Matthew Paige “Matt” Damon (/’de?m?n/; born October 8, 1970) is an American actor, film producer and screenwriter. He is ranked among Forbes magazine’s most bankable stars and is one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. Damon has received several accolades, including an Academy Award from four nominations, two Golden Globe Awards, and has been nominated for two British Academy Film Awards and five Emmy Awards.
Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Damon began his acting career by appearing in high school theater productions and he made his professional acting debut in the film Mystic Pizza (1988). He came to prominence in 1997 when he wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting alongside Ben Affleck, which won them the Academy and Golden Globe awards for Best Screenplay, and earned Damon a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He continued to garner praise from critics for his roles as the eponymous character in Saving Private Ryan (1998), the antihero in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), a fallen angel in Dogma, an energy analyst in Syriana (2005), and an Irish-American criminal in The Departed (2006).
Damon is also known for his starring roles as Jason Bourne in the Bourne franchise (2002-16) and as a con man in the Ocean’s Trilogy (2001-07). For his supporting role as the rugby player Francois Pienaar in Invictus (2009) and his leading role as an astronaut stranded on Mars in The Martian (2015), Damon received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor, respectively. The latter also won him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. Damon has received Emmy Award nominations for his portrayal of Scott Thorson in the biopic Behind the Candelabra (2013) and for producing the reality series Project Greenlight.
In addition to acting in films, Damon has performed voice-over work in both animated and documentary films, and has established two production companies with Affleck. He has been actively involved in charitable work, including the ONE Campaign, H2O Africa Foundation, Feeding America, and Water.org. With his wife, Luciana Bozán Barroso, he has three daughters and a stepdaughter from Barroso’s prior marriage.
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Damon was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second son of Kent Telfer Damon (born 1942), a stockbroker, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige (born 1944), an early childhood education professor at Lesley University. His father is of three-fourths English and one-fourth Scottish descent, and his mother is of five-eighths Finnish and three-eighths Swedish ancestry (his mother’s family surname had been changed from the Finnish “Pajari” to “Paige”). Damon and his family moved to Newton for two years. His parents divorced when he was two years old, and Damon and his brother returned with their mother to Cambridge, where they lived in a six-family communal house. His brother Kyle is now an accomplished sculptor and artist.
As a lonely adolescent, Damon has said that he felt that he did not belong. Due to his mother’s “by the book” approach to child-rearing, he had a hard time defining a self identity. He attended Cambridge Alternative School (now Graham and Parks) and then Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where he was a good student, but had a “terrifying” first two years due to his short stature. Damon performed as an actor in several high school theater productions. He credited his drama teacher, Gerry Speca, as an important artistic influence, though Ben Affleck, his good friend and schoolmate, got the “biggest roles and longest speeches”.
Damon attended Harvard University, where he was a member of the class of 1992, but left before receiving his degree to take a lead role in the film Geronimo: An American Legend. While at Harvard, he wrote an early treatment of the screenplay for Good Will Hunting as an exercise for an English class. Damon was a member of the Delphic Club, one of the University’s select Final Clubs. In 2013, he was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal. Damon received an Academy Award for the screenplay of Good Will Hunting in 1998, which was handed to him by fellow Harvard alumnus Jack Lemmon, who had also been a member of Harvard’s Delphic Club.
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Early years: 1988-1996
Damon attended Harvard in 1988, where he appeared in student theater plays, such as Burn This and A… My Name is Alice. Later, he made his film debut at the age of 18, with a single line of dialogue in the romantic comedy Mystic Pizza. As a student at Harvard, he acted in small roles such as in the TNT original film Rising Son and the ensemble prep-school drama School Ties. He left the university in 1992, a semester – 12 credits – shy of completion of his Bachelor of Arts in English to feature in Geronimo: An American Legend in Los Angeles, mistakenly expecting the movie to become a big success. Damon next appeared as an opiate-addicted soldier in 1996’s Courage Under Fire, for which he lost 40 pounds (18 kg) in 100 days on a self-prescribed diet and fitness regimen. He took medication for a year and a half afterwards to correct the stress inflicted on his adrenal gland and was told he was lucky his heart did not shrink. Courage Under Fire gained him critical notice, when The Washington Post labeled his performance “impressive”.
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Breakthrough roles: 1997-2000
During the early 1990s, Damon and Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting (1997), a screenplay about a young math genius, an extension of a screenplay he wrote for an assignment at Harvard, having integrated advice from director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, and writer/director Kevin Smith. It received nine Academy Awards nominations, earning Damon and Affleck Oscars and Golden Globes for Best Screenplay. Damon was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the same film, which netted an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for co-star Robin Williams. He and Affleck were each paid salaries of $600,000, while the film grossed over $225 million at the worldwide box office. The two later parodied their roles from the film in Kevin Smith’s 2001 movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Also in 1997, Damon was the lead in the critically acclaimed drama The Rainmaker, where he was recognized by the Los Angeles Times as “a talented young actor on the brink of stardom.” After meeting Damon on the set of Good Will Hunting, director Steven Spielberg cast him as the titular character in the 1998 World War II film Saving Private Ryan. He portrayed Patricia Highsmith’s antihero Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), in which “Damon outstandingly conveys his character’s slide from innocent enthusiasm into cold calculation”, according to Variety magazine. He played a fallen angel who discusses pop culture as intellectual subject matter with Affleck in Dogma (1999).
Damon’s attempts at essaying leading characters in romantic dramas such as 2000’s All the Pretty Horses and The Legend of Bagger Vance were commercially and critically unsuccessful. Variety said of his work in All the Pretty Horses: “[Damon] just doesn’t quite seem like a young man who’s spent his life amidst the dust and dung of a Texas cattle ranch. Nor does he strike any sparks with [Penelope] Cruz.” He was similarly deemed “uncomfortable being the center” of Robert Redford’s The Legend of Bagger Vance.
Hollywood star: 2001-2007
From 2001 to 2007, Damon gained wider international recognition as part of two major film franchises. He co-starred as thief Linus Caldwell in Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven, a remake of the Rat Pack’s 1960 film Ocean’s 11; the successful crime dramedy spawned two sequels, Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007). He played amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne/David Webb in the hit action thrillers, The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), for which Entertainment Weekly named Damon among “the decade’s best mixer of brawn and brains.”
Damon did the voice of Spirit in the animated movie Spirit Stallion of the Cimmaron (2002) and later played a conjoined twin in Stuck on You (2003), which received a 60% Rotten Tomatoes score and mixed critical reception. He played a fictionalized version of Wilhelm Grimm in Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure The Brothers Grimm (2005), which was a critically panned commercial failure; The Washington Post concluded, “Damon, constantly flashing his newscaster’s teeth and flaunting a fake, ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ dialect, comes across like someone who got lost on the way to an audition for a high school production of The Pirates of Penzance.” Later that year, he appeared as an energy analyst in Syriana.
In 2006, Damon joined Robert De Niro in The Good Shepherd as a career CIA officer, and played an undercover mobster working for the Massachusetts State Police in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong police thriller Infernal Affairs. Assessing his work in the two films, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote that Damon has the unique “ability to recede into a film while also being fully present, a recessed intensity, that distinguishes how he holds the screen.” The Departed has a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and critical reception was very good. According to Forbes in August 2007, Damon was the most bankable star of the actors reviewed, his last three films at that time averaged US$29 at the box office for every dollar he earned. Damon had an uncredited cameo in Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth (2007) and another cameo in the 2008 Che Guevara biopic Che.
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Critically acclaimed roles: 2009-present
He made a guest appearance in 2009 on the sixth-season finale of Entourage as himself, where he tries to pressure Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) into donating to his real foundation ONEXONE. His next role was Steven Soderbergh’s dark comedy The Informant! (2009), in which his Golden Globe-nominated work was described by Entertainment Weekly as such: “The star – who has quietly and steadily turned into a great Everyman actor – is in nimble control as he reveals his character’s deep crazies.” Also in 2009, Damon portrayed South Africa national rugby union team captain François Pienaar in the Clint Eastwood-directed film Invictus, which is based on the 2008 John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation and features Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Invictus earned Damon an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The New Republic observed that he brought “it off with low-key charm and integrity.”
In 2010, he reteamed with director Paul Greengrass, who directed him in the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, for the action thriller Green Zone, which flopped commercially and received a score of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes and ambivalent reception from critics. He has appeared as a guest star in an episode of Arthur, titled “The Making of Arthur”, as himself. During season 5 of 30 Rock, he appeared as guest star in the role of Liz Lemon’s boyfriend in the episodes “I Do Do”, “The Fabian Strategy”, “Live Show”, and “Double-edged Sword”. Damon’s 2010 projects included Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter and the Coen brothers’ remake of the 1969 John Wayne-starring Western True Grit.
In 2011, he starred in The Adjustment Bureau, Contagion, and We Bought a Zoo. In April 2012, Damon filmed Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant, which he co-wrote with John Krasinski. Damon’s next film with frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh was Behind the Candelabra, a drama about the life of pianist/entertainer Liberace (played by Michael Douglas) with Damon playing Liberace’s longtime partner Scott Thorson. The film premiered on HBO on May 26, 2013.
Damon starred in the science fiction film Elysium (2013), where he played former car-thief-turned-factory-worker Max DeCosta. He also appeared in the science fiction movie The Zero Theorem by Terry Gilliam in 2013. In 2014, he starred in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, and played the minor role of scientist Dr. Mann, in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. He played the main character, astronaut Mark Watney, in Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015), based on Andy Weir’s best-selling novel of the same name, a role that earned him the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He has signed to star in Alexander Payne’s upcoming film, Downsizing.
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Along with Affleck and producers Chris Moore and Sean Bailey, Damon founded the production company LivePlanet, through which the four created the Emmy-nominated documentary series Project Greenlight to find and fund worthwhile film projects from novice filmmakers. The company produced and founded the short-lived mystery-hybrid series Push, Nevada, as well as other projects. In March 2010, Damon and Affleck teamed up again to create Pearl Street Films, a Warner Bros. based production company.
He lent his voice to the English version of the animated film Ponyo, which was released in the United States in August 2009. The documentary which he narrated, American Teacher, opened in New York in 2011 prior to national screening. He also voiced the lead character Cale Tucker in Titan A.E., took the narrative voice of the Stallion Spirit in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and voiced a krill named Bill in Happy Feet Two.
In January 2012, it was announced that Damon had signed a multiyear deal to be the voice of TD Ameritrade advertisements, replacing Sam Waterston as the discount brokerage’s spokesman. Damon donates all fees from the advertisements to charity. In 2013, Damon appeared in a 20-second advertisement for Nespresso, directed by Grant Heslov, with whom he worked on The Monuments Men. The deal earned Damon $3 million.
Damon also provided voice-over for United Airlines’s resurrected “Fly the Friendly Skies” advertisement campaign in 2013.
Damon was the founder of H2O Africa Foundation, the charitable arm of the Running the Sahara expedition, which merged with WaterPartners to create Water.org in July 2009. He, along with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub, is one of the founders of Not On Our Watch Project, an organization that focuses global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities such as in Darfur. Damon supports the ONE Campaign, which is aimed at fighting AIDS and poverty in Third World countries. He has appeared in their print and television advertising.
Damon is also an ambassador for ONEXONE, a nonprofit foundation committed to supporting, preserving and improving the lives of children at home in Canada, the United States, and around the world. Damon is also a spokesperson for Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization, and a member of their Entertainment Council, participating in their Ad Council public service announcements. Damon is a board member of Tonic Mailstopper (formerly GreenDimes), a company that attempts to halt junk mail delivered to American homes each day.
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Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Comedian Jimmy Kimmel had a running gag at the end of his ABC television show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where he apologized for not being able to interview Damon at the end of each show. It culminated in a planned skit on September 12, 2006, when Damon stormed off after having his interview cut short. Damon appeared in several of E! Entertainment’s top ten Jimmy Kimmel Live! spoofs. On January 24, 2013, Damon took over his show and mentioned the long-standing feud and having been bumped from years of shows. It involved celebrities who were previously involved in the “feud”, including Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, and Sarah Silverman.
Damon appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews in December 2006, and while discussing the ongoing war in Iraq, expressed concern about inequities across socioeconomic classes with regards to who in the United States is tasked with the responsibility of fighting wars. Damon is a supporter of the Democratic Party, and has made several critical statements against Republican Party figures, but has also expressed his disillusionment with the policies of President Barack Obama. In 2012 Damon, Ben Affleck, and John Krasinski hosted a fundraiser for Democratic Senate nominee Elizabeth Warren.
In 2010, Matt Damon narrated the documentary film Inside Job about the part played by financial deregulation in the late-2000s financial crisis.
Damon dated his Good Will Hunting co-star Minnie Driver. He later had a two-year relationship with actress Winona Ryder. From 2001 to 2003, he dated Odessa Whitmire, the former personal assistant of Billy Bob Thornton and Ben Affleck.
Damon met Argentine bartender Luciana Bozán Barroso (born 1976) in April, 2003, while filming Stuck on You in Miami. They became engaged in September, 2005, and married in a private civil ceremony on December 9, 2005, at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. The couple have three daughters: Isabella (b. 2006), Gia Zavala (b. 2008) and Stella Zavala (b. 2010). He also has a step-daughter, Alexia Barroso (b. 1998), from Luciana’s previous marriage. Since 2012, they have lived in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, having previously lived in Miami and New York.
Damon is a fan of the Boston Red Sox. After the team won the 2007 World Series, he narrated the commemorative DVD release of the event. He enjoys playing poker and has competed in several World Series of Poker (WSOP) events, including the 2010 World Series of Poker main event. He spent $25,000 at the WSOP while researching his role as a professional poker player in Rounders (1998) and, after finishing the film, was busted out of the 1998 WSOP by poker professional Doyle Brunson.
Awards and honors
Aside from awards he has garnered for his role as actor and producer, Damon became the 2,343rd person to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on July 25, 2007. He reacted to the award by stating: “A few times in my life I’ve had these experiences that are just kind of too big to process and this looks like it’s going to be one of those times.”
- Altman, Sheryl and Berk, Sheryl. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck: On and Off Screen. HarperCollins Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-06-107145-5.
- Bego, Mark. Matt Damon: Chasing a Dream. Andrews Mcmeel Pub, 1998. ISBN 0-8362-7131-9.
- Diamond, Maxine and Hemmings, Harriet. Matt Damon a Biography. Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 1998. ISBN 0-671-02649-6.
- Nickson, Chris. Matt Damon: An Unauthorized Biography. Renaissance Books, 1999. ISBN 1-58063-072-3.