One of the big movies leading the charge for the film industry in February 2014 is The Monuments Men, a feature directed by George Clooney based on the real-life treasure hunt where a unique platoon is formed during WWII at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to rescue culturally important artwork from the Nazis. The squad sent to Germany consists of museum directors, curators, and art historians – all played by veteran Hollywood talent, including Matt Damon as one of the leads.
Don Kaye had the opportunity to interview Matt Damon on behalf of Screen Rant where they talked about the real-life story of The Monuments Men, war movies, working with George Clooney as a director and his mysterious role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
Do you remember the first time you heard the term “Monuments Men”? Do you remember ever hearing it before getting involved in this?
Matt Damon: When George offered me the part. I knew nothing about this story, and I’d read a lot about World War II and I was surprised that I hadn’t come across it, because it seemed like a perfect story for a movie. I was surprised that nobody had done it before.
When you started to delve into it more, what was your initial takeaway from the script and maybe from looking into the story yourself?
I think it’s an amazing story. It’s kind of perfectly set up for a movie. It’s guys who are past their prime – certainly in soldiering terms – dropping everything, these art experts going to the front, going through basic training, and going to the front to try and save kind of our most important cultural artifacts. You know, and guys who really believed that those were worth dying for, if need be, that they don’t belong to anyone and they belong to all of us and they need to be preserved at all costs.
I think that everybody when they’re kids plays soldiers with their friends. Is there still a little bit of an aspect of that when you do it in the movies, or does it change because of the gravity of the subjects you’re dealing with?
I’ve done a few war films now. I think World War II films, it always feels a little more like playing soldier because that’s the way we played soldier when I was a kid. You know, when I did Green Zone and put on the contemporary uniform, it definitely didn’t feel like playing, you know, because you see pictures of this uniform every day on the cover of the newspaper, so that felt like something different.
You’ve worked with George Clooney numerous times, and this is the second time as a director – you had a little part in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but this is your first full-fledged role. How is it working with him on the other side of the camera?
He’s great. I was an extra in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, so I’m glad I graduated finally to a speaking part. But he’s terrific. He’s incredibly well-prepared. It was a lot like working with Steven Soderbergh. He cuts in camera, so there’s no coverage. There’s no kind of fat at all in your day. It’s completely streamlined. And what’s great about that – designing a show that way – is that he gave Phedon (Papamichael), his cinematographer, extra time to light each shot, ‘cause there were fewer shots in any given scene. So Phedon had more time to work, which is important in a movie about art, that each shot looks really, you know, like a piece of art.
You are unofficially in Interstellar, which is coming out later this year. Anything you can say about that before they throw blankets over our heads and drag us out of here?
I had a blast working with all those guys, but really with Chris Nolan. I’m such a huge fan of his and I think this movie’s going to be great. Matthew (McConaughey) is in it, I think that’s been publicly acknowledged (smiles), and he’s just at the top of his game right now. I think it’s going to be a really special movie.
George Clooney directs The Monuments Men and stars in it alongside Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville.
The Monuments Men opens in theaters on February 7, 2014.