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Despite only having worked together on two movies, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass have created one of the best actor-director relationships in Hollywood. Those two films, of course, were the incredible last two films of the Jason Bourne franchise. While both have said that they won’t be returning to the franchise, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be continuing to work together, and Green Zone is evidence of just that.
In the film, Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who is slowly realizing that the War in Iraq was started on false pretenses, and goes on a mission to discover the truth. In many ways he’s a lot like Jason Bourne – he’s smart, savvy, and completely willing to undercut the U.S. government if it means getting the answers. If only he could get a fight lesson or two from the superhuman CIA agent.
Check out my interview with star Matt Damon below.
How relevant is this story to 2010?
It probably depends on your perspective. I think it’s extremely relevant. I mean, I think the last thing I’m saying [in the movie] to the Kinnear character about the reasons we go to war matter, that is highly relevant. I think it’s extremely relevant -- and not a partisan thing, either. That’s a sentiment, I think, that most people share… um… you know, no matter what you believe, that really matters.
And I think the central question of the movie was something that I think we all asked. Our idea was to have a character who was a good soldier, who went there thinking he was going to find something and then got there and didn’t find it, and then asked the question “why?” Which I think is kind of what happened for all of us. We were told something was going to happen and it didn’t. And then we went, “Oh, how did we get here? Oh, right, the weapons. Well, what happened with that? Where were they?” I think those are kind of fundamental questions.
OK, so, Jason Isaacs didn’t want to get into the percentages of truth to the story, perhaps you could -- what percentage would you assign, as far as the sequence of events that are most important to the movie?
Like which? There were no weapons in Iraq. That’s true. A lot of people went there thinking there were. That’s true, too. No one’s really explained what the fuck happened. That’s true too. But those are the central questions. We have a guy playing kind of a Neo-Con type who actually invented a source, right? So that’s not based on anything, that’s obviously something that, for the movie, for the kind of architecture of a thriller to work, it needs to boil down to a couple characters, you know, who are standing in for, kind of, you know -- so that, you know, that stuff is, uh, you know, obviously the movie.
But the central question of WMD, I mean, that’s obviously true. I mean, Monty -- my character is based on a guy -- we had these things called mobile exploitation teams so, in the movie, I’m MET Team Delta. Well, Monty actually led MET Team Alpha, and he told me he helped put the teams together and he said he was racing the other team leaders to see who was going to be first on CNN holding up the weapons. And, in our movie, that first really exciting kind of sequence at Diwaniya, I come out of that and say, “Where did this intel come from? Is this United Nations?” This is the fourth time, and I make some comment about it, so it’s clear that this has happened to us before. Monty, in fact, told me that the first site that he went to, he went ripping in there with everything and his intel packet, and it was listed as a dual-use facility. And I think it was a porcelain factory. But it was listed as a dual-use facility, which means it’s a porcelain factory, but that’s really a cover, because what they’re really making is some bad weapons there. And he went in there and he looked around and he said, “This is all bullshit.” He said it the first site he went into, he knew there was something horribly wrong. Because he said there’s no way a rational person could come in here and say they’re making something here other than porcelain, because that’s all this place can do.
Do you think that there’s any risk of somebody less informed watching this movie and drawing conclusions based on the stuff that was for the sake of storytelling?
It’s entertainment, but kind of based in the real world. What we were trying to do was to have, like the Bourne world, which is obviously kind of a heightened kind of thing and Bourne’s kind of a superhero character. We wanted to see if we could kind of take that extra step into the real world and bring the kind of Bourne aesthetic, but set it against -- and, when we read Rajiv’s book, which is great -- Imperial Life in the Emerald City -- that provided the perfect backdrop. That kind of surreal Green Zone, where all of this kind of conspiracy and, you know, paranoia and intrigue and all that stuff -- because that’s where everybody went to kind of build, you know, the shining city on the hill.
But it was a kind of surreal place, where they had Pizza Hut and they had all those things, and they were disconnected from the -- what was really going on. So it was a kind of fertile -- like if you start with the question of the weapons, which was the reason, ostensibly, that we went there, so you start with a guy who’s a genuinely good soldier, who believes the weapons are there, and, you know, you see him not find them, then the next logical question he asks is, “OK, but then what’s going on? Why aren’t they here?” And that search kind of brings him into, you know, this world of the Green Zone, where he’s suddenly, he’s a very, he’s got very simple motives. He’s there to win a war, to save lives and he’s got very noble motives, but he suddenly finds himself in a very complicated world with very powerful, competing agendas. And he’s in the middle of it.
So that is like kind of a classic thriller, you know, uh, architecture. And that was what we set out to do, to see if we could make a big action thriller that, uh, kind of spoke to the world that we live in.
There’s a scene in the film where you, don’t get your ass kicked in, but you get defeated in hand-to-hand combat.
How important was that, to put in, to show that this isn’t you playing Jason Bourne?
Yeah, well, I never thought of doing it for that, it just kind of… Miller should feel like an everyman and, you know, Jason [Isaac’s] character, he’s supposed to be Special Forces. Jason’s character is supposed to be like Jason Bourne, so it was never going to be a fair fight. Also, if it’s a non-Bourne movie, I try to never win a fight. I think that’s always more interesting. I remember, on The Departed, like, everyone’s peacock feathers were out, and it’s like, you know, I just remember going to Marty [Scorsese]. I saw this whole swath of virgin territory, where on one would tread and I was like, “I’m gonna take that!” Like, “Marty, I want to lose every fight I’m in and I don’t want my dick to work.”
That’s the character I want to play. I’m going to have that beachhead all to myself. So, yeah, you want to feel, too, like, I also get beat up, but I am able to keep the book from him. So he [Damon’s character] takes a lot of punishment in order to do what he thinks is the right thing, so there’s something noble about the ass-whipping.
What was it like working with real soldiers, as opposed to people acting as soldiers?
It was great. It was great. I mean the amount of work it would have taken to train actors to do what these guys just did naturally… For meme, it’s like, if you ever go on a movie set, we have what’s always called a technical advisor. And you can always tell that person, because there are actors crowded around them, henpecking them with questions. And usually it’s the expert. If you’re making a movie about the state police, it’s the guy who’s a state policeman, and etcetera.
But, with this, it was like having 30 of those guys. And scenes like hitting Sayyed’s house, like where we go running in and break up that meeting, Monty even said to me that day, he said, “You’re about to see what these guys, what they do.” This is what they’re really good at. And they would just get someone to stand in for me. Monty, actually, just stood in for me. And they just hit the house, the way they would hit it. And, you know, then they did it slowly and we just went, “OK, first guy right, second guy left, third guy long,” and Paul said, “OK, well, I want you looking for the backdoor, so you’re gonna go long, so you’ll be the third guy through.” And we just kicked the door and then literally did -- the camera, right when I run by Clements, he peeled in behind me and we went in.
And I just love that stuff, because it’s so -- I call it NAR: No Acting Required. You’re so taken over by the situation and surrounded by these guys, who just really know what they’re doing. So it makes it feel really authentic.
What about Monty specifically? What kind of resource was he for basically any piece of information you needed, how things worked or --
All of that stuff. From the specific, the details of how he tied his shoes -- literally -- to specific operations and things that they did and how certain things worked, and what would you say here in this situation if you were in this, because obviously it’s based on Monty, but this isn’t what happened to Monty. I mean, we go off into a whole different -- you know, it’s an action-thriller. But we would set up these situations, and he’s answers always shocked me a little bit. It was always really, really interesting.
We had a scene that didn’t make it into the final film, where I took the body back to the house that we went through of the guy, and took it back to his wife. And, now, the way the Hollywood people would conceive of that is like a big, weepy scene of, like, “aren’t I horrible, you’re husband died and I couldn’t stop it,” right? And I asked Monty, I said, “What would you say to her?” Basically, you’re doing a favor for her by bringing the body back so she can bury it within 24 hours and she has to make a decision right now whether or not she’s going to give you the information you need and you can get her to Jordan, and the point is you’re in a war. You’re in the middle of a war, and this guy was an enemy. Yes, he died, and that’s bad, and it’s too bad, but you need to make a decision now. This place is not going to be good for you. Things are not going to go well for you here. You’re the wife of a high-ranking Baathist who’s now dead and you don’t have anybody to protect you. So it’s a very kind of a tactical approach that just, like, “What advantage can I gain from the situation that I’m in, in order to help us win this thing?” This is how they think.
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