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Matt Damon is Alive and Well

Matt Damon in The Informant!

The actor puts on 30 pounds, fakes his own death, talks about his new movie

The Toronto Film Festival has had its share of coups in its 34 years, but this one has to be the greatest ever: The late Matt Damon has risen from the grave to do a press conference!

Okay, he wasn’t really dead, but there was a persistent—if idiotic—rumor circulating on the internet the day before Damon appeared in Toronto to promote his new film The Informant! (I don’t know why the exclamation point is part of the title, but it is.) He first addressed the rumor by “admitting” that he started it himself—“I just wanted some attention!”

But seriously, he was astonished at how much traction the rumor got. “I had to call my parents and everything. It’s a really reckless thing to do. I don’t even know why someone would think that’s funny. And we got all these phone calls from very reputable sources. I got forwarded the story, which if you read it just gets sillier and sillier—by the end this guy that is supposed to be my agent is just quoting the lyrics to the theme song from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But CNN called, the Boston Globe called, all these reputable news sources. The misinformation, it can get around quickly because you motherfuckers are lazy! There, I said it. Bastards.”

Of course, he’s saying this with a big smile on his face. Having thus insulted this room full of reporters, he turns to director Steven Soderbergh and says sotto voce, “I think this is going really well, huh?” When someone addresses a question to “Mr. Damon,” he says, “Sure, now that I’m dead I get respect! Are my angel wings intimidating you?” And after praising the script, he admits that he wrote it himself and wonders who this Scott Burns guy (the real writer) down the table from him is. There are seven people on the dais representing The Informant!, but it’s Damon’s show this morning, and he’s having a swell time.

The movie is based on the true story of Mark Whitacre, the highest-ranked whistleblower in US history, who exposed an enormous price-fixing scheme at Archer Daniels Midland in the 1990s. But Whitacre was hardly the ideal whistleblower: As became clear only later to the FBI, the biophysicist and executive was bipolar and subject to what can best be defined as a rich fantasy life. (Soderbergh describes him as having “a very complicated relationship with the truth.”) To say more wouldn’t be fair to prospective veiwers, but it’s a clever and funny film in which the really ridiculous parts are pretty much true.

To play Whitacre, Damon wore a silly moustache and wig and put on 30 pounds of extra weight. He says that when he asked Soderbergh how he wanted the character to look, the director gave him a one-word reply: doughy.

“So those were my marching orders. The rationale behind it, I later found out—I didn’t question it, I just started eating—Steven didn’t want any hard edge to the character. He wanted him undefined. So you couldn’t pin him down.

“I talked to Robert DeNiro, who put on 60 pounds for Raging Bull. He said the first 15 pounds are really fun, then you have to go to work after that. I found all 30 pounds fun.”

When one journalist seems surprised that he would call DeNiro for this, Damon points out that they worked together before, in The Good Shepherd, so it wasn’t like he didn’t know the guy. He imagines how he might have sounded cold-calling: “Is this Robert DeNiro? I’m a young actor…Did you ever see Mystic Pizza? I’m in that. How about School Ties?”

Pressed to identify the emotional downsides of such rapid weight gain, Damon is having none of it.

“It felt fantastic, I’ve never had that much fun making a movie. Really. I just ate whatever I wanted to and thought about nothing but the screenplay and the other actors. Especially compared to one of the Jason Bourne movies where I have to come home after a day’s shooting and go to the gym. That takes way too much time away from my family. I just prefer to eat.”

Does he mind seeing himself looking so tubby onscreen? “I can’t get enough of it,” he says, grinning. “I’m going to go to every screening.”

Soderbergh adds, “He’s one of those actors that doesn’t like to watch other actors.”

Damon agrees: “Even when we’re doing the scene. We do a lot of over-the-shoulder stuff ’cause you can tell I’m not looking at the other actors, I’m thinking about something else.”

Asked if he ever did any major bluffing on the level of Whitacre in his own life, Damon says, “Well, we’re in the film business, so we’re on the high wire the whole time. I know Steven feels the same, and I sure everyone else up here does too, that at any moment someone is going to come up to us on a set and tell us [authoritative voice] ‘Put that down—get the fuck out of here! What do you think you’re doing? Who let you in here—you know you’re not supposed to be in here! Go get a job!’ So I definitely feel like the other shoe might drop at any time.

Damon’s career has risen in the last 10 years with starring roles in two popular series, the Jason Bourne thrillers and the Ocean’s 11/12/13 heist comedies, directed by Soderbergh. Whether there will be another Bourne movie, he says, depends on someone writing a good script, but there’s nothing on the horizon at the moment. He hints that the same would be the case for another Ocean’s movie, but Soderbergh thinks otherwise. “Any possibility of revisiting that ended when Bernie Mac died. I would never go back and do it without him, so that’s that.”

Damon drops into sotto voce once again, this time for our benefit: “We’re in talks with McG…”

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