Matt Damon a name that’s almost impossible to say without thinking of Trey Parker’s immortal pronunciation in Team America. The actor himself is one of the world’s most recognisable faces, an A-lister who has managed to remain an essential part of the Hollywood landscape since the 1990s.
And yet, in contrast to some of his contemporaries, he has never once stepped over the threshold into the land of the diva. He’s never seemed overly fixated with his own success either, a trait that has allowed him to perform in a stunning variety of roles. “I never wanted to do the same kind of movies over and over anyway” he once said, “so my theory on it all is I’m just gonna try and dodge the label and keep doing what I am doing.”
It’s this attitude that has defined his career. From Good Will Hunting to The Martian, he has continued to surprise cinema-going audiences for over twenty years. Born on October 8th 1970, Matt Damon was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second son of a stockbroker and a professor of early education.
After his parents divorced when he was just two years old, Damon and his brother moved with their mother into a six-family communal house, where he lived while attending Cambridge Alternative School. It was here that he had his first taste of acting after being cast in a number of school theatre productions, though he has said that his close friend and schoolmate Ben Affleck often stole the limelight, always getting the “biggest roles and longest speeches”.
He went on to attend Harvard University, where he wrote an early draft of what would become Good Will Hunting for his English class. However, Damon left Harvard before completing his degree to take the lead role in his first film, Geronimo: An American Legend (1993). Much to Damon’s dismay, the film was a critical and commercial failure. But, three years later, the actor got another lucky break. It’s here that we will begin.
The six definitive films of Matt Damon:
Courage Under Fire (1996)
After the failure of Geronimo, Damon needed something to raise his profile. His prayers were answered in the form of this Edward Zwick-directed war film, in which Damon played an American soldier addicted to opioids.
For the role, Damon lost around 18kg of weight in 100 days, using a self-prescribed diet and fitness regimen. His commitment to the role and the quality of his performance won him his first taste of critical attention when The Washington Post described his acting as”impressive”. This meagre slice of praise was enough to convince Damon to pursue acting full time. The next year, that decision would prove to be the best of his life.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
This was the film that made Damon’s name when he was just 26 years old. He’d started writing Good Will Hunting as an end of term assignment for a playwriting class he took as part of his English major at Harvard University. But, far from sticking to the brief of a one-act play, Damon handed in a 40-page script that would go on to become one of the defining films of the ’90s.
Starring school friend Ben Affleck and the legendary Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting won Damon both overnight success and an Academy Award. Years later, it is still one of the best film’s Damon has ever been part of.
The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
The following year, Damon appeared briefly in Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, after the director met him on the set of Good Will Hunting. However, it wouldn’t be until Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, The Talented Mr Ripley, in 1999, that Damon would match his own performance two years earlier.
Costarring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, the film was a huge critical success, with Damon’s performance being described as a stunningly precise representation of the cold and calculating titular character. Set in Venice, The Talented Mr Ripley is also an absolute feast for the eyes.
Oceans 11 (2001)
The dawn of the new millennium saw Damon become one of the biggest names in Hollywood. His rise to the top began when he joined two incredibly lucrative film franchises, the first of which was Oceans 11.
The action-packed heist-comedy is a remake of the original 1960s film of the same name and starred many of Hollywood’s biggest names, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Andy García, Bernie Mac and Julia Roberts. It sees Damon star as Linus Caldwell, the son of a legendary con artist and one of the two newcomers to join Danny’s heist crew.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Damon’s first film as amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity saw the actor reach new heights. It must have been a relief because, as Damon once recalled, he was jobless for 6 months before the opportunity came up.
Although Doug Liman, hadn’t envisioned Damon in the role, his audition convinced the director otherwise, establishing Damon as one of the defining action heroes of the ’00s. Damon’s enthusiasm for the role translated into him insisting on performing many of the stunts himself, undergoing three months of extensive training in stunt work, the use of weapons, boxing, and the Phillopino martian art, Eskrima.
The Martian (2015)
Adapted from the 2011 novel by Andy Wier, Ridley Scott’s survival sci-fi stars Matt Damon as the stranded astronaut, Mark Watney, as he attempts to survive the inhospitable environment of Mars. his tender performance earned him a Golden Globe Award for best actor and, certainly, it is well deserved. Damon accesses the very heart of the character, guiding us through the rollercoaster ride of loneliness and frantic elation that Watney experiences throughout the film.
The Martian also marked something of a renaissance for Damon. After the creative lull of the late ’00s and early 2010s, during which Damon starred in films such as The Brothers Grimm and We Bought A Zoo, Scott’s film saw Damon return to the kind of roles that he became famous for in his early career.