How do you talk to a star about a movie that isn't out for another eight months and no one has seen? You ask them to describe it in as much detail as possible, which is exactly what I did when I sat down with Matt Damon at this year's Comic Con to discuss his upcoming film, "Elysium."
Directed by Neill Blomkamp, of "District 9" fame, "Elysium" is set in the year 2159, where human beings have been split into two categories: poor and rich. The wealthy live in a space station called Elysium, filled with luxurious homes and lush scenery, whereas those without money are left to fend for themselves on a slum-filled planet Earth.
Of course, I wasn't completely out of the loop about the film, mainly thanks to a viral marketing flyer going around at Comic-Con, which spoke about the luxurious "eco-oases" of Elysium, complete with homes "starting in the low $250,000,000s" (OK, so the super wealthy really do live there).
From what Damon told us, it sounds like Blomkamp has lots in store for "Elysium," including action, gore and plenty of class warfare commentary. Damon also gave us some more insight on his character, Max, the film's tone, his thoughts on "District 9" and what he thinks of the Academy Awards.
So other than the synopsis, I don't really know a whole lot about this film yet.
Well, how much do you know about the movie?
Well, this is basically the extent of it [I open up a flyer which is part of the viral ad campaign for "Elysium"]
[Starts reading the flyer] Oh, that's good: "Starting in the low $250,000,000s" [laughs]. There's a photo of a medbay on here. When you lie in there, if you have any pre-cancerous cells or anything wrong, that medbay will cure you. So, those of us who are left on Earth -- which has basically become an entire third-world planet, and all of the super-rich are on Elysium -- are trying to devise ways to get to Elysium. Either to get to the medbays, or to become a legal citizen [there]. So that's where you find my character, Max. [The film starts] when he's a little boy at this orphanage, and he's looking up at Elysium, like everyone on Earth, trying to find a way to some day get there.
So if it starts with Max as a child, when do you come into the film?
By the time I come on to the scene, early in the first act, it's Max all grown up, and he's kind of resigned to living on earth. But then something happens, he gets radiation poisoning at the factory he works at, and now he's got five days to live, so he's desperate to get up there -- he has to get to Elysium, to get to the medbay.
And I hear your character is an ex-con
He's got a criminal history, but he's gone straight; he was formerly in a world a crime, so he has to go back to those guys, to try and horse trade -- to do something for them so he can get to Elysium.
So what is Earth looking like now? Is everyone living in slums? Are people rioting?
We shot in Mexico City for L.A. So L.A. in 2159 looks a lot like Mexico City, except spaceships sometimes land there.
What type of factory is Max working in?
The factory is building the security droids that guard Elysium. So it's actually a factory owned by an Elysian. But the human beings just work there, the way people in the third world feel lucky to have a job. And [those on Earth] get paid not very well.
It obviously sounds like many of the issues going on in 2159 are happening today -- class warfare, the wealth gap, etc.
Yeah, it's a metaphor the way "District 9" was a metaphor. As Neill [Blomkamp] said, if I make "District 9" about Zimbabweans, and not aliens, in a camp, four people would have seen it. Because he's a dude from South Africa, and when he was 18 he immigrated to Vancouver, he said that going from the third world to the first world blew his mind.
I can't imagine what effect seeing Apartheid has on you as a teenager.
He said he's still not over it, and that's why it kind of comes out in his work. But his whole aesthetic, he loves sci-fi, and he loves gore and violence, so it all gets married together into something that's kind of uniquely his.
Had you seen "District 9" before you'd heard about this movie?
Oh, yeah. I loved it. I loved it for a lot of reasons. I thought it was not only one of the best movies of that year, I thought Sharlto [Copley] got totally jobbed at the Academy Awards, because that dude definitely should have been nominated. It's why I think they should give those awards years later, because I guarantee you if you voted a decade later, Sharlto would be one of those guys.
That film definitely took on a life of its own. It started here at Comic-Con and went on to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
And Comic-Con had a lot to do with that. I was talking with someone earlier, and he said that [he] had never heard of "District 9." And then they showed it cold here [at Comic-Con] -- they hadn't done any press -- and people went "Oohhh!" And suddenly there was this explosion. A week later, it was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. That's crazy. So Neill has this huge affinity for Comic-Con. I mean the movie doesn't come out for eight months, and he was working to get this reel put together for Comic-Con, because he wants this place to be the first place to see anything.
Is it harder to promote a film during interviews when no one has seen it yet? I feel like the questions (mine included) must not be all that specific.
I mean, I made it, but the movie is not completed. In this reel that they are going to show today, some of the effects shots are incomplete. You'll see renderings for some things, and some of the effects are completely done. So some of the spaceships landing [in the reel], you're going to be like, "Holy f*ck!" But then it will cut to a shot of an animated spaceship.
Well the one photo they released from the film -- where you have some robotic arm and are carrying a massive machine gun -- sort of gave everyone a vibe of what to expect.
It was an exoskeleton. They call it a hulk suit. It's based on something the military is working on now, to actually help with weight distribution to carry things. What Neill's done is in the future, this thing is something that bolts into and locks into your nervous system so it actually makes you stronger.
Is that how it's used in the movie?
It's part of the surgery that Max undergoes, to do what he has to do to go to Elysium. It involves, in very gory detail, bolting this exoskeleton to him, drilling it into him.
Was the actual prop uncomfortable to wear?
Well it was designed by the guys at Weta, and those guys are awesome. They worked on it for a really long time and did all these tests to make it as comfortable as it could be. It weighed about 25 pounds, but it was perfectly distributed, so it was really not hard to be in at all. Originally I went, "Sh*t, I am going to spend two-thirds of a movie in this thing, this is going to be tough and I am going to get sick of it. But I didn't. Those guys just did a great job.
This is your first science fiction movie. Are you a big sci-fi fan?
Yes -- good sci-fi. But that's almost impossible to find. I hope people think this is good sci-fi.