The Stunning Transformation Of Matt Damon

These days, Matt Damon is one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. He's the kind of actor who can pop in for a cameo in a Marvel movie, be engaged in a decades-long feud with Jimmy Kimmel, and be named People's Sexiest Man Alive. He's led sci-fi blockbusters and indie dramas, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and racked up untold other accolades from Hollywood's biggest tastemakers. By just about any metric, Damon is a success, and he told The Talks that his passion for the craft is what keeps him going. "It's the work," he said. "It's the process itself. I have done enough movies now — movies that have failed, movies that have been successful. All we have as the people making it is the love of the doing of it."

However, Damon wasn't always part of Hollywood's upper echelon. The "Contagion" star was born to humble beginnings in Boston, and he put in years of hard work before Tinseltown took notice. It took time to get where he is today, and along the way he's had to go through a number of career reinventions as his personal life evolved too. This is the stunning transformation of Matt Damon.

Matt Damon grew up in Massachusetts

Matt Damon grew up in Boston; his mother was a professor of early childhood development. "She would say things like, 'In six months, you're going to feel some anger toward me, and it's OK,'" Damon told Parade. "It was an annoying way to be raised. You couldn't define yourself, because you already had been defined by her." Instead, Damon turned to games of make-believe, which led him to acting. "I was obsessive about role-playing when I was a child," he said.

Damon was childhood friends with two brothers who would stick by his side their whole lives: Ben and Casey Affleck. The future "Gone Girl" star even once saved Damon from being beaten up by a taller kid. "It was right then that little 5-foot-2 Ben Affleck tackled this dude off of me, like, out of nowhere," he recalled on "Conan." "He tackled this kid off of me literally at the risk of his own life." (Ben Affleck is much taller these days.)

They took acting classes, and Damon told Boston Magazine that they credit their high school teacher with their work ethic. "He taught us to approach your work with a kind of abandonment that took out that fear of failure from the equation so you kind of just dive into it and put your head down and bust your ass." Over the next several decades of his career, that's exactly what Damon would do.

Matt Damon began acting while still in school

Matt Damon began acting professionally while he still attended Harvard. His earliest roles included one line in "Mystic Pizza," which he later said on "Good Morning America" was a joy to film. "Everything seemed brighter, every you know, the colors ... And I remember just being in, literally in love with it and absolutely head-over-heels in love with all the people, you know, everybody doing these different jobs. It just was like fascinating to me, and I couldn't believe that you could make a living doing that."

In 1992, both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck appeared in "School Ties," a film starring Brendan Fraser, who has had his own transformation through the years. However, appearing in their first big Hollywood production wasn't as glamorous as it might have seemed. While filming, Damon and Affleck shared an apartment next to a dump. "We moved into that place," Damon told Vanity Fair. "We wanted to get out of the hotel, and we realized the amount they had on the hotel deal, we could take, and we saved like $5 a night by moving to the dump."

Speaking with Bobbie Wygant ahead of the film's release, Damon confessed that he was nervous that the movie was finally coming out. "For me, it's my first big movie and stuff, and I'm just really ... I'm anxious about it," he said. "I'm really anxious about it."

He dropped out of Harvard

Matt Damon would have been a member of the 1992 graduating class at Harvard University, but he wound up leaving school in order to pursue his acting career. While he was there, Damon was a member of the Delphic Club, and he participated in numerous plays through the drama department. Joshua Anderson, a former classmate, told The Harvard Crimson that he and his friends were impressed by Damon's work ethic. "He already had a buzz. He was incredibly intense. He was not [in the show] to have fun or socialize. He was here to work."

Damon dropped out shortly before graduating, but he was invited back in 2013 to receive the prestigious Harvard Arts Medal. Per WBUR, he told the crowd of students that he considered Harvard an important part of his story even though he didn't get the degree. "I'd just like to tell you that I'm really proud to have come from here," he said. "In all the accolades for the movies, all that stuff, whenever anybody says my name, they say the name of this university too, and that means a lot to me."

Good Will Hunting changed everything

Though Matt Damon acted consistently throughout the 1990s, everything changed in 1997, when "Good Will Hunting" made both Damon and his friend Ben Affleck incredibly famous, almost overnight. The two wrote the script together and starred in the movie. Damon told Boston Magazine that he'd moved out to Los Angeles and crashed with Affleck, and they worked on the screenplay constantly. "It was the first thing we woke up thinking about and the last thing we thought about before going to bed," he recalled. When they began shopping the script around town, they were looking for an executive willing to take a chance on them as actors. "We never cared about money — we wanted to be in the movie," Damon said. "That was our only thing." 

Their hard work paid off; the film won them the Oscar for best original screenplay in 1998. The excitable duo shouted out various names in their acceptance speech, and Damon concluded, "Everybody back in Boston watching us tonight. ... Whoever we forgot, we love you and we thank you."

Damon later told The Guardian that he found the instant fame that followed "Good Will Hunting" to be very strange. He reflected, "The change is nearly indescribable — going from total obscurity to walking down a street in New York and having everybody turn and look; to feel the temperature of a room change when I walked in."

2002's The Bourne Identity made him an action star

For much of his career up through the early 2000s, Matt Damon had played supporting roles, as in "Ocean's Eleven." When he did lead films, they were often smaller dramas, like "The Talented Mr. Ripley." That all changed in 2002 when he entered a new phase of his career: action hero. In "The Bourne Identity," Damon played Jason Bourne, a secret agent with amnesia who must race against the clock to recover his memories before he is tracked down and killed by the agency that used to employ him.

The film required Damon to undergo extensive martial arts training. He told that director Doug Liman had a specific vision for how Bourne should carry himself, and Damon had to train his body to be able to bring across that physicality. "He wanted a character that could walk as a boxer and kind of look at other people, the same way boxers look at people," Damon reflected. "I guess he meant trying to do acting without too much weight put on."

Speaking with Bobbie Wygant, Damon said he hoped the film would make him more marketable in the action genre, but he mostly hoped it made him a better actor. "If people are watching you and they see that it's really you doing these things, and you look the way you should look while you're doing them, they're just gonna buy into the character and buy into the movie," he said.

He met the woman who would be his wife in 2003

In 2003, Matt Damon met Luciana Barroso, the woman who would become his wife. He was down in Miami to film "Stuck On You," and one night the cast and crew went to a local bar. "We went to a bar where my wife was the bartender," Damon told Ellen Degeneres on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." He explained, "I literally saw her across a crowded room." Next thing he knew, they were in love. "When you're tired, just suck it up and go to the bar to drink some beer," Damon advised fans.

Barroso told Vogue Australia that she remembered the night a little differently. Damon, she said, ducked behind the bar to hang out with her rather than deal with the fans milling about. They instantly connected. "When you meet somebody that you have a connection with, that's just the person that you have a connection with, all the other stuff — the movie-star part — wasn't really a factor," she said. "It was just Matt, to me he's just Matt."

They married in 2006 in a ceremony at City Hall in New York. The nuptials were small, but they were attended by several famous faces including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "They were thrilled," he later told People.

Matt Damon became a father

When Matt Damon married his wife Luciana Barroso, he became the stepfather to Alexia, Barroso's daughter from a previous relationship. The year after their wedding, Damon and Barroso welcomed their daughter Isabella. "He's a terrific uncle and he's going to be a wonderful father," Damon's brother told People after Isabella was born. "They're all really close, they'll be an intimate family."

Two more daughters followed in quick succession: Gia arrived in 2008, and Stella was born in 2010. In a 2012 conversation with The Guardian, Damon noted that becoming a father influenced where he and his wife chose to put down roots. "One of the reasons we live in New York is because, without having to explain things to the girls, they can walk around the streets and just by looking around them see that the world is composed of all different people from different walks of life, different languages and different socio-economic backgrounds," he said.

As Damon's daughters continue to grow up, the A-lister continues to make an effort to be around his kids as much as he can. In fact, at the time of the interview, he was flying home from set every single weekend to spend time with his daughters. "The good news is that the kids know that I'm going to be home every weekend," he said. "As they are waking up on Saturday morning, I come through the door."

He caused a stir when he went bald for Elysium

In 2011, Matt Damon turned heads when he began showing up at events rocking a new, freshly shaved look. He'd gone nearly bald for Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi action film "Elysium" (which wouldn't be released until 2013), a film in which he plays a man who gets fitted with a powerful robotic exoskeleton. Damon told People that he enjoyed his new hairdo, joking, "It's really liberating. I get out of the shower and just run the towel over my head and I'm done."

Luckily, the ladies in Damon's life were on board, too. He told the magazine that his wife liked the effect, although, he allowed, she had to. "She had to take a whole vow, for better or for worse, so she's kind of stuck with me!" he cracked. In a separate interview with People, Damon said that his daughter was fascinated by her bald father. She liked to drum on his head, in fact. "When you're a parent, you'll do anything to make your 10-month-old smile," he said. "So I would put my head in her lap and let her bang away as long as she wanted."

2013 saw one of Matt Damon's most physically transformative roles

In 2013, Matt Damon starred in the Steven Soderbergh film "Behind the Candelabra." He played Scott Thorson, Liberace's lover, and the role saw the actor undergo quite the physical transformation. His character goes from a muscle-bound hunk to someone grappling with drug addiction, a shift that required prosthetics to pull off. Speaking with, Damon explained that the prosthetics weren't even a consideration when he chose the role purely based on the film's director. "It was not the kind of thing I would hesitate about," he said. "This was a real opportunity."

The film's fabulous costumes helped Damon get into character, too. "You just would feel different in the morning. You would walk out with all this stuff on and it was really liberating," he told Channel Guide Magazine. Damon got even more specific while speaking with ABC News. "I have never had this much fun that had jewels encrusted all over it ... A jewel-encrusted mankini!" he said, referencing one jaw-dropping swimsuit his character wears as he emerges from a pool. 

The HBO film was a critical success, picking up 11 Emmys. Damon himself was nominated, though he didn't ultimately win.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck brought back their reality show

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's friendship led them to resurrect their early '00s HBO show "Project Greenlight" in 2015. The series gives budding filmmakers the opportunity to learn from Hollywood heavyweights as they take their films from concept to release. The series marked a new phase in Damon's career: he became a controversy magnet. In the premiere, Damon spoke over a Black producer named Effie Brown, dismissing her concerns about diversity. "This is strictly a filmmaking competition," he told her, leading to a wave of criticism from social media. In an apology issued to Entertainment Weekly, Damon stated, "I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies. I love making movies."

Mere weeks later, Damon gave an interview to The Guardian where he suggested that gay actors shouldn't be public with their sexuality. He discussed his wife in the interview, but also stated, "Whether you're straight or gay, people shouldn't know anything about your sexuality because that's one of the mysteries that you should be able to play." Damon denied that he meant gay actors should stay closeted, telling Ellen Degeneres (via The Guardian), "I mean it's stupid, but it is painful when things get said that you don't believe."

In 2018, Damon apologized for comments perceived as minimizing the #MeToo movement. In 2021, he issued yet another mea culpa to the queer community after confessing that his daughter had to stop him from saying a slur.

Matt Damon couldn't resist a role in Oppenheimer

In the early 2020s, Matt Damon considered taking a break from acting. He revealed in an Entertainment Weekly roundtable that he and his wife had been in couples therapy, and he'd agreed to stop working so much. "I had — not to get too personal — negotiated extensively with my wife that I was taking time off," he said. However, there was one exception to that promise: Christopher Nolan. "This is without knowing whether or not he was working on anything, because he never tells you. He just calls you out of the blue," Damon said. "And so, it was a moment in my household."

Nolan was indeed working on something, and he called Damon to offer him a role in "Oppenheimer." Damon played Leslie Groves, a military man who recruits J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) to build an atomic bomb.

It's a good thing Damon didn't end up taking that break after all; "Oppenheimer" is now, by a considerable margin, the highest-grossing film of his career. It's the capstone on a filmography that has led Damon to a reported $170 million fortune.