Matt Damon’s Wikipedia page does not have a “controversies” section. It’s an interesting omission, as the actor has been involved in his fair share of scrapes, many of which have necessitated near-immediate public apologies. The incidents typically happen during a promotional cycle in advance of a project’s release. “20 years ago, the best way I can put it is that the journalist listened to the music more than the lyrics,” the actor lamented in his most recent controversial interview. “Now your lyrics are getting parsed, to pull them out of context and get the best headline possible. Everyone needs clicks.”
Yes, journalists are all very sorry to quote Matt Damon directly from interviews he consented to participate in for the purpose of publicity. But we do need clicks. And Matt Damon needs his name in headlines. Could it be possible that these two gnawing desires have been working in tandem?
We Bought a Zoo (2011): Matt Damon Badmouths Bourne Ultimatum Screenwriter in GQ Cover Story
“It’s terrible. It’s really embarrassing. He was having a go, basically, and he took his money and left.”
Matt Damon was the subject of a GQ cover story in December 2011, primarily to promote Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo, but also in part to promote the four other movies he appeared in that year. Absent from his upcoming slate of films, though, was 2012’s The Bourne Legacy; the fourth film in the previously Damon-led Bourne franchise. The profile focused a good chunk of its time on Damon’s decision to back out of the franchise, a topic introduced by a comment from disgraced producer and longtime Damon collaborator Scott Rudin. ("That's a pretty striking move.”)
The Bourne discussion turned (abruptly, if we’re to believe the profile) to Damon’s criticisms of Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter behind each Bourne movie and the director of the fourth. “Suddenly, as we sit on a bench in the afternoon sunshine,” says GQ, “he takes a major swing at Gilroy.”
After some fussing about whether Gilroy was so embarrassed by the first Bourne film he insisted on being credited with another screenwriter, so he wouldn’t be seen as solely responsible (a claim that went unproved by GQ fact checkers), Damon laid into the screenplay Gilroy turned in for The Bourne Ultimatum. He says Gilroy got a deal to turn in one draft without having to receive notes or do rewrites, after which he got paid "an exorbitant amount of money." (Damon and I both admit this sounds like a fantastic deal.) From GQ:
"It's really the studio's fault for putting themselves in that position," Damon says. "I don't blame Tony for taking a boatload of money and handing in what he handed in. It's just that it was unreadable. This is a career-ender. I mean, I could put this thing up on eBay and it would be game over for that dude. It's terrible. It's really embarrassing. He was having a go, basically, and he took his money and left."
Though this one script to go under extensive rewrites from several different writers, Damon says, Gilroy asked for “sole credit.” Damon didn’t even wait until the story came out to issue his apology. He called GQ’s writers before the story went to press, saying:
"If I didn't respect him and appreciate his talent, then I really wouldn't have cared.... My feelings were hurt. That's all. And that's exactly why I shouldn't have said anything. This is between me and him. So saying anything publicly is fucking stupid and unprofessional and just kind of douchey of me.”
Project Greenlight (2015): Matt Damon Belittles Call for Diversity in Project Greenlight Premiere
"You do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
In 2015, HBO brought back Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s filmmaking reality series Project Greenlight for a fourth season, ten years after the conclusion of its third. The season focused on the production of a comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman, and in the show’s premiere, the film’s producers discussed possible options for directors. (Because the show is a competition, directors were competing to be chosen.)
Effie Brown, the film’s sole black producer, stressed the need for a director that would know how to deal carefully with an element of the script: the fact that the sole black character was a prostitute who was beaten by her pimp. She pushed for a directorial team consisting of a woman and a Vietnamese man.
Damon disagreed. “We’re talking about diversity…,” he said, “You do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show." Damon later said in a talking head that while he thinks diversity is important, he thinks it is more important for Project Greenlight to choose people based on “merit,” in order to not undermine the show’s competitive aspect. Eventually the team of producers settled on a director: a white guy named Jason Mann. (And according to Vox, they didn’t “do” diversity in the casting of the film, either.)
The show premiered on a Sunday night, and by Wednesday he issued an apology. From Variety:
“My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of ‘Project Greenlight’ which did not make the show. I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having.”
You know, I’m sure he was very happy they started a conversation.
Downsizing (2017): Matt Damon Says #MeToo Cases Need to be Considered on a Spectrum
“That’s criminal behavior, and it needs to be dealt with that way. The other stuff is just kind of shameful and gross.”
In a 2017 interview with ABC’s “Popcorn With Peter Travers,” in advance of the release of his film Downsizing, Damon spent a good amount of time discussing, in specific detail, the effects of the #MeToo movement. Though he briefly acknowledged that the movement is “great” and “wonderful,” he spent most of the time discussing ways it was getting perhaps a bit out of hand.
“I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior,” he said. “And we’re going to have to figure — you know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?” Right? Right? Right??
Damon went on to discuss specific cases in which he believed the men involved were treated unfairly. On Louis C.K. he said, “I don’t know all the details, I don’t do deep dives on this.” But he did see his statement on the accusations, which he felt was enough to welcome him back. “I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he — I just think that we have to kind of start delineating between what these behaviors are,” Damon said.
On his longtime collaborator Harvey Weinstein, Damon claimed ignorance. “Nobody who made movies for him knew … Any human being would have put a stop to that, no matter who he was.” (This claim of ignorance, he would later admit, was not true.)
The interview went on like that for quite some time, discussing Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, and others, but let’s cut to the sorry. Now a seasoned apologizer, Damon got a sort of two-for-one deal, releasing his apology a month later while promoting the release of a Stella Artois Super Bowl ad that was made in conjunction with his Water.org charity.
In an interview about the ad with Kathie Lee Gifford on the Today show, Damon addressed his comments. “I really wish I’d listened a lot more before I weighed in on this,” he said. “I don’t want to further anybody’s pain with anything that I do or say. So for that I am really sorry.”
Stillwater and The Last Duel (2021): Matt Damon Retires the “F-Slur”
“I said, ‘I retire the f-slur!’ I understood.”
Matt Damon is currently in the process of promoting Stillwater, which is sort of about Amanda Knox, and The Last Duel, which is about a guy participating in a duel after a man raped his wife. In a widely discussed recent interview with the Sunday Times, Damon proudly proclaimed that he’d recently retired his use of, as he put it, “the word that my daughter calls the ‘f-slur for a homosexual.’” From the Times:
“The word that my daughter calls the ‘f-slur for a homosexual’ was commonly used when I was a kid, with a different application. I made a joke, months ago, and got a treatise from my daughter. She left the table. I said, ‘Come on, that’s a joke! I say it in the movie Stuck on You!’ She went to her room and wrote a very long, beautiful treatise on how that word is dangerous. I said, ‘I retire the f-slur!’ I understood.”
His brave retirement of the slur was not met with the sort of clapping and weeping he may have expected, and his apology was swift and odd. Instead of the scene he described, Damon’s statement read, the scene was actually, um, completely different. Damn journalists! From his statement, via Variety:
“During a recent interview, I recalled a discussion I had with my daughter where I attempted to contextualize for her the progress that has been made – though by no means completed – since I was growing up in Boston and, as a child, heard the word ‘f*g’ used on the street before I knew what it even referred to. I explained that that word was used constantly and casually and was even a line of dialogue in a movie of mine as recently as 2003; she in turn expressed incredulity that there could ever have been a time where that word was used unthinkingly. To my admiration and pride, she was extremely articulate about the extent to which that word would have been painful to someone in the LGBTQ+ community regardless of how culturally normalized it was. I not only agreed with her but thrilled at her passion, values and desire for social justice.”
Uh-huh. Matt Damon rests his case.
In a New York Times profile that preceded the Sunday Times profile, Matt Damon reflected on the comments he made about #MeToo. “I was and am tone-deaf,” he said. “Like everybody, I’m a prisoner of my subjective experience and that leads to having blind spots. … I don’t even know where my blind spots begin and end,” he said. “So, yes, I was and am tone-deaf. I do try my best not to be.”
Luckily for him, his best does not preclude providing ample opportunities to those hideous headline-seeking vultures.