Before Matt Damon could even think about working on the accent and muscles needed to portray South African rugby star Francois Pienaar in “Invictus,” he had a much more pressing concern: his height. “The very first day I got to South Africa, Francois invited me over to his house for a gourmet dinner that he was cooking,” Damon remembers about meeting the 6-foot-3 Pienaar. “He opened the door and I looked up at him, and the first thing I ever said to Francois Pienaar in my life was, ‘I look much bigger on film.’”
Damon is no stranger to heavy training after his work in the “Bourne” films, but that was nothing compared to “Invictus,” he says. “I was in better shape for this movie,” Damon insists, owing the extra effort to his budding friendship with Pienaar. “This is his life. I don’t want to embarrass him. If Jason Bourne looks a little flabby, that’s on me. This is the fictionalization of somebody’s actual life. I didn’t want to let him down.”
As an added challenge, his work on “Invictus” came right after this fall’s “The Informant,” in which he packed on a considerable amount of flab. “I had a good time putting the weight on, and then a tough time reshaping the weight,” he says.
Damon credits director Clint Eastwood for an incredibly easy working experience. “You walk on some movie sets and it’s like walking into an emergency room. And that tension bleeds into the performances and the film itself,” he says. “But Clint just leads an incredibly tight ship.” Damon was particularly impressed with Eastwood’s commitment to keeping things moving. “After you do a take, he goes, ‘Well, let’s not f— this up by thinking about it too much.’”
Of course, that brand of leadership doesn’t mean Eastwood is off-limits as far as teasing goes. “Morgan [Freeman] and I were saying that maybe if we sit out for the next few years and let Clint get some more experience, he’s really going to be a good director,” Damon jokes. “We’re going to let him get some more films under his belt. Three more and he’ll be solid.”