Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne: Why he came back for the new film
'Jason Bourne' is the first installment in the series with Damon since the 2007 movie 'The Bourne Ultimatum.' The film co-stars Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, and Tommy Lee Jones.
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/AP
It's a sweltering afternoon in Hollywood and Matt Damon has just gotten out of couple's therapy.
Don't worry, it was just with Jimmy Kimmel – a continuation of the fake feud that started over 10 years ago before the two had even met.
"It takes a really surreal turn because we got a real therapist and we play it totally straight," said Damon, seated in the green room of Kimmel Studios. After "therapy," Damon had about 10 minutes to do a photo shoot, film an intro for a festival he can't attend, and scarf down a salad. This is life on the blockbuster circuit.
Damon, 45, is promoting "Jason Bourne," a film that nine years ago, both he and director Paul Greengrass thought would never happen. After three movies exploring the story of the super spy created by Robert Ludlum, the last two of which were directed by Greengrass, and a particularly difficult shooting experience with "The Bourne Ultimatum," Damon was done.
The name would come up often, though, in meetings and from fans. In 2009, around the time Damon and Greengrass did "Green Zone," they flirted with getting another one going, but there just wasn't a story. Universal Pictures, meanwhile, moved on, expanding the Bourne universe with a film focused on another agent played by Jeremy Renner. It did well enough, and a sequel was in the works. Then, in 2014, Greengrass and Damon took a look at the world and realized how much had changed.
"Paul called and said that the first set piece would be an austerity riot in Athens," Damon said. "I'm like, 'OK, we're back.'"
But they made sure to structure their production schedule so they weren't coming up with the script while they were shooting – as was the case with "Ultimatum."
"When you're in production, you're lighting money on fire and you can feel it. What (co-writers) Paul (Greengrass) and Chris (Rouse) did this time, which is great, was they took a whole year and showed up with 120 pages that you want to shoot," Damon said. "We knew once we said we were going to do it, that we were going to get a release date, so we just got all of our ducks in a row."
And it worked. For "Ultimatum," they shot for 138 days. "Jason Bourne" was a trim 95.
The film, now in theaters, is partially about the world of government surveillance, introducing CIA agents played by Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander. The high-octane hunt takes Bourne to the requisite international locales and even a few domestic ones – including Las Vegas, where one set piece features a SWAT vehicle plowing through cars on the strip. It's eerily reminiscent of the recent incident in France.
The marketing team pulled the scene from European ads immediately, he said.
"That was just horrific," Damon said. "None of us felt like it was a copy-cat thing, but we didn't want to be insensitive with those images out there."
It makes him think of the objections to the posters showing him wielding a gun – a sentiment he keenly understands.
"Movies are a tool for empathy. I wouldn't do them if I didn't believe that," he said. "But violence is a part of the human condition and so sometimes you end up playing violent characters. Jason Bourne is a violent character."
He hopes that the series, which has shown Bourne atoning for his actions, has a mindfulness that distinguishes it from others.
Damon may be one of the most bankable movie stars in the business, but he still feels the pressure of a big opening – especially from a franchise like Bourne.
"A lot is at stake," Damon said. "The movie was expensive to make and if the audience doesn't show up then, yeah, that would be a big deal that would be bad ... Our jobs are constantly hanging in the balance. It's an insecure profession and an insecure industry."
He's keeping busy, though. Almost too busy. His packed schedule meant giving up a plum role in Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester By the Sea" to his pal Casey Affleck. The film, based on an idea from John Krasinski and Damon, who also produced, was rapturously received at Sundance and will come out in November.
"Casey's no dummy. He was like 'I'll do it! I'll clear everything from my schedule!" Damon laughed.
But Damon has some big things on the horizon, too, including Alexander Payne's "Downsizing," and Yimou Zhang's historical fantasy "The Great Wall," a massive American and Chinese co-production that's out in February. He moved his wife and kids to China for six months during the shoot.
"There were 50 translators running around in every department. But everyone had made a lot of movies so we had that common language," Damon said.
Next he's shooting the George Clooney-directed and Joel and Ethan Coen-scripted crime mystery "Suburbicon."
And maybe after that he'll get around to taking a break and finally figuring out what he wants to direct.
Right now it's all "Bourne." He's just wrapped a big international tour and is off to New York to do the talk show circuit.
"Then I'm done!" Damon said. "Well, I still have to go to China and Japan. But that's like two weeks away. I'm not looking that far ahead."