Matt Damon is gunning for an Oscar for his role in the extremely overrated film The Martian. As part of the song and dance for the Academy, he sat down for an interview to do some damage control regarding the dumb shit he’s said this year.
In a friendly New York Times piece this week, Damon tries yet again to defend himself against, well, himself. You’ll recall his now infamous exchange with producer Effie Brown on an episode of Project Greenlight, in which he explained that diversity is best sought in front of the camera, not behind it.
As one would expect, Damon tries to expunge himself of any guilt right from the start. He explains to the Times that after three previous seasons of Project Greenlight were dominated by white men, the show made a concerted effort to improve its diversity. (Although clearly that didn’t involve much work on the group of main judges, which this season consisted of all white guys and one white woman.)
Damon acknowledges that they didn’t do a very good job:
“By the time we arrived to do our judging, we knew we had blown it, so Ben and I were already frustrated and upset about that,” he said. “So when Effie brought it up, it was like, yes, O.K., we got it.”
Matt Damon and his co-producer Ben Affleck may have been really “upset” about the lack of diversity in the show that they created and produced, but limiting their reaction to frustration seems lazy. This is Project Greenlight, not the Manhattan Project. Couldn’t they simply have pulled from the original group of prospects that they initially rejected?
The story spends some time extolling Damon’s intelligence, noting that he attended, but did not graduate from, Harvard. Damon then goes on to say some pretty dumb things.
“The idea that I would say that there didn’t need to be diversity behind the camera, it’s not only complete anathema to what I believe in my heart and always have,” Mr. Damon said, “but it’s not something that I think anybody would ever say with a camera on.”
(Matt Damon said so much on camera.)
As the Times notes, the movies made on Project Greenlight are understood to be secondary to the show itself, and they’re usually terrible anyway. They were there to make good television, and the petulant lima bean known as Jason Mann made for good TV. Damon could have saved himself a lot of headaches by just admitting that from the beginning.
This bit, though, is interesting:
He added: “And so when Effie was advocating for the woman and the Vietnamese-American guy, what I actually said was, ‘Are we judging a contest or are we casting a reality show?’” he continued. “And that’s when she said, ‘Wow.’ And I went, no, Effie, I’m completely serious, what is our responsibility at this point? Because we had already blown it on the competition.”
I wonder if he means that he misspoke or if his words were edited in an unattractive manner. If it’s the latter, that seems odd considering that he’s a producer on the show and an A-list actor—he likely could have had this fixed. The more probable scenario seems to be that Damon didn’t realize just how bad the final edit would make him look.
Damon did call Effie Brown an “awesome producer,” so perhaps he’s learned something here—though I very much doubt that his slip-ups will have any impact on his career or his approach to hiring. But it was perhaps unintentionally apt of the New York Times to bring up what a smart guy Damon is here. People like him, privileged in every way imaginable, have a problem seeing beyond their own intelligence. Because Matt Damon knows himself to be a smart person in general, he seems to believe that he has insight into things that are far outside his lane. In spite of everything, he still seems to think he knows best.
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