Matt Damon on What It Takes to Succeed as an Actor

December 31, 2018

Hollywood is full of super-charged, hardworking stars who often engross themselves in several projects simultaneously, and one of these actors is Matt Damon. The Massachusetts native is known for his never-say-die work ethic whether he’s starring in movies, producing films with his close friend Ben Affleck, or writing screenplays. He’s consistently starred in multiple movies each year since 1997. And his work has been rewarded with box-office receipts of more than $3 billion in North America, joining the ranks of Hollywood’s most commercially successful actors.

“I think my one skill is that I’ll outwork anybody. Like I’ll work harder,” the 48 year old told The Off Camera Show’s Sam Jones. “Especially at [an early age], right? Certainly starting out. Ben and I would go to auditions where kids would be there with their parents like their mom was making them go … Like, I’m going to beat that guy. I want it way more than him, right? And then as you gain more experience auditioning, you get better at it, and you start to get feedback.”

Damon credits his high school drama teacher, Gerry Speca, with having a big influence on him. Focusing the students on an actor’s responsibilities, Speca was known to give five words of advice: “Just do your work, kid.” Damon says, “He repeated that so many times to me, and that is what I can always retreat to, that’s my touchstone, when in doubt, just focus on the work.”

At the age of 18, Damon was thrilled to have his professional acting debut in the romantic comedy Mystic Pizza in which he had one line of dialogue. A year later, Damon and Affleck auditioned for Dead Poets Society. They received a callback and had high hopes for landing the part of a prep school student. But Ethan Hawke swooped down and got the gig. Damon recalls working in a movie theater along with Affleck during the summer afterward, taking movie stubs for audiences to watch Dead Poets Society and having to endure people exiting the theater in tears, moved by the film.

“When I was younger, everybody told me not to be an actor and, to this day, I say that to people who come up to me and say, ‘I’m thinking about going into acting, what’d you think?’ I say, ‘Absolutely not. It’s a terrible idea, don’t do it,’ because that’s what everyone said to me, and I think if you’re going to make it in this business that is full of rejection and hardship you need to believe in yourself despite what everybody you love and trust tells you,” Damon says. Fortunately, Damon and Affleck supported each other through all the times they experienced rejection.

Damon did land significant roles in film, however. While attending Harvard, he was cast as a lead in the sports drama School Ties alongside Brendan Fraser. But when the movie lost millions of dollars, it became clear it would not be a breakthrough role. And he left college without completing his last semester for a promising role in the historical western Geronimo: An American Legend which bombed at the box office.

When the screenplay for the 1996 crime-thriller Primal Fear made the rounds, Damon said everyone knew the part of the stuttering teenage altar boy would be the next big role. So he gave it his all and spent money on a dialect coach. Edward Norton landed the job, making his film debut and went on to receive an Oscar nod for his performance.

It was at this point Damon and Affleck realized they needed to take matters into their own hands and create their own opportunities from the ground up. They co-wrote the screenplay titled Good Will Hunting which was based on an early treatment Damon first wrote as an exercise for his English class. Indeed, at the age of 27, Damon experienced a breakthrough when the film Good Will Hunting was released. He starred as the math genius Will, and he and Affleck received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. But Damon insists this wasn’t an overnight success; he’d been struggling to break into the business since he was 16 years old.

“The system is not built for you to succeed, you have to break through it,” he says.

To date, Damon has earned five Academy Award nominations in all, winning one for the screenplay Good Will Hunting.

Matt Damon’s Rules for Success

April 8, 2017

Matt Damon transformed from being a lonely teenager appearing in high school theater productions to a successful A-list star receiving an Academy Award from five nominations. The Massachusetts native is considered one of the highest-grossing actors of all time and has branched out to screenwriting and producing as well. This Top 10 Rules for Success video reveals several nuggets of wisdom that have worked so well for Matt as he pursued his acting ambitions. Here are three of the rules mentioned.

Believe in yourself

When asked the best advice he’d ever received, Damon answered with some particularly discouraging advice: “When I was younger, everybody told me not to be an actor. To this day, I say that to people who come up to me and say, ‘I’m thinking of going into acting. What do you think?’ I say, ‘Absolutely not, terrible idea, don’t do it.’ Because that’s what everyone said to me. And I think if you’re going to make it in this business that is so full of rejection and hardship, you need to believe in yourself despite what everybody you love and trust tells you.” 

Channel your energy

While attending Harvard University, Damon would skip classes to pursue acting projects no matter how small they were. And he wrote an early treatment of the screenplay Good Will Hunting for English class about an unrecognized genius. Then Matt and his good buddy, Ben Affleck took that treatment and turned it into a completed script. The two would go on to receive an Oscar for their Good Will Hunting screenplay years later after the film was made. Damon says he and Affleck wrote the script “out of necessity.” He continued, “We just needed a job. And as you all know, they don’t really give those out here. So it was just two guys who were eager and young and had a lot of energy and a lot of creative energy. That’s always a big problem with LA and New York. You’d meet these other actors and it’s like you’re rearing to go, and there’s nowhere to put that energy.” Besides writing their own material, Damon encourages actors to channel their energy into other healthy and productive avenues like taking classes to gain acting experience.

Decide not to be nervous

A star-struck Damon was on the set of Saving Private Ryan with his co-star Tom Hanks when Hanks said something that made a lasting impression on the younger actor. “I was asking him about the movie he did with Jackie Gleason,” Damon recalls. “And I said, ‘What was it like to work with Jackie Gleason?’ And he thought about it for a second and he said, ‘You know, I made a decision to not be nervous.’ And I went, ‘What?’ And he goes, ‘I just, I knew everyone was so nervous around him and I just said, ‘I’m not going to be nervous around him.’ And once he realized I was treating him like a fellow human being, we really had this great working relationship.” Damon has gone on to work with many other prestigious, if not intimidating talents, and it seems this advice has served him quite well.

Matt Damon on Nerves

April 25, 2016

The late great thespian Laurence Olivier was said to be so nervous before stage performances he needed a bucket in the wings in case he lost his dinner. Robert Pattinson has admitted to hating auditions with a passion because, “I get so nervous, like cripplingly nervous.” And Emma Stone has confided that she often needs to use coping strategies to deal with occasional panic attacks. There are many ways to deal with nerves and anxiety in relation to auditions and acting including deep breathing, positive visualizations, vigilant preparation, listening to soothing music, and consistent sleep, exercise and meditation. But, possibly the simplest and most effective advice in regards to acting nerves comes from the one and only Matt Damon. Matt is an Academy Award winner, and A-lister, and he’s acted alongside many legendary actors in his young life. Not to mention he’s kicked serious butt as the unstoppable Jason Bourne! Matt’s advice to deal with nerves is to simply “make a decision to not be nervous.” This is actually advice he received from Tom Hanks on the set of Saving Private Ryan. In this Australian ABC News interview, Matt shares the first time he heard this helpful approach:

“I was asking [Tom] about the movie he did with Jackie Gleason. I said, ‘What was it like to work with Jackie Gleason?’ And he thought about it for a second and he said, ‘You know, I made a decision to not be nervous.’ And I went, ‘What?’ And he goes, ‘I knew everyone was so nervous around him. And I just said I’m not going to be nervous around him. And once he realized I was treating him like a fellow human being, we really had this great working relationship.'”

Turns out, this was the strategy the star-struck Damon tried to use when interacting with the celebrated Tom Hanks on set as well. After all, we’re all human, and certain people–maybe a big-time producer, major star, or renowned casting director–can trigger a serious case of the butterflies right when you’re hoping to be on top of your game.

This uncomplicated advice illustrates the enormous personal power you possess as an actor. The mind is a powerful thing; consciously controlling your thoughts might make all the difference in the way you approach people and situations. And if you can make a decision to not be nervous, what else can you make a decision to do?

Actors Step Forward to Endorse Presidential Candidates

October 19, 2015

Recently, Matt Damon told The Guardian, “You’re a better actor the less people know about you.” He believes actors are more effective in their work if their personal life is mysterious. On the other hand, many celebrity actors find their celebrity status to be an excellent platform to share their personal and political views; they tweet and openly discuss their opinions with the media hoping to influence others and make the world a better place. This is especially true during presidential races–like now. Several celebrity actors have come forward to publicly support the candidate of their choice. It’s fair to say these actors probably don’t agree with Damon’s opinion about the importance of keeping things mysterious for the sake of their acting.

Here’s a list of some of the actors who have stepped forward to endorse candidates for the upcoming Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

Ben Carson: Carson supporters include Mickey Rourke, and Kid Rock who said, “The guy makes a whole lot of sense to me.” Strongly opposing Carson is Seth Rogen who called him “despicable” and said, “…he seemed like someone that I just detested.”

Hillary Clinton: Hillary’s fans include Girls actress Lena Dunham, Orange is the New Black‘s Uzo Aduba, Robert De Niro, Kat Dennings, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, America Ferrera, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez, Josh Peck, Amy Poehler, RuPaul, Kerry Washington, Olivia Wilde, Jeffrey Wright, Broadway actor Andrew Rannells, and Diane Kruger who plead, “Please America, make her President!

Ted Cruz: Cruz is supported by R. Lee Ermey, and Adam Carolla who insisted, “I love me some Ted Cruz.”

Carly Fiorina: Fiorina is championed by James Woods, and Donnie Wahlberg who tweeted, “She is a strong human being and a strong candidate for President in 2016.” 

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee has been backed for years by martial artist and actor Chuck Norris who stated he believes he is “the most qualified.”

John Kasich: Tim Allen says Kasich is “a Republican that a Democrat could vote for.”

Martin O’Malley: Timothy Simons from Veep said, “I’m for Martin O’Malley.”

Rand Paul: Vince Vaughn likes Rand’s consistency with issues about liberty.

Marco Rubio: The star of Pawn Stars, Rick Harrison hosted a fundraiser for Rubio, saying, “Rubio cares about people.”

Bernie Sanders: Mark Ruffalo tweeted support for Bernie “and the political revolution!” Other Sanders advocates include Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman, Danny DeVito, and Jeremy Piven.

Donald Trump: Trump supporters include Bruce Willis, Gary Busey, Lou Ferrigno, Tom Brady, and Hulk Hogan. “He’s a great guy. He’s sharp. He’s fast. He can change the country after the last eight years,” Busey said.

Scott Walker: While he’s no longer in the race, Walker was championed by the Happy Days actor, Scott Baio who tweeted, “Gov. Walker sounds a lot like President Reagan.”

So, do all these celebrity advocates actually influence voters? It’s not always clear, but American researchers have confirmed the potentially far-reaching impact that celebrity endorsements can have on the voting populace. For instance, University of Maryland researchers concluded that Oprah Winfrey‘s 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama, before the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary, likely resulted in over one million additional votes for the candidate. But experts point out that celebrities who carry more credibility in the public’s eyes have an increased impact on voters–such as Angelina Jolie and George Clooney who have experience with political activism. In contrast, celebrities who don’t have proven expertise in the subject matter are generally not perceived as qualified, and thus their endorsements have the potential to actually hurt the candidate they’re trying to promote. But celebrities can certainly help increase fundraising and media exposure for their candidates. For example, people who listed TV/Movies/Music as their profession on Federal Election Commission records as of April 2012 were some of Obama’s top donors raising just under seven million dollars.

But let’s get back to the Damon’s point about the benefit of keeping things mysterious. Do these endorsements have an impact on the actors’ careers? After looking at the list of actors who support the various candidates, has your opinion about any of these actors changed? Do you find yourself gravitating more to some and feeling somewhat repulsed by others? The next time you see a film or TV show starring them, will you be distracted from their performances, and find yourself remembering your feelings about their political opinions–or not? How open or private do you think you’ll be once you become famous?



Matt Damon’s Controversial Comments About Actors Keeping Their Private Lives a Mystery

October 1, 2015


“You’re a better actor the less people know about you.” –Matt Damon

Just on the heels of stirring up controversy about issues of diversity, actor Matt Damon is making headlines again. But this time it’s for comments he made to The Guardian when speaking about actors’ private lives.
When discussing his role as Liberace’s lover in the television drama Behind the Candelabra, Damon said he’d been rumored to be gay when he and his childhood friend, Ben Affleck, were marketing the script Good Will Hunting which they had co-authored. He said, “It’s just like any piece of gossip…and it put us in a weird position of having to answer, you know what I mean? Which was then really deeply offensive. I don’t want to, like [imply] it’s some sort of disease–then it’s like I’m throwing my friends under the bus. But at the time, I remember thinking and saying Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy–more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor–it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out.”

Damon, who is married since 2005 and is the father of four children, went on to say although he welcomes the introduction of same-sex marriage, “I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly. But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.”

In response, some people interpreted his remarks to be offensive, and diminishing of openly gay actors. Similarly, Whoopi Goldberg disagreed with Damon’s opinion on the matter. On The View, Goldberg argued, “We’re actors–we’re supposed to be able to play everything and play it convincingly. So I don’t think whether you know or think or believe I’m gay has anything to do with what my abilities are. As an actor, that’s how I feel.” Referencing all of today’s social media, she continued, “You can have your privacy, but you’re outed. People out you, people tell your business whether you tell your business or not. And in terms of you know mystique and all that stuff, you know, you used to be able to make that choice for yourself.”

A couple days later while on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which is due to air on Tuesday, Damon clarified, “I was just trying to say actors are more effective when they’re a mystery. Right?…It’s painful when things get said that you don’t believe….And then it gets represented that that’s what you believe.”

Do you think that Matt Damon has a point about actors benefitting if they maintain an air of mystery about their personal lives? Or do you agree with Whoopi Goldberg, and feel that an actor’s private life should have no bearing on the quality of his or her work?