From No 1 Fan to Critic-in-Chief, Damon Takes Aim at Obama
The President has rolled over to Wall Street completely, the star tells Tom Teodorczuk
Few of Barack Obama's celebrity supporters at the 2008 US presidential election were as committed to his cause as the Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon. Rather than merely support Mr Obama in an online video, Damon, one of Hollywood's highest-profile liberal activists, campaigned for the Democratic nominee in Florida. Not content with that, he provided one of the most cutting insults of the campaign when he described the Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as "really terrifying... like something out of a bad Disney movie".
Damon, 40, star of the Bourne spy trilogy and two new films, The Adjustment Bureau and True Grit, is scrupulously polite and mild-mannered when we meet in a Manhattan hotel. But laying bare his disenchantment with the Obama administration, he doesn't hide how let down he feels. President Obama's record on the economy particularly rankles. "I think he's rolled over to Wall Street completely. The economy has huge problems. We still have all these banks that are too big to fail. They're bigger and making more money than ever. Unemployment at 10 per cent? It's terrible."
What has proved to be a challenging time in office for President Obama culminated in significant Democratic reversals to the Republicans at last November's mid-term elections. Many of his star backers have either kept quiet about politics or, as in the case of George Clooney, Damon's close friend and co-star in the Ocean's trilogy, remained steadfastly loyal. Not Damon. He is upset that Mr Obama, who promised to "spread the wealth around", has extended the Bush tax cuts and that the inequality gap has widened.
"They had a chance that they don't have any more to stand up for things," he says. "They've probably squandered that at this point. They'll probably just make whatever deals they can to try to get elected again."
Damon appears so disillusioned that, playing devil's advocate, I ask whether he is considering voting Republican. "Good God, no! I just got a 3 per cent tax cut. Do you think I'm going to start a small business with that money? You're out of your mind if you think so. I'm going to put it in the bank. So is every other guy that makes the kind of money I make. I don't think that's what's best for the country. I think a stronger middle class makes for a stronger country."
As well as the economy, Mr Obama's record on education repels him. "They have to get people who actually know about educating kids in positions of power. Now they're trying to get business people to come and manage schools like they're factories. It's not going to work."
Damon says that he's excited to be playing a politician for the first time in The Adjustment Bureau, a sci-fi romance. But he has no intention of seeking office. "There's probably a problem with somebody who wants to be a politician in the first place."
That said, he does admire Bill Clinton. Damon based his portrayal of LaBoeuf, the loquacious ranger in True Grit, on the former president. "There's a little bit of Clinton's charm thrown in. I could listen to him talk forever."
A 2007 Forbes magazine study, linking actors' salaries to box office revenue, found Damon to be Hollywood's most profitable actor, but the most extraordinary thing about him in person is how ordinary he is. He brushes aside an attempt by a publicist to serve him coffee, insisting on pouring it himself. Instead of a celebrity actress or model spouse, he is married to Luciana Barroso whom he met while she was bartending in Miami. They live in New York with their four children.
How the big names turned against the President
Actor and director
"I believe he's a really good person. He's smart. And he does represent what the country needs most now, which is change."
July 2008 "President Obama has certainly done more than any other president to advance clean energy, yet he never seemed to roll up his sleeves, bring lawmakers to the table and work to rally the American public behind it."
"Obama is fighting for international justice, he wants to intervene militarily in genocides abroad, and he wants to close down Guantanamo Bay."
"How is Obama's approach to Sudan an evolution of justice? And when the administration says it intends to work to 'improve the lives of the people of Darfur', I would like to know what that means, besides the point that their lives could hardly get worse."
"He is about empowering women, African Americans, Latinos, older people, young people. He's about empowering all of us."
"While I am confident that Obama never intended to offend anyone [with a joke about the Special Olympics], the response his comments have caused... demonstrates the need to continue to educate the non-disabled community."
"Everything's going to be affected by this seismic change in the universe."
"Before this [Gulf of Mexico] catastrophe, our President was in favour of offshore drilling. And when this thing happened, he backtracked real quick."