Between writing the Oscar-winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting and raking in millions for the blockbuster Bourne Identity franchise, Matt Damon has resisted easy categorization for his entire career. Part of the reason for this longtime aversion to typecasting is Damon's impressive commitment to drastically altering his body for demanding roles.
I remember the first time I watched the raunchy comedy Eurotrip and couldn't help but gawk at Damon's cameo. When he came on screen with a shaved head and piercings, my stunned friends couldn't help but ask, "Is that really Matt Damon?"
His upcoming role in the sci-fi survival tale The Martian leaves his character, Astronaut Mark Watney, stranded and struggling to stay alive on the hostile planet Mars. With everyone back on Earth assuming he's a goner, Mark must subsist on what he has, while trying to send a signal back home. Assuming he's there for years on end, this could mean an astounding physical transformation from Damon, but it certainly wouldn't be the first.
Let's take a look back at just how far Matt Damon has gone to substantially alter his body, all for his unwavering commitment to his roles.
Courage Under Fire (1996)
For one of his earliest major film roles in Courage Under Fire, Matt Damon lost an astounding 40 lbs for the role of Specialist Ilario. By the end of the movie, the character had been ravaged by the horrors of war and developed a heroin addiction to cope. Damon committed himself to a dauntingly strict regimen: running six and a half miles in the morning and at night on a diet of chicken breast, egg whites, one baked potato per day, and a heavy supply of coffee and cigarettes.
His gaunt appearance and poor health meant that a medical supervisor needed to be on call during filming.
The Informant! (2009)
Heading in the opposite direction for his role in The Informant!, Damon had to gain somewhere between 20-30 pounds to play real-life whistleblower Mark Whitacre. To achieve the doughy physique, the actor binged on junk food like McDonald's, Dorito's, and dark beer. Unlike his weight training for some of his other roles, he described this method as "absolute heaven" to the Daily Mail:
It was very, very easy to gain the weight. It was very, very fun, probably the funnest time I had working, because I didn't have to go to the gym after work and I just ate everything I could see.
To portray another historical individual, the South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, Damon needed to move as far away from his Informant! diet as possible. All that extra weight he had so much fun packing on had to be converted to muscle, and fast. Here's how Matt himself put it:
If Jason Bourne looks a little flabby, that's on me. But this is someone's actual life. I didn't want to let him down. It wasn't going to be for any lack of effort, which was what the team were famous for. They were known for going that extra mile.
There was no special secret behind this plan, however. Damon stuck to a disciplined daily workout that included running and resistance—and cut out the junk food.
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Behind the Candelabra tells the glittering story of Liberace and gave Damon the chance to stretch his acting chops once again as the pianist's lover. Since the movie covers decades (and multiple plastic surgeries), Damon's character Scott Thorson goes through his own self-contained transformation that is quite a sight to behold.
At the earliest moments in the film, Damon sports feathered hair and spray-on abs before donning a fat suit and a prosthetically enhanced flabby neck. When Liberace convinces Scott to get some work done, Damon emerges with a new nose, chin, and cheekbones. It's a striking change, but even with all the facial alterations, he's unquestionably Damon.
Arguably the most impressive metamorphosis Damon has endured was his bulk-up phase for Elysium. In order to lug around his character's hefty exoskeleton, Damon focused intensely on core strength, and the last thing he wanted was to stray from the director's clear vision:
[Director Neill Blomkamp] saw the guy a certain way, so it just meant that I had to like just literally go to the gym for like 4 hours a day, which was kind of fun in its own way, actually, you know, at my age, to be given an excuse to do that, ‘cause it’s not something you ever really do otherwise!
At 44 years old, a body like that is downright admirable, especially when you consider how much else it's been through with his other roles.
Now, it's only a matter of time before we see what kind of transformation Matt Damon withstands for The Martian, but something tells me it will fit nicely on this list.