, but David Strathairn of “Good Night, and Good Luck” fame shares no such sympathy for the problematic assassin. He wants Bourne dead and will use every weapon at his disposal to kill him.
Damon, who won an Oscar with best friend Ben Affleck for writing the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” said he never read Ludlum’s novels but loved the approach taken by Limon and Greengrass in the films.
“Both the novels and the films are products of their respective times,” Damon said. “Doug (Limon) always said that he was turning what is basically a Republican book into a Democratic movie.
“In the novel, Bourne wakes up with amnesia and says: “Oh, my god, I’m a killer,” but he is eventually absolved of his guilt because he did his killing for the government. But, in the movie, he says, “Oh, my god, I’m a killer,” and then he has to make peace with that by taking responsibility for his actions.
“I love that we were making these movies at a time when America was involved in two real wars, and we were showing Americans taking responsibility for their actions. I love that about these movies.”
Politics aside, Damon said the Jason Bourne character has changed his life because it allowed him the freedom to choose different kinds of roles.
“Knowing that I had `The Bourne Ultimatum’ off in the distance is the reason I was able to take some of the riskier roles I’ve chosen,” he said. “I was able to do a `Syriana’ and `The Departed’ because I knew that I had this big action movie coming along. And being able to choose different kinds of roles means everything to me.
“I can’t tell you how many actors have said to me: `I’ve got to go to work’ like they were being tortured or something. I never understood that. They were making movies for a living. Why is that any reason to be depressed?
“But I eventually understood that the reason for their depression is that they were doing the same thing they did in their last 10 movies. They resent the audience for pigeonholing them, and they resent themselves for letting themselves to get pigeonholed. I never want to get into that position of resentment.”
Warning: spoiler alert. Keep reading at your own risk.
At the end of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the possibility exists of another sequel, although there are no more Ludlum books on Bourne.
Damon has hinted that he does not want to return to the franchise, although studio executives reportedly asked him to leave the door open when he met with the media at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Here is a Damon quote that might hint at how he feels about playing the character for a fourth time:
“I am not trying to be perceived as an action star. I am not trying to be perceived as any kind of actor. I am only trying to be perceived as versatile.”