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Matt Damon Confesses He’s Been Naive About America’s Racism

Matt Damon is at the Venice Film Festival this week this week, where two of his new movies are showing, but what’s been on his mind the most lately is politics — especially the recent events in Charlottesville. The actor told The Hollywood Reporter that he wasn’t aware at the time how apt and topical one of his new films was, but it’s now being released amid mounting racial tension and overt racism.

“We made the movie last year and it’s incredible to see what’s happened in Charlottesville,” he said in the interview. “It’s horrible. A lot of people, myself included, are really waking up to the extent of the existing racism, and it’s so much worse than I naively thought. I just feel naive at this point.”

Damon stars in Suburbicon with Oscar Isaac and Julianne Moore. The movie, which was written by the Cohen Brothers and directed by George Clooney, follows two families caught in conflict after a home invasion in a small town. The film, which premiered in Venice this week, is a dark comedy about secrets, race, deceit and violence — and, although it takes place in the late 1950s, many of the issues are emerging again today.

“I naively thought that, behind our generation, [another one] was coming with more awareness and inclusiveness, and that everything was getting better with each generation,” Damon said. “And to see these young, aggrieved white boys walking with their torches and screaming ‘Jews will not replace us!’ It was just shocking. Then the night that the president [made his] ‘many sides’ comment was absolutely abhorrent. Sadly, I feel the movie was made at the right time.”

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That wasn’t all that was on Damon’s mind during the interview, although he admitted that since Suburbicon wrapped in November, he hasn’t worked on a movie and instead spends much of his time reading about politics and spending time with his family.

Damon had lots of praise for Clooney, who he says always helps him with his own projects and who he originally met in 2001 during Oceans Eleven.

“He’s got a huge heart, he’s incredibly loyal and he’s really, really smart. He’s changed his career, in a way,” he said. “Now the perception of George is as big a movie star as you can get, an A-list director, an Oscar-winning producer. He’s somebody whose opinion I really value. If I’m working on a script, I’m sending it to him for notes; if I’m doing a movie I’m showing him a cut and asking for suggestions.”

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Before his break this summer, Damon filmed five movies back-to-back: The Martian, The Great Wall, Jason Bourne, Downsizing and Suburbicon. When Clooney approached him with the script for Suburbicon, Damon originally said no — he absolutely had to spend time with his family. But Clooney, determined to have him in the part, offered to move the movie to Los Angeles so that Damon could stay at home and be with his wife and three young daughters during filming.

Damon, despite his small break from acting, still has a lot of projects cooking, including a Robert F. Kennedy biopic called RFK, which he jokes he’ll have to lose some weight for. His outlook for Hollywood isn’t great; he thinks many of the great projects are going to television and that superhero movies and franchises make it hard for smaller independent movies to get made.

“You can feel this spirit of risk calcifying,” said Damon of Hollywood. “The studios just want those big tentpole movies, and it’s really hard to do a tentpole movie when you go in saying, ‘There’s not going to be a franchise here.’ We’ll see where it goes. It feels like there should be a correction, because we’ve been dealing with these superhero movies for so many years, but the audiences don’t seem to be getting tired of them.”

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Damon, who keeps threatening to direct something, still hasn’t taken the leap despite a few near misses. The actor and producer had planned to direct Manchester by the Sea, which he helped produce, but ultimately decided that scriptwriter Kenny Lonergan should take it on.

“Every time I fire myself as a director, it becomes a vast improvement for the movie,” he said. But, Damon added, “I don’t regret not directing any of the things I haven’t directed. But we’ll see. I would have thought I’d have directed by now.”

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