MEMO TO: Matt Damon
FROM: Peter Bart
Re: your missing public persona
TORONTO — You’ve been sounding off about the press lately, Matt. Oops — since you’re a Harvard man, perhaps I should phrase it more elegantly. You’ve been reiterating some sophistries, Matt, which suggest you’re becoming a borderline solipsist.
I realize you don’t like to get into the Harvard stuff, Matt, or for that matter, anything that touches on your personal life. After all, you’ve had extraordinary success at the box office lately, and you’ve also been noticing the tendency of other stars to self-destruct. Your conclusion: The safest path for a movie star is to remain totally remote from the media, and to be utterly secretive about your personal tastes and beliefs — in short, to disappear as a person.
Stars should be mythic; forget the up-close-and-personal stuff. With this in mind, you breezed through the star-hungry Toronto Festival, carefully avoiding media scrutiny. In fact, I never knew you were there.
Your attitude came out loud and clear in an interview in the current GQ, where you spent much of your time telling the writer how much you hated being interviewed. Listing 10 of your favorite actors (including De Niro, Brando and Streep), you pointed out a common denominator: They were all zealous about guarding their privacy: “Marlon Brando, personal life? — Who fucking knew?” you expounded. Hence the best posture toward an interviewer? “Boring and elusive.” That’s the profile to project.
So where did all this come from, Matt? Does it represent a response to the Owen Wilson-Lindsay Lohan school of self-destructiveness? Or to your friend Ben Affleck’s disastrous press when “Gigli” collided with Jennifer Lopez?
Or is it simply that you have had an amazing run lately with your “Bourne” franchise (“The Bourne Ultimatum” has passed $278 million worldwide) and you’re getting a little smug?
We all understand that the key dilemma of being a movie star is loss of privacy. In return for fabulous wealth and limitless access, you can no longer impulsively wander the streets or drop into your favorite neighborhood restaurant. Most people, to be sure, would consider this a reasonable tradeoff.
But if your goal in life, Matt, is to hide from your public, think about what you surrender. You are constrained from using your celebrity to advance political causes, as your friend George Clooney has done. You are inhibited from being an activist in social causes, like your friend Brad Pitt. You have to be, well, boring and elusive. Does that befit a Harvard man?
In your GQ interview, you suggest that if your public knew much about your background and personal life, they might have a difficult time accepting you as a tough guy — indeed, a killer — in your “Bourne” movies. Should you be that defensive about your privileged background? Humphrey Bogart and Lee Marvin both played tough guys yet came from prep school backgrounds, and I don’t remember them apologizing about it.
Living in denial seems mildly pathological, Matt. In a recent interview, Christian Bale, another charter member of the give-me-privacy club, acknowledged that he routinely lies to reporters on those rare occasions when he is cornered. Asked by The Los Angeles Times why he does so, he replied, “I have no desire for people to get their facts right about me.” Does Bale have such a riveting story to hide? I doubt it.
I’ll give you this, Matt: Amid the media onslaught, it has become much more difficult for stars (or public figures in general) to maintain their dignity — or their integrity. Would much of the media be downright thrilled if you had a few too many and launched into a public rant against some minority group? Damn right they would. A forced trip to rehab under a police escort would make a good piece on “Extra.”
Still, there’s got to be a middle ground between the Life of Lohan and “boring and elusive.” I’d like to think you can stake out a piece of that ground, Matt, and look like you’re enjoying yourself a little more.
Look at Clooney: The Limbaughs of the hard right have made him a whipping boy, but he still seems to be out there, having a great time and making some meaningful movies.
Think Clooney, Matt. Brando is so not today’s role model, either in terms of behavior or heft.