Matt Damon has just announced that he is teaming up with Ben Affleck again, in ‘The last Duel’ on a script they worked on together, for the first time since their breakthrough ‘Good Will Hunting’.
RSNG caught up with him to ask him about it, and talk about his lesser-known role as co-founder of Water.org – unlike some celebs Damon’s giving back is done with more than an online banking sesh…
RSNG From global heating to mass animal extinction, it doesn’t look good for our planet right now – how do you keep your optimism intact enough to put your energy into Water.org and other efforts?
MATT DAMON, ACTOR ‘Sometimes it’s as simple as just saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’. I know, for certain, that I would still be following the projects I do were I not in the spotlight, just like millions of people all around the world commit to these values and these causes every day of the week. That yearning I have to make a change comes from deep inside and it’s a passion I’ve always had.’
‘As for the planet, I think there will always be these challenges. Ten, 20, 50 years ago they were different, and they will be again in the future.’
‘We are never more than 48 hours away from potentially being in real trouble – Haiti was the proof and I saw it first-hand’
RSNG Tell something that has been a surprise when working with charities?
MH ‘Well, I could say that the best improvement over the last few years is the care for social responsibility that big companies now have. It’s different from, say, four years ago, and that’s about the consumers moving them in that direction: it matters to millennials.’
‘I think there is a perception sometimes that charity to Hollywood means going to Africa or visiting orphanages in a war-torn region, but the vast majority of projects are here in the US, and the majority of funds are needed in the US as well to solve our own crises.’
RSNG To what extent has travel shaped you as a person?
MH ‘My mother would take me travelling a lot when I was young. It certainly opened my eyes to a few things and I think, because I had that perception of another world out there from a very early age, I instantly became interested in the culture that existed in other countries, and their success and struggles.’
‘I think it’s very difficult to feel true empathy unless you see something very close up, or experience it for yourself. Travel is the ultimate way to do that and I have to be in a place in my head whereby I know where my next trip is. I live for that sort of experience.’
‘My wife and I are also trying to do that with our children because it’s very hard as a child to understand the world outside of your own little neighbourhood.’
RSNG Has it ever been difficult to get a sense of perspective of how life is lived in most of the world, once you’ve entered the Hollywood bubble?
MH ‘Not for me, because I’ve always attempted to stay outside that bubble; I’ve always wanted to get away from Hollywood and live a life that is as normal as possible.’
‘I know some people do get trapped in that world, and I know, from the outside, there is a perception that we’re all in it, when we’re not.’
‘I think what probably frustrates me most is when people want to set out to misinterpret gestures of help. There is a cynicism that grows on social media, and it’s dangerous. While I can understand people are suspicious about the intentions of some, for the most part I find charitable and philanthropic people very rarely go after self-interest.’
‘At the heart of it, we need to break down skin colour, poverty, location, all of that – we need to think about what this is in the most simplistic terms and say, “these people need help, and if it was the other way round we would hope they would help us too.”’
RSNG Is there a part of the world you’ve visited that has stayed with you more than any other?
MH ‘Probably Haiti, because we were there so soon after the natural devastation. You could see people fighting for survival, desperate for the convenience of water, which would enable them to build their lives. And in almost every case, the water was there, running under their feet, but they couldn’t get to it.’
‘It really struck home to me the idea that we are never more than 48 hours away from potentially being in real trouble. Haiti was the proof and I saw it first-hand.’
‘Steven Spielberg once said to me: “If you want to write a story, just start with something small and the rest will come along from there”
RSNG What’s been your most humbling experience working on water.org?
MH ‘Undoubtedly when we went to Haiti and I met a 13-year-old girl who was walking for up to four hours a day so that she could bring back water, and rarely would that be to the same place twice.’
‘We had just fixed water supply to her village so I asked her what she was going to do with all this extra time, and she said, “I am going to play.” And that really got me, right there.’
‘Extreme poverty wipes away so many, and you may think the survivors are the lucky ones because they live to tell the tale, but they have lost their childhoods, or their livelihoods, or any prospect of being able to flourish in the future.’
RSNG What’s been the best piece of life advice you’ve ever had?
MH ‘Well, I would say that the best advice that someone gave to me in my life was still related to film, because it helped me no end in hunting out happiness and being at peace with myself, and my decisions.’
‘Steven Spielberg once said to me: “If you want to write a story, just start with something small and the rest will come along from there.” So, I took that as him meaning that you should never take on anything too big because the small thing you choose can naturally escalate, grow, flourish… when you are ready and when it is ready.’
‘We all live our lives in a rush whereas if we took more time we may actually end up with greater rewards and happiness, but we still have to fight and work for every success.’
RSNG What can you tell us about The Last Duel?
MH ‘Only that all good partnerships come back together eventually.’