& Just A Hint of Francois Pienaar!
by PREETI VIRDEE
Matthew Paige "Matt" Damon was born in 1970 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of an investment banker and university lecturer. Not quite a Harvard graduate, he was 12 credits short when he left Boston for the bright lights of Los Angeles. Damon made his mark on Hollywood with a bang, appearing in his first major lead role in the Francis Ford Coppola movie, “The Rainmaker” in 1997. The same year, “Good Will Hunting” garnered him his first Oscar® nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen at the young age of just 26, which he shared with best friend, Ben Affleck. His next big screen movie role was playing Private Ryan with Steven Spielberg in “Saving Private Ryan”.
Since then, each role has made Matt Damon more appealing and seriously hot property in Hollywood; blockbuster after blockbuster has taken his career to a pinnacle where one has to wonder “what can he do next that’s bigger than the last?” From the Ocean’s trilogy to the Bourne trilogy, “The Talented Mr Ripley” to “Syriana”, “The Departed” to “The Good Shepherd”, “Invictus” to “Green Zone”, his has worked alongside the brightest talents in cinema, and many of his movies have elicited him multiple nominations and wins including Oscars®, Golden Globes, Emmys and MTV awards.
Damon has been voted the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People Magazine, and in 2007 was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
Having dated English actress, Minnie Driver, and acclaimed American actress, Winona Ryder, in 2003 he met the beautiful Argentinean-born Luciana Bozán Barroso, whom he married in 2005. They have three children, Alexia [from Luciana’s previous marriage], Isabella and Gia, with a fourth on the way.
We met up with Matt Damon at Claridges when he was here for the European Premiere...
Do you think the other players held back from rucking Matt Damon?
“Yes – the biggest reason being that it was Matt Damon’s stunt double in there most of the time! No seriously, any time you make a movie its all choreography, except in this game – it’s very difficult to choreograph and a bit more uncontrolled so a lot of what we shot was what we call “freeplay” which was just letting these guys go nail each other, and Clint captured that.
“There was a whole physical challenge for me to get ready for the role just because I was playing a very famous man who everybody knows, and like any job it’s a magic trick. What can get me in trouble here? What can really take people out of the movie? Ultimately you’re only job is that if somebody doesn’t believe you even for a moment then you’ve failed and you’ve taken them out of the story. So Clint helped me out; I talked to him a lot about Francois – he’s a big guy & I’m an averaged sized guy and they know what I look like so how we gonna get around this? Maybe I won’t look 6’4” but maybe I won’t look 5’10”, so we want people to not ask the question, so used little tricks like putting the camera a little higher to make me look a little larger in the foreground, and putting an extra inch in my shoe to make me look a little taller, then obviously a lot of work in the gym.”
One scene – one take – how does that impact the actors?
“You mean directors who take a bunch of footage then edit it later? You definitely feel more protected (as an actor) when a director is moving on when he actually feels something happens so you know they’re watching intently. Coppola told me that Antonioni said to him - before the days of video village - that as a director you should stand next to the camera, look with the naked eye and when you see something that is real to you, and if your operator gives you the look like ”yeh I saw it too” then you print and move on. I’ve worked with a few guys who do that and it gives you a feeling of security because you know you’re in very able hands and the director is watching the movie unfold and your getting what you need to get. And it doesn’t have to take 17 hours to do it.”
Did you meet Nelson Mandela?
“We met him when we were there… and incidentally Morgan did leave out that when he leant over (during the screening) he said “the guy playing Pienaar is fantastic!” So we did have the chance to meet him in South Africa.
“But I’d met him one time before when he came to America 5 years ago and actually I had about 10 minutes with him. I was asked to bring my kids which was a real thrill, so my wife and I brought our 3 kids in and we spent the time watching him bounce our babies on his knees. He was just absolutely wonderful with them and we have wonderful pictures to prove it. It was a big moment for our family. They’ll grow up knowing who he is – it was very special.”
How important are awards to you? And what did you think of Ricky Gervais hosting Golden Globes?
“Awards are the only reason to make movies – and I speak for all three of us when I say that(!). I thought Ricky Gervais was great ---Not irreverent?--- No – it’s not supposed to be, it’s not the Kennedy Center Honours. There were probably 5% of the people there who were sober sitting at the table. It’s supposed to be fun.
“It is a good point the economic point – there is a lot of money – I remember a studio exec told me years ago he green lit a movie, it cost US$90 million, I think it was “Master And Commander” - the difference between this movie being in profit or loss is whether this movie gets a nomination, because the movie is primarily about men - there’s no women in it so we automatically lose half the audience; he broke the whole thing down for me. At that time to be one of the 5 best picture nomination meant $50 million in box office, because people would look in the paper and they might not see that many films in a year, but because they’re nominated those would be the ones they go see. So there is a huge part of it that does actually matter in the real world for our jobs I’m sorry to say.”
Where do you stand on the wider issue of sport being involved in politics:
“There was at the beginning of the script a quote from Mandela talking about sport and its ability to unify people unlike anything else. Mandela himself recognised this, so before he wrote the book, John (Carlin) went to see Mandela and said I’m thinking of doing a book set around this event, and Mandela lit up. Using politics and sport – yes of course – absolutely – Mandela proved it with this event.”
In the movie one of the big turning points was when Pienaar went to Robben Island. What impression did that make on you?
“It was as John Carlin wrote in his book, and was written by Tony Peckham in the screenplay – Francois might be better to answer this question. I asked him exactly what he did – holding his arms out – hopefully that was pretty much as it happened. Obviously when you’re telling a story like this in 2 hours you’re going to be mashing characters together and taking some poetic licence in a number of places.”
Francois Pienaar, born Jacobus François Pienaar in 1967, was captain of the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, for 3 years. He was capped 29 times, all of them as captain. In 1995, he held aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, awarded by President Nelson Mandela, having just led his team in the Rugby World Cup championship win against the New Zealand All Blacks.
I was privileged enough to be at the Rugby Reunion Dinner in London in 2007, celebrating 20 years of the Rugby World Cup, and in attendance amongst numerous other rugby legends including Jonah Lomu, were the Rugby World Cup-winning captains: Australia’s John Eales and Nick Farr-Jones, England’s Martin Johnson, alongside Francois Pienaar. One trait they all have in common is the most formidable and inspiring presence - you really do have to be in close proximity to feel the aura of power and leadership that they exude as world-class players. (David Kirk, All Black captain in 1987 was unfortunately too busy playing CEO of Fairfax Media to join in the celebrations.)
Pienaar left South Africa for England in 1996. He joined Premiership London club, Saracens as player-coach, and in 1998 led the team to the first Tetley's Bitter Cup win over London Wasps. He retired from playing rugby in 2000, and took on the role of CEO at Saracens, until he returned to Cape Town with his wife and children in 2002. Former President Nelson Mandela is godfather to his eldest son, Jean.
On his return, Pienaar was appointed CEO of the Rugby World Cup Bid Committee for South Africa for the 2011 RWC, but the bid eventually went to New Zealand.
Aside from his sponsorship consultancies, Pienaar is now a highly respected rugby commentator, and though based in Cape Town, is frequently in London.
Not to be outdone by all these Oscar® nominees, in 1995 Pienaar was voted Rugby Personality of the Year by Rugby Union Writers' Club of the United Kingdom, as well as Newsmaker of the Year in South Africa. In 2004 he was voted 50th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. And in 2005 he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
Matt Damon deferred his answer to the question of the impact of visiting Robben Island to Pienaar:
”When I watched the movie with my two boys in LA at the premiere and the scene involved, it was 100% exactly as it happened. The previous day we’d just beat Australia who were the favourites to win and we had a very good night out to celebrate the victory. And the next day we were at Robben Island; I’d never been to Robben Island before. I was the last guy to file passed and I walked into the cell; this enormous emotion flowed over me – I touched the wall and I looked outside of the bars. Then it dawned on me how unbelievably generous Nelson Mandela actually is, and his humility because he sat there for 17 years, he came out of that prison and embraced everyone in South Africa. When I watched the scene and Matt’s face I started crying and my two boys said “Daddy are you OK?” That brought so many emotions to me. Right after that, there were still prisoners on the island, we walked into the mess hall where all the prisoners were. All the prisoners there were all coloured prisoners – and the roof lifted when the team walked in! Then I just realised how powerful Nelson Mandela is, and was then, when he said to everybody in South Africa that he wanted them to support the Springboks. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have had the support of everyone in South Africa.”
Your view of “Invictus”?
“I’ve always maintained that Hollywood could not have imagined a better story than what happened in South Africa in 1995. I was fortunate enough to be the captain of a wonderful group of men who were focused on uniting our country, and we could not have asked for a better leader than Nelson Mandela to help us do that.”
When Matt Dawson met Matt Damon & Francois Pienaar...