Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lonely Planet; Ridley Scott's New Sci-Fi Movie Might Boast a World-Class Supporting Cast, but as the Castaway Astronaut at Its Heart, Matt Damon Is Its Focal Point. He Tells Susan Griffin That Carrying the Film Was a Scary Prospect Big Screen

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Lonely Planet; Ridley Scott's New Sci-Fi Movie Might Boast a World-Class Supporting Cast, but as the Castaway Astronaut at Its Heart, Matt Damon Is Its Focal Point. He Tells Susan Griffin That Carrying the Film Was a Scary Prospect Big Screen

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Griffin

MATT DAMON has now been deserted by colleagues not once, but twice. There has to come a point where he thinks, 'Is it me?' Laughing, the actor acknowledges the unfortunate circumstances his characters have found themselves in for his last two movies.

First there was Interstellar, in which he briefly appeared as one of 12 volunteers individually sent to assess the suitability of planets as a new home for the human population.

"I did that cameo because I've always wanted to work with Chris [Nolan, the director] and then I took a year-and-a-half off work," explains the 44-year-old, who's starred in The Talented Mr Ripley, the Ocean's franchise and Behind The Candelabra.

He wanted to spend more time with his wife Luciana, and four children (one daughter from Luciana's previous marriage and the three daughters they've had together) and the whole family upped sticks to California.

"Then the next movie came along and I'm stranded on a planet by myself. But it was Ridley Scott, so I'm not going to say no."

The movie is The Martian, in which Damon plays Mark Watney, one of six astronauts on a manned crew to Mars that's set in the not-so distant future.

"Watney is a botanist and mechanical engineer, and is sent on the Mars mission to study and take samples of the soil, hopefully to learn more about its composition and feasibility of growing crops," explains a clean-shaven Damon, dressed casually in jeans and a blue T-shirt.

When a fierce sand storm hits the desolate planet, he's presumed dead and left behind by the crew.

With only a meagre amount of supplies to keep him going, he has to draw upon his wit, ingenuity and spirit to subsist, and find a way to signal to Earth he's still alive.

"He has the knowledge and training to find ways to survive, but time is working against him. He believes it will likely be three to four years before the possibility of rescue," continues Damon.

"In man-versus-nature scenarios, the smart money is usually on nature."

Back on home turf, millions of miles away, NASA engineers and a group of international scientists learn of Watney's fate and start working tirelessly to bring 'the Martian' home, as the world looks on.

This team is brought to life by the likes of Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean and Kristen Wiig.

"World-class actors," notes Damon, not that he spent much, if any, time with them during the shoot.

"I did get to work with [fellow astronauts] Jessica [Chastain], Michael [Pena] and Kate [Mara] a little bit, but for the most part, it was all the other kids playing without me."

And while he does have a brilliant ensemble cast supporting him, this is Damon's movie, a prospect he found both "intimidating and exciting".

"I don't do too much calculus when I'm taking on a movie," reveals the actor who won a Best Screenplay Oscar in 1998, with his best mate Ben Affleck, for their breakthrough feature film Good Will Hunting. Damon was also Oscar nominated for Best Actor.

"If I want to tell the story and I want to spend half a year of my life telling that story, and feel like the director's great, then I do it. In this case, I did pause and think, 'Wow, if this thing goes down in flames, it's all on me'. …

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