Matt Damon: 'My 10-year-old daughter Isabella knows I make movies for a living, but the others are still too young'
Matt Damon is back on the big screen in this summer's most anticipated blockbuster, Jason Bourne. He talks to Kate Whiting about getting back in shape, world politics and why baring his pecs was a 'big deal'.
Matt Damon is describing what it's like to film a fight scene - and can't help but chuckle at his day job.
"It's just utterly ridiculous, we're grown men play-fighting, you know what I mean? That's what my job is."
And there's a lot of 'play-fighting' in his latest movie, the long-awaited action sequel Jason Bourne.
The actor is back, literally by popular demand, playing the amnesiac assassin, 14 years after the franchise began with The Bourne Identity back in 2002.
"People wanted to see it," he says. "Every airport I'm in, or every time I'm walking down the street and somebody stops me, that's the first question, 'Are you going to do another Bourne movie?' So it's exciting on one hand, but there's also a lot of pressure.
"We definitely left it all on the field," adds Damon, of the sheer effort that went into making it. "I hope it's the movie people want to see. I'm at peace with where we are."
When we last saw Bourne, in 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, he had exposed the CIA's controversial Blackbriar programme, and was swimming off into obscurity.
At the start of Jason Bourne, we discover just what he's been doing with his time since: bare knuckle fighting on the Greek/Macedonian border.
"He did liberate himself from this Jason Bourne identity, but that hasn't brought him any peace.
"He's an incredibly tortured soul and you find him in a very dark place at the beginning of the movie," notes Damon, who has four children with wife of 11 years Luciana Bozan Barroso (three daughters together and a step-daughter from Barrosa's previous marriage).
To look the part, the actor, who turned 45 last October, went on a "really boring" diet of protein and vegetables - "that was the hardest part, I like to eat," - and spent hours working out in the gym.
"Just getting into shape was an up-at-dawn siege every day," he admits, adding that director Paul Greengrass told him it would only work if he looked like he'd "suffered" ("Those are the words I repeated to myself thousands of times in the gym...").
The training paid off: only a couple of minutes into the film, Bourne takes his shirt off for a fight, revealing an enviable washboard stomach.
It's the first time in a Bourne film (besides one scene showing bullet holes in his back) that Damon's had to strip for a "beefcake shot". He says he had no problem baring some flesh because it wasn't "gratuitous". "When you see him looking like that, it tells a story," he muses. "This is a man who's unresolved and damaged."
Still, Damon adds that, in many ways, it was a "big deal" to show off his pecs on camera - because the Bourne franchise has always stood apart in the spy thriller genre, as a gritty alternative to the Bond films.
"I did three movies where we specifically avoided [it]. We said, 'We're not that movie, we're not that franchise, the one where I come up out of the water bare-chested... There's nothing wrong with that, but it's just a different thing."
Dressed in a simple black sweater and jeans, leather bracelets wrapped around his wrist, Damon is one of the least starry A-listers I've ever met.
In fact, he's more polite gent than Hollywood ego, escorting me in and out of the hotel room where we meet for the interview, and he's happy to talk about everything and anything - including the snatched night out he and Luciana had at Mayfair's swanky Sexy Fish restaurant.
"I flew in from Korea and she flew in, we left the kids with their grandparents and had dinner. We try where we can [to have date nights]," he says. "We make an effort."
This down-to-earth demeanour could, at least in part, be due to his upbringing: his parents divorced when he was two, and Damon was raised in a commune by his mum Nancy, a professor of early childhood education.
He set up a charity that's since merged with another to become Water.org, which helps some of the world's poorest people have access to clean water and sanitation.
Famously vocal about politics, what does he think of the tumultuous month we've just had in Westminster? "We're in no position to throw stones," the Massachusetts-born star says with a laugh.
"It feels like it's the same anxiety all over the world, all over Europe and here and in America, it's that same push-pull of: are we putting up walls or are we not? And it's very troubling..." He's firmly supporting Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, partly because he's "a guy in a household of five women" (his daughters are Isabella (10), Gia (seven), and Stella (five), and step-daughter Alexia is 17, but also because he thinks she'll "steady the ship" - and he can't envisage a world under Donald Trump: "I think it would be reckless and dangerous for us all."
He admits that parenthood has impacted his approach to work and, after a career spanning almost 30 years, which really took off when he and BFF Ben Affleck co-wrote the Oscar-winning 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, he's now more able to switch off when he gets home.
"I don't know when I got my 10,000 hours in [to master acting], but it's been a while, and so it doesn't require me to take it home and try to suffer, that's a younger man's game.
"When I had kids, I found that the emotional reservoir was much more accessible and much more close to the surface," he adds, in response to whether being a father has affected him as an actor.
"I heard Anthony Hopkins once say that his process became so much more economical the older he got and the more experience he had. And I really find that to be true for myself."
While his fans will be thrilled to see Bourne back on screen, his daughters aren't quite so excited, but then they've only just been allowed to watch one of his films - The Martian, for which he was Oscar-nominated this year.
"My 10-year-old's friends had seen it and they were telling her about it, and I said, 'Okay, I guess it's okay for you to see it', and we had a DVD and my other two daughters wanted to see it too. There's that surgery scene at the beginning, but I sat with them and explained about the fake stomach and talked them through the whole thing... They liked it."
So is he a hero dad now?
"I don't know if they could really contextualise what was happening. I think my 10-year-old certainly knows that I make movies and kind of gets it, but the younger ones, not as much."
As to whether he'll be back for more Bourne in the future...
"If Paul wants to do another one, I would never say never," says Damon. "He's definitely going to make a couple of other films first, so we'll do what we did last time. Call each other, and see if one pops up."
- Jason Bourne is in cinemas now