- Matt Damon explained why his new movie, “Downsizing,” is such a rarity to be made in the Hollywood system.
- The actor defended the other movie he was in this year, George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” and why he believes the critics were too harsh on Clooney.
- Damon also said that in this watershed moment of sexual misconduct allegations coming to light, we’re not talking enough about the men in Hollywood who don’t abuse their position.
If you haven’t noticed recently, Matt Damon has a lot of opinions.
The actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter is never shy about giving his thoughts on a range of topics, and when Business Insider met with him in New York City in mid-December, it was no different.
Damon was there to talk about his new movie, “Downsizing,” his first time working with acclaimed Oscar-winning writer-director Alexander Payne (“Election,” “Sideways,” “The Descendants”). Damon plays a man who undergoes a shrinking experiment that a growing number of others in the world are choosing. By shrinking to five inches in size, the procedure is billed as being a better way to protect the environment, with the added perk of micro-sized surroundings and possessions that allow the middle class to live like millionaires. The satire explores issues of class, economics, and the things we convince ourselves make up the American Dream. It’s the sort of movie a Hollywood studio never makes anymore.
Below, Damon explained why that’s the case. He also defended the other movie he was in this year, George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” which he felt the critics were too harsh on. Damon also gave his thoughts on the countless sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood, which we published earlier this week.
Jason Guerrasio: Did you know about the “Downsizing” script? Because Alexander and his cowriter Jim Taylor had written it a while ago.
Matt Damon: I hadn’t heard about it. I guess they started it after “Sideways” and originally Alexander wanted Paul Giamatti for the part. Thankfully for me, he didn’t get it made for ten years so I got the chance. So he called me and asked and I’ve wanted to work with him for a while. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not because it’s such an absurd premise. But he gave me a script.
Guerrasio: The movie on the outside has a save-the-world-vibe, and you’ve always been big on the environment, like your efforts with the world’s water crisis –
Damon: But this isn’t a message film.
Guerrasio: Not at all. Is it what was beyond the surface of the movie that grabbed you?
Damon: Yeah. There’s so much stuff in there – America today, class conflict. But really I thought it’s an optimistic movie, though it focuses on the apocalypse. But in the face of the apocalypse it’s these human kindnesses that are in it.
Guerrasio: The big thing for me was that a studio got behind a movie like this.
Damon: Tell me about it.
Guerrasio: They don’t do that for these kind of movies anymore.
Damon: Right. And we were supposed to make this a year earlier and didn’t because the funding fell apart. So it was really hard to find a way to make it. It’s just a challenging movie but also it’s just a challenging time. The margins are so narrow now that executives are just risk averse. If you’re going to make a movie that doesn’t have superheroes or sequel potential it’s just very hard to get that made now.
Guerrasio: But I would think your name involved opens some check books.
Damon: Less than you would think. When we did “Behind the Candelabra,” for instance, that had Steven [Soderbergh] directing it and Michael [Douglas] and me, we couldn’t get a studio to give us $US25 million (HBO ended up buying the movie).
Guerrasio: Because they don’t see anything worth their time that’s in that $US20 million – $US30 million range?
Damon: Well, if you look at $US25 million, you’re going to have to put at least that amount into P&A (prints and advertising) and you’re going to split it with the exhibitor, so you’re in for $US50 million, so it’s going to have to make $US100 million before you even start seeing any profit. So a movie like “Behind the Candelabra,” these studio chiefs had to go, “Well, is it going to make $US100 million? And is it going to make $US130 million so I can get something back?” These are very real dollar and cents conversations.
I have a first look deal with Ben [Affleck] for our company at Warner Bros., and there are movies that we bring to them and we like them they are great about it, but when we pitch they go “OK, we’ll run the numbers.” It’s not personal, they have to look at their slate of titles coming up and their business model and it just becomes really challenging to find way to get these kind of movies made.
Guerrasio: Now that’s what makes what you put out this year quite a feat. Both “Downsizing” and “Suburbicon” are very challenging movies, but a big studio, Paramount, released both of them.
Damon: Yeah. And I hope this one does better than “Suburbicon.” I mean, I wouldn’t change a frame of “Suburbicon.”
Guerrasio: I’ll be 100% honest with you, I wasn’t totally into “Suburbicon” –
Damon: Many felt the same way.
Guerrasio: But what I will say is I love it when you do the off-the-rail roles.
Damon: I did back-to-back-to-back “The Martian,” “The Great Wall,” “Jason Bourne,” and George called in the middle of making “Jason Bourne” and it really was a chance to work with George that interested me. But I love the concept of the movie. As you say, it was really something different. I had never been able to do something like that.
Guerrasio: When the movie comes out and isn’t the reaction you guys obviously were hoping for, can you just move on? Or are you a person that at 2 AM has to go online and read the reviews?
Damon: In that situation it’s easier for me than George. He spent two years on it and it does sting. It was made for a price. It’s a calculated miss, but it sucks. And nowadays, when the reviews come out, it’s almost like the reviewers are trying to one-up each other to see how creatively they can abuse a movie. And when movies are made in good faith you can tell. You can tell when one is a cash grab and one is not. And you may not like the movie, but you can see when it’s crafted at a certain level. I think it deserves a different level of review.
Guerrasio: Well, we do live in a world where the headline rules all.
Damon: Yes! Exactly. And I thought the reviews were oddly personal in terms of how they attacked George. Julianne [Moore] and I, we were kind of let off the hook, but they really went after George.
Guerrasio: And I think some of that is people respect his work as a director, so when they see something like this movie they are kind of in shock how much of a swing and miss it was.
Damon: Yeah, but then say that! I get that. But you also want people to take big swings because sometimes they connect.
Guerrasio: Projects for you coming up: I’ve heard in the past you’re developing a Bobby Kennedy movie, is that something that’s still hanging out there?
Damon: It’s still in the ether. Hopefully we’re going to get it made soon, we got to get it set up somewhere. That’s one of the ones we went to Warner Bros. with and they ran their numbers and said this isn’t a Warner Bros. movie. And I agree, it’s not. I mean, we were having this meeting and I’m sitting there with [Warner Bros. head] Toby [Emmerich] and he’s got the “Wonder Woman” poster behind him. [Laughs.]Guerrasio: My last question. How much does the sexual misconduct allegations that are constantly coming out in Hollywood affect how you choose a project going forward? Do you really have to think now if you want to be on a project if an actor, producer, or director has allegations against them? Because as we saw with Kevin Spacey, Netflix won’t release the Gore Vidal movie they made with Spacey starring because of the allegations against him.
Damon: That always went into my thinking. I mean, I wouldn’t want to work with somebody who – life’s too short for that. But the question of if somebody had allegations against them, you know, it would be a case-by-case basis. You go, “What’s the story here?”
But, we’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is there are a whole s—load of guys – the preponderance of men I’ve worked with – who don’t do this kind of thing and whose lives aren’t going to be affected. If I have to sign a sexual-harassment thing, I don’t care, I’ll sign it. I would have signed it before. I don’t do that, and most of the people I know don’t do that. So I think it’s important that powerful people aren’t abusing their stations and they are held to account. To whatever degree they do.
But besides that, I always think about who I’m going to work with and if it’s going to be a good experience, if it’s going to be a positive experience. We’re making movies, nobody should be getting hurt.
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