Matt Damon wants all of you to go away. Well, not exactly. But in his latest movie, Steven Soderbergh’s epidemic doomsday thriller, Contagion, Damon plays a man whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is among the first humans struck down by a deadly epidemic that eventually threatens billions of lives. And he’s understandably kind of stressed out about…all that. In real life, Damon, flashing his self-styled brand of playful wit, recently came to town to field questions about germs, the shower experience when you’re rocking the bald look, and his personal (not political) reflections on guns and zombies, as well as a nickname he’s been stuck with: Red Alert. Um, for being even more of a nervous-wreck dad at home than as a character in a disaster movie.
Matt, I’m wild about your new look. I don’t think you’ve ever been seen with that look before. What’s going on? About shaving my head? It’s for a movie. I’m doing a movie with Neill Blomkamp, who directed District Nine, [called] Elysium. And…this is what the guy looks like! I did shave my head another time: When I did The Brothers Grimm, I had a wig, just because it was easier to get the wig on [with a shaved head] than, like, lacquering my hair down. So I walk around in my regular life like this, and I love it. I see why these guys rock the look. It’s great in the summertime and real easy getting out of the shower.
Why a disease thriller? Actually, we were getting ready to do something else. It’s another project that we’re still gonna do. And Steven [Soderbergh] called and said, “I’ve got this other thing. And we’ve gotta make it now, because it’s really timely.” So he sent it over to me with a note that said, “Read this. And then wash your hands.” And I read it and I was like, “I really want to be in this movie.” You know, it’s just a terrific, riveting, fast read. And really exciting, and really horrifying. But it managed to be kind of touching too.
How did you pull off acting like you know all about that medical jargon? Would you believe I was like, “Pass me the thingy!” It might take you out of the movie. And, “We’ve got an outbreak of something or other!” I don’t know, [co-star Laurence] Fishburne [who plays Dr. Ellis Cheever] kinda lost me with all of that.
We’ve seen you play action characters and family men more like this one. Which type of character comes more naturally to you? I mean, obviously…the action guys come way more naturally to me. No! If the director’s good, and the script is good, it all comes pretty naturally. And if those things aren’t in place, then it’s impossible no matter what the role is.
Are you the sort of dad who is very protective, or would you just let things sort of happen in an epidemic in the real world? Uh, I think with my kids, I’m probably more protective than I’ve ever been. You know, now that I have children. I mean, my wife’s nickname for me is Red Alert! I sometimes just check to see if the kids are breathing! But no, I think I do have a tendency to be a little overprotective—without trying to be a helicopter parent.
Do you have a stockpile of emergency disaster supplies at home? Maybe one of those disaster prevention kits? After the last earthquake in L.A., I put a flashlight by my bed for two weeks…and then forgot about it.
What about the idea in this movie: “Trust the government but get a gun”? I was aware that by the second act of this movie, that would be about where the zombies would come. And you’re gonna want a gun for that. I don’t care who you are. And that’s not a political statement at all.