Rick Kern/Getty Images for Stella Artois
Rick Kern/Getty Images for Stella Artois
Spoiler alert: Matt Damon just may be that great.
Though admittedly no one can know what truly lurks in the hearts of men, other than the Shadow, it's been awhile now and there isn't any juicy Damon dirt to sift through. So, it's best just to focus on what we've got, which is a big, cushy pile of goodness.
Now about 25 years into his firing-on-all-cylinders career, the Oscar-nominated actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter has continued to shine where so many of the stars he rose through the ranks of Hollywood with have stumbled—in the personal department.
A few obvious things have contributed to his status as a 99-percent scandal-free celebrity (you have to have never spoken out loud to not make any negative headlines), a lot of which—along with that preternaturally youthful face he's still sporting at 46—can be ascribed to a combination of fate and luck. But word on the street is that he really is a stand-up husband, father, humanitarian and movie star, meaning he actually meets the fates halfway by bringing admirable behavior to the table.
Who is this guy?
For starters, anyone who dedicates himself so completely to a fake feud that wasn't his idea has got to be the coolest guy ever in real life.
Damon has been locked in mock-battle with Jimmy Kimmelfor over a decade, ever since the Jimmy Kimmel Live host extended his "apologies to Matt Damon" for no reason whatsoever at the end of an uninspiring show one night and ended up creating what became his signature sign-off.
"Matt Damon was just the first name that popped into my head. I was trying to think of an A-list star, and somebody we absolutely would not bump if he was on the show," Kimmel explained on NPR's Fresh Air in 2013. "The legs on this bit are unbelievable to me. I mean, people laugh every time I say it... Repeating the same joke every single night, you'd think eventually people would get tired of it, but they don't."
2017 is now drawing to a close, and, thanks to Damon's enthusiastic participation in an epic array of bits, starting with Sarah Silverman's "I'm F--king Matt Damon" video in 2008, his "whatta guy!" cachet has skyrocketed over the years. Most recently he amiably agreed to let Kimmel sporadically roast him throughout the 2017 Oscars, and we've officially got a relationship that has outlived most Hollywood marriages.
Then there's Damon's actual marriage, which has also long since defied the stingy romantic odds allowed most movie stars.
"Matt came in, learned the song in a closet of the hotel we had, and then we had three hours with him to shoot because he had his daughter's Halloween pageant at noon," Silverman recalled the tight schedule for the aforementioned family-unfriendly video, a testament to Damon's otherwise-normal existence.
The actor himself has said that marrying a "civilian"—he met wife Luciana Barroso while she was tending bar in Miami—has helped keep his life private and the sailing smooth. But really, he shouldn't sell himself short—plenty of stars have been blessed with that dynamic and then totally screwed it up.
"It's really sex and scandal that moves those magazines, and there's nothing scandalous about a guy who's married and has kids," Damon told The Guardian in 2013. "If they come outside where I live, they are going to die of boredom—there's just nothing really going on that would sell a magazine."
There's nothing scandalous about a guy who's married and has kids until, that is, someone files for divorce—or it comes out that his wife fired the nanny for undisclosed reasons, or a heated argument on a private jet leads to an FBI investigation, or all of a sudden he's living in the guest house, and then his wife is sitting down with Vanity Fair...
All scenarios Damon may have heard through the grapevine were unfolding far, far away from his quiet home life with Luciana and their four daughters.
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The couple, who will celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary on Dec.9, set the tone for their blissfully uneventful existence by getting married in a civil ceremony presided over by then-NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg in his office. They had wanted to tie the knot over the holidays at home in Miami, but the desire to keep their big day entirely between them won out.
"It's weird, because you walk a fine line. You don't want to sound like you're complaining about attention or publicity," Damon told GQ in 2007. "And, um, I'm not complaining. But I have identified the parts of fame that I don't like. And one of them is being chased around."
The 10-year-old conversation turned eerily prescient when Damon brought up his best friend from forever, Ben Affleck, who at the time had settled down with Jennifer Garner after his J.Lo debacle but was pre-comeback in the career department, his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone still a few months away.
"If you end up in [the tabloids'] crosshairs, you're really f--ked," Damon said. "Because there is an absolute relationship between how f--ked you are, if you're on the cover of their magazines, and what happens to you as an actor. I mean, nobody knows that more than Ben." Damon apparently thought it was the media obsession with Bennifer that did his pal in, not Gigli (which Matt considered co-starring in at one point because they were both fans of the director), though the two would become forever intertwined.
Damon wondered aloud why anyone would race to the movies to see someone whose daily life you were so intimately familiar with. He mock-read a story: "'Monday, buying a Starbucks. Tuesday, there he is buying a book. Wednesday, yeah, he's just like me! He's shopping at the mall. Thursday, he's…'
"On Friday night, are you gonna go see the guy's movie? Absolutely not. There's too much familiarity. You're not gonna pay $10 when you can go out and there are magazines all over the place with pictures of him scratching his ass."
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It's insane how much has happened since then, what with Affleck's renaissance as an Oscar-winning filmmaker (and Golden Globe and DGA-winning director, Academy) and his more recent foray into Batman territory, as well as his divorce from Garner after 10 years of marriage—which subsequently set the "Monday: Starbucks" wheels in motion again. In 2013, Esquire noted that Damon and his family were about to move to L.A. from Miami and had bought a house on Jen and Ben's street, even though "there are five or six photographers outside their house all the time," Damon said.
As far as who handled that sort of scrutiny the best, 10 years ago Damon sang the praises of his Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen co-star Brad Pitt.
"Brad is incredible, because he's so normal for what he deals with. So normal," Damon said in that same GQ interview. "Try and name somebody who has remained normal under that kind of pressure and scrutiny. He's the only person I know who can do it. Like, George [Clooney] said that to me; he said, 'I couldn't do it. That's why he's Brad Pitt.'" (Damon was part of the enthusiastic ovation for Pitt when he made a surprise appearance at the Golden Globes this year amid his divorce drama.)
As far as careers, Damon said that he most envied Clooney for wearing so many different hats—actor, director, producer, philanthropist—with ease. It was Clooney and Don Cheadle who helped Damon get involved on behalf of war-torn Sudan and, inspired by his travels in Africa, Damon went on to co-found Water.org, which aims to ensure that no corner of the world is without readily available drinkable water.
Meanwhile, fast-forward 10 years, and Clooney—now married and a father of twins—can only hope to have the full Matt Damon experience when it comes to family.
"Now that I've got kids, Matt gives me direction!" Clooney—who has directed Damon three times, including in the upcoming Suburbicon—told Entertainment Tonight at the Venice Film Festival last month.
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Damon—who coincidentally joined Pitt, Clooney and Affleck in an exclusive club when he was named People's Sexiest Man Alive toward the end of 2007—has shown that he's an astute observer of his surroundings. He observed, for instance, that he wasn't interested in the sort of attention that his pals received, even though he was well aware that his ever-rising star meant there would be a corresponding increase in how much people wanted to know more about him. He also told GQ 10 years ago that Pitt was woefully underappreciated as an actor, his award-worthy performances often overshadowed by his celebrity.
So Damon, for all his visibility, made sure that acting (as well as humanitarian work and the writing and production of films) was his full-time job, only to be infringed upon in the slightest by the side gig of being famous.
The star gives interviews and walks red carpets and readily pokes fun at himself on talk shows, but aside from the reasonable assumption that he loves his family, wants to do right by them, and hopes to do his part to make the world a better place, who knows what keeps Matt Damon up at night? (Though we have a guess: last year on his birthday his dad texted him, "My birthday present to you is that in exactly one month, we can kiss Trump goodbye.")
As he told GQ in 2007, "If this interview is totally bland, nobody who gives me a job is ever gonna give a s--t. The only thing that can happen to my career in this situation is that I can get hurt. And the only way I can get hurt is if I talk too much."
Which brings us to those jobs, the first of which was a bit role as "Steamer" in the 1988 romantic dramedy Mystic Pizza (starring his eventual Ocean's Eleven cohort Julia Roberts).
Damon has played hero and villain, lawyer and janitor, thief and soldier, CIA agent and rugby player, astronaut and assassin, zoo owner and bounty hunter, conman and conjoined twin. He had a guest arc on 30 Rock and played Liberace's lover in an HBO movie, and was nominated for Emmys for both. He's hosted Saturday Night Live and danced on Ellen. He doesn't insist on being unrecognizable, nor does he distract from the purpose at hand by being "Matt Damon." He's not batting 1.000 as far as great movies go, but he's pretty darn close, having also starred in five Best Picture Oscar nominees, including the 2007 winner, The Departed.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
"I always thought the goal was William Holden. To just be in a lot of good movies," Damon told GQ in 2016.
Much was made this year about Damon forgoing the lead role in Manchester by the Sea, which he handed off to longtime friend Casey Affleck because shooting conflicted with The Martian.
Damon was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Martian last year, his third acting nomination, but Affleck won the Oscar for Manchester this year. Damon, a producer on the film, admitted that he regretted immediately giving up the role. But, he told the Toronto Sun in February, "Having been in this business for a long time, I really have come to the conclusion that the right actor always gets the part. What's meant to be is meant to be and I can't look at that movie—I've read 20 drafts of it and I've seen 10 cuts of it—and I can't imagine anyone else playing that role. Casey's just magnificent."
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So that's Matt Damon for you—great actor, great friend, great head on his shoulders, and even better husband and father.
Meanwhile, if you had quizzed him 20 years ago, he would've been the last person to predict so much success for himself—even though, in 1997, he was about to be nominated for his first Best Actor Oscar, for Good Will Hunting (and then share the Best Original Screenplay win with Affleck), and had already worked with Steven Spielbergand Francis Ford Coppola. Then again, he had also lost out on Batman Forever to Chris O'Donnell and Primal Fear to Edward Norton.
Yet he was happy to be where he was at, talking to Vanity Fair (albeit already reluctant to talk much about himself), after having just finished playing the titular private in Saving Private Ryan.
"I won't be Matthew McConaughey," Damon predicted. "I'm not as good-looking as him. I'm certainly never going to be anyone's sex symbol."
He couldn't have been wronger about that, of course, but—unlike all of the smart choices he's made to get him to this point in his enviable life—that part wasn't up to him.