This August, Matt Damon stars in Elysium, a cerebral sci-fi action film from Neill Blomkamp, the man behind 2009′s extraterrestrial apartheid hit District 9. Set in a future where the super-rich live in luxury aboard an orbital space station and everyone else is forced to fight for survival on a depleted planet running on fumes, the film tackles tough social issues like immigration, wealth disparity, health care, and pollution. It also features Matt Damon’s abs, for those who don’t like to think too much.
Damon’s character, Max, is a bruiser who has had a tough life. Blomkamp refers to him as the “archetypal character who just grew up on the wrong side of the tracks but isn’t a bad guy.” Hence the body art: “The idea is that they grew up in this gang environment so each tattoo does have a personal meaning to the character,” says Damon.
In order to play him, the actor had to beef up. “We wanted him to look a certain way so I had to keep up a workout regimen,” says Damon. This was made even more necessary by the addition of the “hulk-suit,” an technologically advanced exoskeleton that makes Damon’s character stronger and faster. While the rig is meant to enhance Max’s physical capabilities, in real life, it meant Damon had to work out even more. “It’s kind of like wearing one of those old Bo Jackson weight vests,” says Damon. “It’s really insidious trying to carry extra weight even if you’re in shape. You just really need a pretty strong core or you can get injured pretty easily, particularly at my age.”
Damon also had to be able to run while wearing the rig. Fortunately, the actor has plenty of experience running on film from his Bourne days. “I was lucky, because my first big running job was with Franka Potente on the first Bourne,” says Damon. “And Franka and Tom Tykwer went out before they shot Run Lola Run and they video-ed her running and she told me, ‘I was shocked at what I looked like.’ She said, ‘Before you do any of this, go out and get a look at yourself running because you’re way more spastic than you think. You don’t look like what you think you look like, you feel cooler than you actually look when you run.’ And that was great advice.” But while he’s since mastered the art of the cinema sprint, Damon admits he still can’t hold a candle to another action star: Tom Cruise. “Tom is the best. Dude, Tom, he genuinely looks fast to me. I’ve never seen him run in person, but when he runs in movies, he is really going fast. I have a feeling that in a footrace, he would really smoke me.”