While rehearsing Good Will Hunting in Boston, Williams introduced Damon to Steven Spielberg, who was in town to shoot some scenes for Amistad. (Williams had been friendly with Spielberg since he starred in Hook, which Spielberg directed.)
Says Damon, "I found out later from Steven that he had seen Courage Under Fire, in which I lost all this weight. And he said to [his wife] Kate Capshaw, 'You know, that's the guy I want for Ryan, except he's too thin.' And so when he saw me in person, he realized I'd dropped it for the role, so it was this really serendipitous meeting. Just another reason I'm really lucky."
Saving Private Ryan is the story of how a mother's lone surviving son is retrieved by fellow soldiers from behind enemy lines during World War II.
"Why are eight guys risking their lives to save one guy?" Damon muses. "You know, that doesn't make sense. But as they go looking for him...he starts to represent everybody's brother, everybody's chance to go home."
Damon acknowledges that his success has been achieved with a measure of luck, and he says he has many friends who are actors and writers and directors, "and it hasn't happened for them yet."
He adds, "Any time I have a complaint, I just honestly have to look at the situation and say, 'Man, there's no way I'm going to complain, because if I were me a couple years ago, I wouldn't want to hear it'."
Damon and his best friend, actor Ben Affleck, grew up together. They co-wrote and co-starred in their Oscar-winning screenplay, Good Will Hunting.
|Matt Damon as Private Ryan|
Damon insists winning the Oscar hasn't changed him personally. But, professionally, he now has his pick of plum projects. He has two new movies lined up, and as Steven Spielberg said, "Matt Damon is a shining example of how nice guys can finish first."
For all his success, Damon says he tries to remain unaffected by the trappings of celebrity - perhaps because he takes his cues from Tom Hanks, who has a reputation as a Hollywood "nice guy."
"He's an incredible guy," says Damon. "He's an incredible gentleman. And to see tha...gives someone like me no excuse to be anything but kind and gracious."