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Matt Damon: Four Hours a Day in the Gym to Prep for ‘Elysium’

Tristar pic screens in Gotham

TriStar Pictures held a special screening of “Elysium” July 30 at Gotham’s Sunshine Theater where Matt Damon reflected on the specifics to bring Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian vision of a broken Earth 140 years from now to the screen.

“I was shooting it when promoting ‘Contagion’ in Venice almost two years ago,” he said, adding that it was adding the vfx that has taken so much time. “For a movie of this scale it was only four days of reshoots which is almost nothing. It’s just that Neill is so particular about the effects, making them cutting edge and completely real.”

The director was equally insistent about how buff his leading actor should be. “Neill was so specific about what he wanted me to look like. He actually had a picture with my face tacked onto this guy with this body,” Damon, 42, said, “and they literally hired me a trainer and I went to him with the picture. It was four hours a day in the gym – and I’m not 26 anymore but I got in shape.”

As for the pressure he might feel, what with last week’s Variety story that Sony’s summer depends on how the $120 million “Elysium” does, Damon laughed.

“Oh really? I’m glad I didn’t see that.  Hopefully we can come and perform.”

Blomkamp’s world is one where the haves lounge in luxury on Elysium, while the have nots below live in poverty and squalor. “It works the way ‘District 9’ did,” Damon said of Blomkamp’s 2009 debut.  “It’s not going to hit you over the head but later at the water cooler you can reflect on the themes of the movie.  It’s certainly not a message movie, it’s a big sci-fi action movie that should absolutely entertain you.”

As for reports that Eminem was Blomkamp’s original choice for his role, “That’s true – people have been asking that. Probably half of the movies I do have somebody else’s fingerprints on them. It’s the nature of the business. I’ve passed on things other actors have taken,” he reasoned. “You never know exactly what the alchemy is going to be. Sometimes you end up with somebody and you can’t believe that wasn’t your first choice the whole time. I’ve always felt the right actor gets the part. Even on movies like ‘Milk’ for instance. I was desperate to do the Dan White role.  It was one of the best scripts I’d ever read. Then it got pushed back because of Sean [Penn’s] schedule and I was devastated, even though it was only two weeks of work. “When I saw the movie and saw what Josh Brolin did with it, I went, ‘You know what? The right actor got the part.’ I do believe it all works out.”

That was true of Jason Bourne, Damon’s most iconic role.  “The character was 45 in the book and when I did that I was 29. So that was really Doug Liman casting me and completely reinventing that genre and I was the beneficiary of it.”

Among the “Elysium” crowd we asked a few to name their favorite futuristic sci-fi film:

New Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd: “I’ve always thought ‘The Matrix’ was pretty interesting. What makes it classic is the imagination, being able to think ahead and be pretty close to realistic.”

Salman Rushdie: “I like a lot of science-fiction, like ‘2001’ if you’re going to look at the classics. The best science fiction is really speculative fiction which is about the future, which is sometimes ideas about the present. ‘Wall-E’ is a film like that.”

Bryant Gumbel:  “I’m a big apocalyptic fan, I really am. So I like ones nobody’s heard of. The one I still watch is the Tea Leoni one, ‘Deep Impact.’ It got washed away, no pun intended, because it came out the same time as ‘Armageddon’ but I love ‘Deep Impact.’”

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