It’s a jungle out there
Family takes priority over fame for father- of- four Matt Damon, writes Jonathon Moran
MATT Damon is unlike most Hollywood celebrities.
It’s clear the minute he walks into the room, sipping on a cappuccino, that he’s relaxed, friendly and up for a chat – a refreshing change from the heavy- handed PR- driven celebrity campaigns Eguide often encounters when a film is released.
‘‘ This will be easier then,’’ Damon laughs when I tell him I enjoyed his latest film,
We Bought A Zoo.
While Damon, 41, is one of Hollywood’s top earners at about $ 10 million a film and an Academy Award winner who has starred in more than 50 movies, he still sees acting as a job.
His real devotion is his family – wife Luciana Barrosso and their four children. That was part of the attraction to
We Bought A Zoo, a comparatively simple family drama to the big US blockbusters like
Happy Feet 2 ( also starring Damon), Tower Heist and The Adventures of Tin Tin, also opening on Boxing Day.
Directed by Cameron Crowe, it’s based on the real- life story of Brit Benjamin Mee, who used his life savings to buy a dilapidated private zoo after the death of his wife.
Mee and his two children struggle to adjust to their new life in the zoo, caring for more than 200 exotic animals.
‘‘ There are a lot of animals in it, but for me it’s about those relationships between me and the kids, me and my deceased wife, my brother and then eventually the people at the zoo,’’ Damon says. ‘‘ Those human relationships are what really got me.’’
It’s rare for Hollywood to tell such stories, he says.
‘‘ I don’t know why that is, maybe because they are hard to write believably.’’
Crowe’s adaptation differs in that it is based in the US. We Bought A Zoo also stars Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, and Thomas Haden Church.
The real Benjamin Mee and his children, Dylan and Rosie, make cameos in the film.
Damon says that preparing for the role was easy, as he drew from his own life experience as a father to Isabella, 5, Gia Zavala, 3, and Stella, 1, and stepdad to 13- year- old Alexia.
‘‘ For me, this is about what would happen if I lost my partner and you’ve got these plans where you are going to raise your kids and what life’s going to bring for you, and to suddenly have to do all of that without them, that really struck a chord for me,’’ he says.
‘‘ The idea of trying to raise your kids without your partner just really got to me. I really saw the story as a love affair between me and my wife, so it was really important to hold on to her and to keep her alive to my character throughout the movie.’’
Fatherhood isn’t always easy, but it’s Damon’s greatest joy.
His description of family life is very much as you’d expect from most families. When not working, his days are filled with the same everyday chores that consume all our lives.
To hear a huge star like Damon speaking about such mundane things as making school lunches and dropping the kids at dance classes is unusual.
‘‘ A lot of it is the dotting the i’s and crossing your t’s, the daily stuff,’’ he says.
‘‘ It starts at 6.30 in the morning and it’s like get the breakfast and get the clothes on.
‘‘ The 13- year- old is very different because the interaction is very different. She is playing Coldplay on the piano, so I can go and sit with her and listen to her play and sing the songs with her.
‘‘ With the other ones, it is like 9.15am rolls around – we’ve got the two younger ones in school – so it’s just my wife and me and the baby and it’s, ‘ Let’s go get a cup of coffee’.
‘‘ The first time we exhale is then. At the end of every day, when Luc and I finally sit down, it’s like, ‘ OK, we made it through today’.’’
Juggling a busy acting career with keeping family life ‘‘ normal’’ doesn’t always work out as planned.
All too often we hear about celebrity break- ups and their kids going off the rails, but Damon and his brood seem to manage normal really well. They’re generally not hassled by paparazzi.
‘‘ I pay a whole group of people to keep it normal for me,’’ he jokes.
‘‘[ George] Clooney said that once. I love it and it’s my job and I’m very serious about it, but that’s where it stops.
‘‘ The relationships that matter most in your life, there has to be a balance, the power dynamic has to be balanced, and what that means is you’ve got to compromise.
‘‘ To be a movie star or a director or whatever, there is an imbalance of power.
‘‘ If you ask for a coffee, somebody brings you a coffee and I think the key is just not fooling yourself into thinking that is actually the way the world works because then you really won’t be able to have any real relationships.’’
On the topic of fame, Damon’s approach is also refreshingly honest.
Again, being an actor is something he’s grateful for, but he’s not letting any of the success go to his head.
‘‘ You have to have a steady group of family and friends who are prepared at all times to tell you to go f--- yourself. I think if you have that then you are fine.’’
For We Bought A Zoo, the family moved to California from their New York base.
But to travel abroad would be a big decision and not one Damon or his family would take lightly.
‘‘ I am very particular about the movies I take now,’’ he says.
‘‘ My wife says, ‘ You can’t do this half way, we are all going. When you come home from work, I want you to be happy because life is like being in a circus a little bit.’’
It means Damon is unlikely to make a movie in Australia any time soon, although he’d love to.
He recently spoke about his close friendship with Heath Ledger, who died of a drug overdose at his New York apartment in January 2008 at the age of 28.
‘‘ His light was just too bright for this place,’’ he said of Ledger, with whom he became close friends while working on the film, The Brothers Grimm. ‘‘ It’s not something I’ll ever get over.’’
Damon, of course, is famous for films including Bourne Identity, Ocean’s Eleven and The Departed. He won an Oscar for 1997’ s Good Will
Hunting with best mate Ben Affleck. The pair rarely get to see each other any more, but they are still close, sending each other the occasional email, and will work together on a film next year.
‘‘ We are finally realising the only way we can hang out is if we get jobs together,’’ Damon says. ‘‘ He’s at the same stage I’m at in terms of child rearing. He’s got two young ones and another on the way.
’’ We haven’t hung out in a long time. At this point, it is the occasional email to each other.’’ WE BOUGHT A ZOO Opens Village Cinemas Boxing Day
DOWN TO EARTH: Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Johansson, Patrick Fugit, Matt Damon, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning and Maggie Elizabeth Jones in We Bought a Zoo ( above); and with wife Luciana Barroso ( right).