How the ''Bourne'' movies revived Matt Damon's career. The actor talks about bouncing back after a string of box office disappointments -- and why his buddy Ben hasn't been able to do the same

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated July 16, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Bourne Supremacy: Jasin Boland

Though some have called Matt Damon’s post-Oscar career moves questionable, his decision to say yes to ”The Bourne Supremacy” (opening July 23) was a no-brainer. Its $65 million predecessor, ”The Bourne Identity,” in which Damon played a laconic, amnesiac assassin who kicked, punched, and murdered his way through Europe, earned more than $121 million and became a best-selling DVD. The film also ended neatly with Bourne and his lady love, played by German actress Franka Potente, running off into the sunset. But as any thriller aficionado knows, no true hero gets to lie on a beach drinking piña coladas for very long.

So Bourne was called back to action for the $80 million sequel with Paul Greengrass, who made the small 2002 Irish film ”Bloody Sunday,” directing. (”Identity” was helmed by Doug Liman, who had repeated clashes with the studio during filming.) Reteaming are ”Identity” producer Marshall, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and costars Potente, Julia Stiles, and Brian Cox. As for Bourne? He’s still on the run, and he’s still a melancholy, taciturn enigma, which suits Damon just fine. ”Normally, I’ve played people searching for who they are,” says the actor. ”This was the first time I played a guy where instead of struggling with his identity, he had a real sense of self. Then, well, then he forgot it.” Damon might be able to relate — this is a guy who, after all, said only seven years ago that if he ever made $10 million, he’d quit the game. ”Yeah, well, I would,” he says with a grin. ”If they made me.”