Actor trains to play pic's rugby captain

Coming off his turn as the doughy whistle blower in “The Informant,” Matt Damon had a lot of work to do to play the South African rugby team captain in Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus.”

“This film is the opposite of ‘The Informant’ as far as physical conditioning goes,” Eastwood says. “I think he liked it, (giving him) an excuse to get into shape.”

Damon’s first order of business was meeting the man he’d be playing, Francois Pienaar, to get an idea of what kind of training he’d need to do. Damon also wanted to understand what the rugby team’s victory in the 1995 World Cup meant to South Africa one year after Nelson Mandela was elected president. And the 5-foot-10 Damon wanted to assure the 6-foot-3-inch Pienaar that movies always made actors look taller than they actually are.

Damon left their initial dinner meeting determined to capture Pienaar’s integrity and flair for leadership. He began working out, lifting weights and running sprints, and spent more time with Pienaar. During that period, Pienaar led some friends on a climbing expedition up Mt. Kilimanjaro. As Damon tells it, when stragglers were feeling weak, Pienaar began singing and running backward up the mountain, exhorting them on.

Among the film’s rugby players, only Damon and two others were professional actors. The remainder were athletes, which meant Eastwood had to keep an eye out for his star during the rough-and-tumble action. Damon did most of his own action, but did have a stunt double for the more chaotic scenes.

“I had to be careful with it,” Eastwood says. “Rugby is one of those kinds of games where you can get bashed up. Matt was a great sport. He jumped right in and worked very hard.”

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