Matt Damon on Parenting a Teen, Returning to Jason Bourne, and His Thor Dreams

In 'Stillwater,' Damon plays a deadbeat dad. But in real life he says "fatherhood made my job easier."

by Donna Freydkin
Disney / GETTY / Focus Features

He’s been a grifter. An amnesiac assassin. A fake Loki. Jimmy Kimmel’s on-screen foil. But dammit, even getting lost in space was easier for Matt Damon than crawling inside the headspace of a deadbeat dad, a drifter who couldn’t be bothered to stick around for his only daughter.

“I think that thought exercise was like, ‘What if I woke up and my kid was 25 and in prison?’ I think that it was very easy to access that because that would be a great fear of yours or mine. It would be a nightmare scenario,” he tells Fatherly.

So in Stillwater, opening July 30, Damon’s gruff Oklahoman travels to Marseille to attempt to exonerate his kid, a painful exercise in trying to make up for lost time. In Damon’s measured hands, Bill Baker is neither off-puttingly homespun nor cloyingly folksy. He’s a dad who belatedly figures out that his kid really, really needs him but it’s too little, too late. And that’s something that Damon, a father of four, can’t really begin to grasp.

“I feel like fatherhood has made my job a lot easier in a lot of ways. All those emotions that I used to have to reach for are just readily accessible. I don’t have to twist myself into knots to find something — it’s just sitting right there all the time,” says Damon, who is raising Isabella, 15; Gia, 12; and Stella, 10; along with Alexia, 22, from his wife Lucy’s first marriage.

You play an oil rig worker. A felon who would have voted for Trump if he could legally vote. What did it take for you to get so deep into character?

He’s carrying a lot because he hasn’t been the best father — he’s failed his daughter in many ways. And so he was carrying all that pain.

We went down to Oklahoma and hung out with these guys and that was really, really helpful. Those guys who work on those oil rigs, that is a really hard job. Not many people could do it. I know I couldn’t. I got out there on the rig and I was like, no, no, no way, not today. We hung out with their families and spent a lot of time just trying to understand that lifestyle.

Speaking of your own kids, I read that your teenager is embarrassed by you.

Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t put a foot right. My 15-year-old, especially. I am so uncool. She’s really funny. She’s actually one of the funniest people I know, which makes it worse because she just crushes me.

The other two still, I still got a little time with the other two. Having said that, I feel like we got an extra year with our 15 year old because of COVID,. This is a time when she should be starting to push away and do her own thing. On a selfish level, I’m kind of happy. We still have a little extra time with her.

You’ve not on social media at all and always kept your kids out of the spotlight. How do you raise them to be the opposite of Hollywood entitled brats?

We’re trying. They seem great right now. But they’re growing up with so much more shit than we have — they’re just growing up with more stuff. I do feel like travel does mitigate that. I think it’s about getting them out of their own experience and into the world and seeing the world, not just from the inside of a Four Seasons hotel. I took Isabella on a water.org trip to the Philippines. And they start to get more context for their own lives. It was certainly helpful for me when my mom started taking me to Mexico and Guatemala, before I went to college.

I couldn’t tell you. I don’t even know what I could say. It’s such an all-consuming thing and such a overwhelming thing that I I couldn’t name one thing. I dunno.

Your meta performance as an actor playing Loki in Thor: Ragnarok was epic. And you’re in Taika Waititi’s upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. Spill.

I’m an intergalactic community theater actor. I’m trying to tell Taika we should do a movie about the inner intergalactic theater company. I think it would be pretty funny. I think it’d be awesome.

Would you ever be up for doing another Jason Bourne movie? I know he’s recovered his memory, and moved on with his life, but he’s a rich character. He could run the CIA!

Yeah, if we could crack the story. I love those movies. It was always about an external journey and an internal journey. And the internal journey was always driven by the fact that he didn’t know who he was and we’ve kind of played that card. So I don’t know what the urgent internal journey is for the character this time around — if we can crack that, then we’ll be off and running. But that’s a tall order. He’s got his memory back and what’s next, you know?

Speaking of work, you’ve been nonstop. What’s next for you?

I don’t think I’ll work this fall. Then I’ll start looking for stuff, maybe something to do in the spring. Hopefully local, so I don’t have to disrupt the kids’ lives too much.

Stillwater opens on July 30 in theaters nationwide.