The Adjustment Bureau - Terence Stamp and Matt Damon
Thompson (Terence Stamp), offers David Norris (Matt Damon) a terrible choice © 2011 Universal

Based on a short story by sci-fi author Philip K Dick, Matt Damon’s new thriller The Adjustment Bureau tells the strange tale of how unseen forces are manipulating our lives.

Damon portrays David Norris, a charismatic politician on the brink of winning a seat in the US Senate. But when he unexpectedly meets and falls in love with a young dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt) he is approached by members of a mysterious organization called The Adjustment Bureau who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.

Matt Damon spoke of his latest venture at the press day for the movie.

How did this role come to you?

The Adjustment Bureau - John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Matt Damon
Bureau agents Richardson (John Slattery) and Harry (Anthony Mackie) warn David Norris (Matt Damon) © 2011 Universal

George [Nolfi] has been a friend and collaborator for a long time. He brought this script to me that he’d written on spec, because he wanted to direct it. I was a big believer in him and I felt he could do it.

Was there anything about Philip K Dick’s writing that drew you to the project?

I love his writing and obviously his stuff really translates well into film, he has been the source material for so many great movies. But this story is only seven or eight pages long. It’s called The Adjustment Team. George took the idea and the rest of it he really invented. What the core of the movie is – the love story – was an invention of George’s. So I feel like he took the central element of the story, but little else.

Did you do any physical preparation of this movie?

No, it was nice to be in one of those movies where I wasn’t the guy training my ass off. I was sitting in the corner eating donuts watching Emily eat celery.

You had terrific chemistry with Emily in this.

The Adjustment Bureau - Matt Damon and Emily Blunt
David Norris (Matt Damon) pursues the only woman he's ever loved (Emily Blunt) © 2011 Universal

For us it was a love story with this other whole element in it. What really has to work is the relationship between us, so we just worked on the scenes and rewrote the scenes to make them feel right. I just think we have similar senses of humor so that helped with all of it.

We’re in different movies for a lot of it. Elise is not aware of the Adjustment Bureau, so she’s in a love story where this guy keeps disappearing on her, and she’s like, ‘What’s the deal with this guy?’ Whereas, I see the Adjustment Bureau early on, they work as the obstacle to this love story. They’re in the way of this relationship and we want this relationship to work. [The audiences] need to love both these characters separately and they really need to want them to be together or the whole movie falls apart.

In the film your character risks everything for love. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?

You build your life around somebody, that’s kind of crazy.  [My wife and I] have a two week rule. When I did True Grit, I asked Joel and Ethan [Coen] to board the movie so that I was never away from home more than a week, and so they did that. I was working two days a week and then I’d fly back. It’s a pretty mundane life; we don’t allow ourselves to be apart so we really don’t need those big, dramatic moments.

Has anything happened in your life that you felt was fate?

The Adjustment Bureau - Matt Damon
David Norris (Matt Damon) and a mysterious group of men exerting control over him © 2011 Universal

Me passing up the chance to be in Avatar in order to do Green Zone was I’d say one of those moments, because Avatar didn’t do very well!!

There was a Werner Herzog movie called Rescue Dawn that Christian Bale did. Werner and I were talking about that eight years ago, about me possibly playing that role, and I was strongly considering it. Instead I met with the Farrelly brothers and I remember talking with my mother, and my mother said, ‘You don’t always have to go into a jungle and lose a bunch of weight, you’re allowed to have a little fun.’

I did the Farrelly brothers movie [Stuck on You] and that’s where I met my wife. So four kids later, that was a pretty fateful decision.

You turned down Avatar for Green Zone? What is your motivating factor when you choose a movie?

The Adjustment Bureau - John Slattery and Matt Damon
Bureau supervisor Richardson (John Slattery) threatens David Norris (Matt Damon) © 2011 Universal

It wasn’t anything against Avatar, I talked to Cameron, I read the script, I knew the movie was going to be a very big hit, you could see that, and I really wanted to do Avatar just to work with Jim Cameron, to watch him direct, because I was going to learn a lot. It was just that we were finishing The Bourne Ultimatum and I couldn’t leave, it was a scheduling issue. I joke that I passed on Avatar, really my schedule made it an impossibility for me.

In terms of Green Zone, Paul [Greengrass] is one of my best friends in the business and a director I love. He wanted to make a movie about Iraq and about the original lie that got us in there, and so I wanted to go and do that. My decisions are usually based on the director.

If you were the head of The Adjustment Bureau, what would you like to see changed in the world?

It’s hard to answer that question without sounding like Miss America. First of all, world peace!


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.