I lost £200m by not doing Avatar – I feel a bit blue, says Matt Damon

AS missed opportunities go, it is a doozy — the day Matt Damon turned down a role that would have made him rich beyond his wildest dreams.

With admirable honesty the Hollywood veteran revealed he missed out on the largest acting paycheck of all time by turning down Avatar.

The sci-fi epic’s director, James Cameron, was so desperate to get Matt on board that he offered the actor TEN PER CENT of the 2009 film’s takings. Matt politely declined.

Avatar went on to be the highest-grossing movie of all time, earning £2billion at the global box office. For Matt, that was a £200million loss.

The Departed star confessed: “I was offered a little movie called Avatar. I will go down in history. You will never meet an actor who turned down more money than me.”

And if Matt, 50, had taken the role of Jake Sully, which was eventually given to English-born Aussie Sam Worthington, he reckons it would have been him riding a rocket to space, and not business magnates Sir Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos.

He joked: “With these billionaires blasting off into space I probably would have bought a rocket ship, I don’t know.” It hasn’t all been poor choices, though.

‘My emotions were more available to me’

Matt opted for the genius heist Ocean’s Eleven and the ground-breaking The Bourne Identity rather than Tim Burton’s flop remake, The Planet Of The Apes.

And Matt has managed to keep his private life out of the spotlight, having been happily married to former bar tender Luciana Bozán Barroso since 2005.

They have three children together — Isabella, 15, Gia, 12, Stella, ten — and Matt has adopted Alexia, Luciana’s 20-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival, in France, this week Matt explained: “I decided a long time ago that there was no point trying to curate an image, just don’t worry about it too much — and don’t take yourself too seriously.

“I was 27 when my life really changed and I became famous, so I did get to live quite a bit of my life as an anonymous person. And I really didn’t want the fame to infect my relationships.”

Matt told how being a father had made acting easier because he can now imagine the “joy or pain” of his characters, and added: “My emotions are much more available to me.”

Matt met Luciana at a Miami nightclub in 2003, while he was on a break from filming comedy Stuck On You. When he spotted the Argentinian from across the crowded room, it was love at first sight.

Two years later, despite being one of Hollywood’s top earners, he opted for a low-key wedding at New York’s City Hall.

Their 16-year marriage has, so far, not been rocked by scandal, and Matt shunned Hollywood parties to focus on parenthood. It means he has avoided the media circus so often seen around his A-list friends, Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck.

During a photocall for Ocean’s Twelve in Monaco, his co-star Brad, 57, was mobbed, while Matt was mistaken for an interloper.

MISTAKEN FOR INTERLOPER

He recalled: “I was with my wife, I held on to her, it was absolute madness, everybody going crazy and in a circle around Brad, to the point where I got arm-barred four times by security and I’m like, ‘No, no, I’m with Brad’.”

Brad, who Matt described as “like a dude from Missouri, he couldn’t be more normal”, remained totally calm. He said: “I just remember thinking, ‘Man, I could not, I couldn’t do it. I’m just not built to do it’.”

Meanwhile, Ben’s wild partying and famous girlfriends, including Jennifer Lopez, 51, and Gwyneth Paltrow, 48, have dominated headlines.

Matt has known Ben, 48, since they were kids growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While working together on their Oscar-winning script for 1997’s Good Will Hunting, Ben was living with a fiancee. But when their engagement was called off, he crashed on a sofa at Matt’s Los Angeles apartment.

Matt recalled: “Ben wasn’t living with us because he was going to marry this girl and then that fell apart and so he was on the couch in this tiny place. And Ben is 6ft 4in and his legs dangled off the end.

“Every morning I’d walk in and be like, ‘God, this is just ridiculous’.”

Fortunately, that all changed when a production company bought the rights to their story about the young cleaner at a top university, who is a mathematics genius.

They blew a good portion of the cash on duplicate motors. He said: “We each instantly went out and bought matching Jeep Cherokees.”

It left the relatively unknown actors with so little money that they had to show an article about their upcoming film in order to convince a landlord that they would be reliable tenants.

‘Word on street was that it would be a disaster’

Matt smiles: “We were so broke, we had no credit score, we had nothing. So people were like, ‘We can’t rent to you’.

"But what we had was the article in Daily Variety and we were on the cover, it said like, ‘These two idiots sell a screenplay’.

“So we carried around Variety with us and we were like, ‘We’re these guys! Look, we have money now, you can rent to us, we’re going to pay you’. And one landlord did.”

After the pair won the top screenwriting award for Good Will Hunting, which also starred the late Robin Williams, Matt was too busy working to settle down.

He said: “For many, many years, I just had a duffle bag, I didn’t live anywhere, I just went from job to job.”

They included two more critically acclaimed Nineties movies, Saving Private Ryan and The Talented Mr Ripley.

But then The Legend Of Bagger Vance with Will Smith and All The Pretty Horses, starring Penelope Cruz, “bombed at the box office”.

Matt quickly discovered how unforgiving the movie industry could be, and feared his career was over.

He said: “It really is a business and if your stuff isn’t being watched, your phone just really does not ring. So I was like, ‘Well maybe this is it’.”

Matt’s star had fallen so quickly, it was predicted that The Bourne Identity would also be a dud when it was finally released in 2002.

PREDICTED DISASTER

Matt said: “Bourne was delayed a year, a full year. And so the word on the street was that it was going to be a disaster.”

But it was a hit, earning more than £150million worldwide and leading to a hugely successful franchise. Matt describes that barren period as “a good lesson”. And there have been more along the way.

While filming 2006’s The Good Shepherd, Matt’s co-star Robert DeNiro repeated the same line for 44 minutes to get it just right. But on the set of Invictus in 2009, no-nonsense director Clint Eastwood insisted Matt had just one shot.

He recalled: “I did the first take and [Clint] said ‘Cut, print and move on’. And I said, ‘Sorry boss, can I do one more?’ And he says, ‘Why? You wanna waste everybody’s time?’”

In his upcoming movie Stillwater, Matt plays a hard-bitten American oil worker who heads to France to help his estranged daughter, who is accused of murder.

To prepare for the role he bulked up and spent time with real-life rig men in Oklahoma. It was very different from La La Land.

Matt said: “They were family men and one guy took us to his house for a barbeque and his daughter pulled out a guitar and started playing church songs. We had a great barbeque and drank some beer and then went and shot shotguns.”

The pandemic had seen the closure of cinemas for much of the year, so Matt was thrilled to be able to watch Stillwater with critics. The film received a standing ovation.

He said: “It was such a relief to be in a room with 1,000 strangers who are part of the same community.”

Just do not suggest the Covid crisis could not have been predicted. He starred with Gwyneth and Kate Winslet, 45, in 2011 film Contagion, about a deadly flu-like virus that kills millions around the world.

Matt said: “When people were saying, ‘We could never have predicted this?’ It’s like, ‘Look at this movie’.”

  • Stillwater opens in cinemas on August 6.

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