Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Matt Damon

Stars get starstruck, too
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent
February 17, 2010 12:00 AM

Matt Damon (right), star of Invictus: It was incredible meeting former South African President Nelson Mandela

Everyone is a fan of someone else.

Ordinary folks usually find themselves awestruck in the presence of a celebrity. This writer is no exception and so is Matt Damon. The actor recounted to The Philippine STAR during an interview in Los Angeles the intimate details of his meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela during the filming of his current film Invictus.

“It was incredible. I got to actually bring my kids to see him. It was amazing,” he recalled. Mandela was in a nearby hotel where the film was being shot and he, along with director Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, were invited separately to have tea with the Nobel Prize laureate whose struggle to unite his country after being elected first black president of South Africa is the subject of Eastwood’s latest masterpiece.

When Matt was asked if he wanted to bring his family with him to the meeting, his exact reply was: “Are you kidding me? Of course! I would love that.”

“The baby couldn’t take her eyes off him — it was incredible! He has an aura!” he continued with his story. “When we got there, we were outside this door and it was like a hotel hallway and there were security guys and we were kind of standing and I was holding my oldest daughter who was two at that time and she turned to me and said, ‘Daddy, who’s behind that door?’ It was the most incredible thing!”

“And when we went in they were just like that. They were just looking at him.” Matt admitted to have been rendered speechless only a few times before in his life and meeting Mandela was one of them. “He was just interacting with the kids. There was nothing more I wanted than exactly what was happening so I just kind of stood out of the way and just let it happen,” he said.

It was also propitious that Matt’s entire family was with him in South Africa at the time the invitation came. He brought his stepdaughter and some of her classmates and teachers to the country for a mini course on Mandela. “I brought my daughter to Robben Island (the island prison where Mandela was unjustly imprisoned for 27 years for fighting against the racist South African regime that instituted the system of apartheid separating white from the black folks) and they studied about him so she knew exactly who he was and she was in awe of him not just because of the aura that he projects but because she actually knew who he was and what he had done.”

Unlike other celebrities who are coy about questions on their personal lives, Matt surprised this writer by voluntarily offering most of the information himself. He couldn’t forget the exact moment when her 10-year-old stepdaughter first met Mandela. “She walked in first and very bravely walked up to him and he said, ‘What is your name?’ and she said, ‘Alexia.’ ‘What a beautiful name for a beautiful girl,’ and she just turned red, like so completely red — oh my God!” exclaimed Matt. “We have pictures of her and him and she was just smiling.”

The actor was beaming about this treasured encounter with Mandela. He was chuckling and smiling — and even imitated how his daughter and Mandela acted during their sweet interaction.

Listening to him talk intimately of his family’s fascinating encounter with Mandela provided an insight into another layer of the handsome actor’s personal life. “My little one is gonna have a picture of herself as a baby on the guy’s lap and it’s just amazing.” He showed us the pictures on his blackberry and told us he used the picture of his stepdaughter and Mandela as his wallpaper.

His close relationship with his kids was never more apparent than at the beginning of our interview when we caught him taking pictures of himself on his blackberry. When I asked him, he said it was for his stepdaughter who was asking where he was at the time.

“The good thing about being an actor…” he offered before correcting himself. “I mean the downside is you work long hours when you work but the upside is when you don’t work, you are just this totally unemployed schmuck who sits around the house all day — which is really great for fatherhood.”

Being home gives him the opportunity to bond with his children, even if he had to give up control of his TV remote to them. “I get to watch a lot of Scooby Doo!” he complained. “And yeah, Disney, God, it’s like crack. They are just ruthless marketers!”

Luckily, he was able to work out a deal with his family. There are times when he is allowed control of the TV remote. “I am allowed to watch my Patriots play every week and an occasional Celtics game. And during the baseball season, I am allowed to see the Red Sox.”

Matt is turning 40 this year and is not ashamed to admit it. He proudly shared the best of advice he received on turning 40. It came, surprisingly from Morgan, one of his favorite actors. “I was in an interview with Morgan, and he asked me, ‘You are about to turn 40?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, in October.’ Then he said, ‘You are just coming into your prime.’ He said that the 40’s was the best decade in his life. That’s when things start really getting good.”

Things started well for the humble star more than a decade ago when he, together with good pal Ben Affleck, took Hollywood by storm with their Oscar-winning blockbuster hit, Good Will Hunting in 2007. That movie was the toast of critics that year and had Titanic did not come destroying all box-office records it stood a good chance at winning the biggest prize.

Matt was nominated for both Best Actor and Best Screenplay at the Oscars that year. He won the latter, sharing the award with Affleck, his co-writer.

After that breakout year, the star went on to have a huge box-office career notably starring in two massive hit franchises: The Bourne Trilogy and Ocean’s Eleven.

But he was never nominated for an Oscar again. “I got all that stuff really early on in my career,” Matt said. Our interview took place a month before this year’s Oscar nominations were announced. “I haven’t been to the awards show in a dozen years. I never got nominated for anything ever again.”

“I thought about it when I did The Departed because I really wanted Marty to win,” he mused. “And I remember when we were making it, I wondered if this is really the one where he finally gets his Oscar. And when he did I was in Miami, where we were living at the time, and I remember sitting on the bed with Lucy (his Argentine wife) watching it and staying up just to see if Marty won. And when he won, we jumped on the bed! We were jumping up and down, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, he won!’”

When The Departed also won for Best Picture, he and his wife “looked at each other and was like, ‘we should have gone to L.A.!’ So I blew it. I am so out of practice that I forgot that I actually could have gone to that one.”

This year, Matt has an opportunity to redeem himself. The actor received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and co-star Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela, was cited for Best Actor.

In Warner Bros.’ powerful Invictus, Matt plays real-life Rugby player Francois Pienaar, who played a central character in the powerful story of reconciliation and forgiveness amidst the turmoil of a disintegrating society.

Inspired by real events, the movie chronicles how Mandela used the unifying element of sports to bring his fractured nation together as one during the most difficult time in South Africa’s history. Heartwarming and inspiring, Invictus has won plaudits from critics and earned Clint Eastwood a Best Director trophy from the National Board of Review.

The movie opens today in theaters.

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