The Martian opens in theaters today and critics are raving over Ridley Scott’s film (read EW’s here) and Matt Damon’s performance as Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars. EW spoke to Damon about the dread of being alone on a planet, working with Ridley Scott, and why making The Martian was actually fun.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The movie feels like a really faithful adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel. Had you read it?
MATT DAMON: I read the script before I read the book. Ridley wasn’t attached yet; [screenwriter] Drew Goddard was going to direct it at that point. I read the script and loved it and met with Drew and then he had to bow out of directing. I thought this whole thing would either go away or maybe we’d come back in a year or something, and then lo and behold I get a call that Ridley Scott wanted to do it.
That’s pretty exciting. Had you ever met him before?
Funnily enough, I’d never met Ridley. We’ve both been around for a while, him obviously longer than me. But, you know, I’ve been meeting for 20 years and we’d never even met at a cocktail party. Anyway, the first thing Ridley said was, ‘Wait, have we never met?’ I said that we hadn’t. He said, ‘Oh.’ Then there was this pause. Then he goes, ‘This script is great. Why the f–k aren’t we doing this?’ [Laughs] That was it. I said okay. I was like, “Hey, you had me at ‘Have we ever met?'”
I’ve heard a lot about fast Ridley shoots.
He shoots sometimes with four cameras at a time. I’ve always been very snooty about that — like, there’s only one place to put a camera at any given time. He told me, “Bulls–t” and puts up these four cameras. I walked into his tent at one point and he’s got four screens up and I told him, “Ridley every one of these shots is perfect.” He goes, “They’ve been perfect for a long time.” [Laughs.] It was so much fun. I had a ball working with him. It was just fun. Even if I wasn’t working I’d want to make movies with Ridley.
He knows what he’s doing.
Yeah, and also he’s so sure-handed in a way that directors are who are really experienced. He’s cutting in camera, which the great ones do, and so you have a really great sense of the movie you are in at any given time. He can tell you, “I’m cutting from this shot, right here, and go to this shot right here.” I’ve always said an actor’s only excuse for not doing a good job is, “I didn’t know what movie I was in.” But if a director is telling you, “This is the shot, I’m coming in close here, and this is the wide,” he’s basically opening the kimono and telling you the exact shape of the story and it makes it a lot easier to modulate your performance.
Was it strange that, for a lot of the time, you were the only actor on set?
It was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it — I had never tried to do anything by myself in that way. That was a fun challenge. There were all these monologues where Mark realizes he’s stranded on Mars — like, two-page speeches. We’d do it one take. We could just go. Ridley would come blasting on set and go, “Jesus, you and me could do two movies at once!”
It’s a really very optimistic story considering what a scary scenario it is.
It is! The first time Ridley and I talked, it was about how we didn’t want to lose that sense of terror. The idea of being hundreds and millions of mile away from anyone else and this guy has this incredible optimism and solves practical problems. We tried to lace that with the real dread. Ridley said in our very first meeting that it could just be a shot of the vastness of Mars’s landscape — that alone is so horrifying. But at the end of the day, it’s a really entertaining story.
Ridley Scott is 77 years old and he’s already working on his next film.
He’s incredible. It reminds me of Clint [Eastwood]. Just infatiguable. Those dudes will make anyone else feel lazy.