Matt Damon couldn't be happier at 40. The star of the new romantic thriller The Adjustment Bureau tells John Hiscock about his career ups and downs and how his wife and daughters come first.
Matt Damon finds the right balance between family and films
Living just 15 minutes away from the New York hotel where we are meeting would normally suit Matt Damon just fine as he never likes to be far from home and family.
But on this occasion he has had to fly in from California, where he is making a film and where he has temporarily moved his wife and children to comply with his "two-week rule" - a vow that he will never be away from them for more than two weeks at a time.
For Damon, a devoted family man, it has meant a lot of juggling of schedules and long-distance commutes, but with ingenuity and the co-operation of helpful filmmakers, he has managed it so far through more than five years of marriage to his Argentinian-born wife, the interior designer Luciana Bozan.
Review: The Adjustment Bureau
The last year, though, has been difficult as he has been working virtually non-stop on location and in vastly varied films.
"Let's see," he muses. "When I was offered the role of the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf in True Grit I explained to the Coen brothers that if there was no way to shoot it in New York would they mind making my schedule around my rule and they said it was no problem, so I spent 25 days in Texas over the course of two months and I was basically commuting for two days a week.
"Then there was Contagion" - a Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller about a lethal virus - "which was in Chicago and was a two-week job but in fact I came home on the weekend so I was only away for a week twice in a row. Now I'm filming We Bought a Zoo in California, so we've all moved to Malibu and the kids are in school there. We picked a perfect time to leave New York." He gestures out of the window at the snow flurries gusting around Columbus Circle.
Then in July he and the family are moving to Vancouver during the school holidays while he films Elysium, the story of which is being kept a close secret by the writer-director Neill Blomkamp (District 9).
"It's a constant logistical battle which Lucy and I keep trying to figure out," he laughs. "I try to get every job filmed here in New York or at least have the interiors shot here because it makes it so much easier for us."
After breaking through in Hollywood 13 years ago, winning the Oscar with his friend Ben Affleck for writing Good Will Hunting, he became involved in some high-profile romances with the actresses Minnie Driver, Claire Danes and Winona Ryder, among others. But since meeting Lucy in Miami Beach in 2002 while he was filming the comedy Stuck on You, he has had eyes for no one else. They were married in 2005 in New York and they have three daughters: Isabella, 4, Gia, 2, and Stella, who was born in October. Lucy also has an 11-year-old daughter, Alexia, from a previous relationship.
"My whole life has just become anchored around my wife and kids," he says, happy with the situation. "It's completely changed the course of my life."
Damon has flown back to New York for the premiere of his latest film, The Adjustment Bureau, which was an ideal job for him as it was filmed entirely in New York, allowing him to go home every night.
A romantic thriller based on a story by the science-fiction writer Philip K Dick, The Adjustment Bureau poses the question: are we in charge of our lives or are decisions made for us long before we consider them? Do we control our destiny or do unseen forces manipulate it?
Damon plays a charismatic politician running for the US Senate who meets a beautiful contemporary ballet dancer played by Emily Blunt. But just as he is falling in love with her, he learns that agents of the shadowy Adjustment Bureau are doing everything in their power to keep them apart.
"I love that the material crosses a number of genres," he says. "There are thriller elements, action and a great love story as well as a personal crisis about what you believe in and who you are going to be. All that, plus a huge action movie about trying to outrun your fate - this is what popcorn movies are supposed to be."
Although it is almost certain to be a box office hit, like all his previous films The Adjustment Bureau is unlikely to win Damon any acting trophies. Although he has been nominated twice for acting Oscars - for Good Will Hunting and Invictus - he is good-naturedly resigned to the fact that the acting Oscar itself has eluded him and will probably continue to do so.
"When I look at a movie like A Streetcar Named Desire and realise Marlon Brando didn't get an Oscar, it's hard to believe," he says. "I've become convinced we should give awards a decade after the film has been released when all of the money and all of the engines pushing these things are out of the way. True Grit got 10 Academy Awards nominations" - although Damon was not one of them, and it turned out the film was shut out at the awards - "and that's fantastic and I'm very honoured to have been in that movie and I'm very proud of my work in it. I stand by my work."
Damon, boyish looking at 40, is relaxed and cheerful, casually dressed in a long-sleeved grey sweater and dark slacks. He sips from a bottle of water and when an assistant brings him a cappuccino he smiles gratefully and says: "Bless you, thanks".
Of the 50-plus movies he has made he is probably best known for his three portrayals of the steely-eyed killer Jason Bourne. The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum were so successful that Damon and the British director Paul Greengrass, who directed him in the last two Bourne films and in The Green Zone, are talking about making a fourth. There are problems, however, because Universal Studios, which produced the first three, is going ahead with another one, not based on any of the Robert Ludlum books, and without Damon.
"The character of Jason Bourne isn't in it but they're recreating the world he lives in so he is talked about," says Damon. "But it doesn't keep Paul and me from making another Bourne movie, which we would really like to do. We both love the character but we want to get it right."
Damon has a particular affection for Jason Bourne because his career was on the downwards slide when he made the first Bourne film. After the successes of The Talented Mr Ripley and Ocean's Eleven, he appeared in the flops Gerry, The Majestic and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and his phone had stopped ringing. Then The Bourne Identity was released and suddenly he was again one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood.
"It's incalculable how much this character and these movies have helped my career," he says. "Suddenly it put me on a short list of people who could get movies made and so directors called me and that's the best part of it; but another benefit has been that I have been able to do films that had wonderful scripts but on the face of it were not going to be box office successes like Syriana, The Departed and The Good Shepherd. I had the luxury of jumping on all three of them because I knew I was going to have another chance to do the Bourne character.
"The experience did me good because it made me understand that if your phone stops ringing it's not personal, it's because the movies you made didn't make money. There's no need to be emotional about it because the people who are not calling you any more aren't emotional, they're just doing their jobs."
Damon and Affleck grew up near each other just outside Boston and while their careers have taken different paths since winning their Oscars they have remained firm friends. They and their families - Affleck is married to the actress Jennifer Garner and has two young daughters - go on holiday together.
"Ben and I both feel we are through a 12-year phase of our lives when we were very focused on our careers and maybe we'll slow down a little and do more stuff together and have time with our families because that's a wonderful kind of new facet to our lives," says Damon.
"It's really a tough racket and often as an actor you have to deal with rejection, particularly when you're starting out," he says. "Ben and I used to call it being 'OK, thanksed', because you pour your heart out in an audition and the guy would look up and say 'OK, thanks', and you walk out and know you didn't get the part.
"Now I feel I've been so fortunate and I don't feel my success depends on the misfortune or failure of anybody else, so any time I see somebody doing good work I want to acknowledge it and honour it."
Since moving from Los Angeles to New York, he finds it refreshingly easy to avoid the paparazzi cameras and the hordes of fans who used to follow him everywhere.
"I'm a married man with kids and there's no scandal about me," he laughs. "So long as the photographers get an updated picture every six months, they're OK. A picture of us isn't as valuable as a picture of somebody who may cause some scandal and I don't think I've done anything to create any mystique around myself.
"I'm very lucky because I really have the best of both worlds: I get to do the work I really want to do and I don't have to walk around surrounded by paramilitary forces or anything like that."
He laughs, pulls on his overcoat and, accompanied only by an assistant, walks out into the freezing New York day.
The Adjustment Bureau was released this month in UAE cinemas.
The Damon file
BORN October 8, 1970, Cambridge, Massachusetts
SCHOOLING Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Cambridge; Harvard University
FAMILY Wife, Luciana Bozan; daughters, Alexia, Isabella, Gia and Stella
FIRST JOB One-line role in the 1988 movie Mystic Pizza
CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE Lost 18kg in 100 days for two days' work on the film Courage Under Fire. Had to take medication for several years to correct the stress on his adrenal gland
LAST BOOK READ The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
BIGGEST REGRET Dropping out of Harvard before graduating
CAN'T STAND Sarah Palin
A star is Bourne
Matt Damon has appeared in more than 50 films, including roles in two major movie franchises. He co-starred alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in Steven Soderbergh's 2001 remake of the Rat Pack Las Vegas caper film Ocean's Eleven, and in its two sequels, Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). He also starred as the determined amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne in the action-thrillers The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), based on the best-selling novels by Robert Ludlum.
Entertainment Weekly called him "the decade's best mixer of brawn and brains".
The Bourne character, a Green Beret, volunteers for a secret CIA project and undergoes behavioural modification and intensive training in combat, languages and tradecraft. The theme throughout the film trilogy is that of his trying to rediscover who and what he is.
Identity finds Bourne shot and left for dead in the Mediterranean. After his rescue by a fishing boat, his adventures take him to Paris, the French countryside and the Greek island of Mykonos, where he reunites with his love interest, Marie Kreutz.
In Supremacy, Kreutz is killed and Bourne's pursuit of her killer and of his own past takes him from Goa to Naples to Munich to Berlin to Moscow.
Ultimatum tracks Bourne from London to Madrid to Tangiers to New York, where he learns his real name and his past is fully revealed.