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Paul (Matt Damon) has a chat with his friend Dave (Jason Sudeikis) before undergoing a shrinking procedure. [Paramount Pictures]

Matt Damon talks big about getting small in ‘Downsizing’

Matt Damon may be a well-known, high-paid movie star, but he’s just a regular guy. He’s normal looking, he’s of average height (average height for an American male is 5-foot-10, Damon’s exact height).

But in the new science fiction comedy-drama “Downsizing,” Damon plays regular, normal, average, happily married Paul Safranek, an occupational therapist who recognizes that he and his wife are having financial difficulties, and looks into a method of dealing with them. In a new, cutting-edge scientific procedure, they will be shrunk down in size (he’ll come in at about 5 feet) in order to cut living costs, as well as help the environment by taking up less space. All people involved in this experiment will be able to move to specially designed very small housing communities where, among other precautions, they’ll be protected from hungry cats, birds, and bugs. It’s a crazy idea that Damon took to almost immediately, especially when he learned it was going to be directed by Alexander Payne (“The Descendants,” “Sideways”). Damon spoke about the film at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Q: Was it Alexander or the script that initially caught your interest in doing this film?

A: Alexander and I first met, very briefly, in 1999 (the year Payne’s film “Election” came out), and I told him I’d like to work with him someday. Then, 17 years later, he showed up and said, “I finally have a movie for us.” He told me it was about people who shrink down to 5 inches in height. Now, I wasn’t sure if this was a test, so I was kind of circumspect with my answer before I said anything, just in case he was really doing a movie about, oh, maybe a lawyer who wins a big case. But the first attraction for me was Alexander. He’s got this incredible body of work. So, I would have done the phone book if he asked me to do that. But instead he asked me to do this unique script. It’s unlike anything I’d seen, and it takes this incredible left turn in the middle. It’s like, who’s doing stuff like this, especially at this scale? I just wanted to be in it.

Q: In a recent interview, you mentioned that movies are a great tool for empathy, something that this movies addresses. Could you expand on that?

A: I think it’s a very humanistic and heartfelt movie that, to me, is very optimistic concerning the way that we treat each other. Look, we started telling stories to each other the minute we could communicate, when we started drawing pictures on cave walls. It’s the way we relate to each other and understand each other. With the movies, it’s the most technologically advanced way we’ve learned to tell stories. I think it’ll eventually get into virtual reality, and that’ll be even a greater tool for empathy, as we’ll be able to experience things in a different way. Technology is, I hope, making us more empathetic, despite what we’re seeing right now, politically, in America.

Q: So, you’re hoping that after seeing the film, people will leave the theaters with positive thoughts.

A: When I read the script, I was giggling, because I couldn’t believe that this movie could get made in the studio system. It’s original and unique and beautiful. I don’t want to lead people towards what they should think. There are a lot of things to think about after you see this movie, and I wouldn’t change a frame of it. I’m so proud to be a part of it.

Q: Would you, given the opportunity, get downsized?

A: I would not. I don’t think Alexander and (screenwriter) Jim Taylor really thought through the whole cat, bird, and bug problem. So, I would stay big. (laughs) Also, I had to shave my eyebrows off for some of the scenes. And that’s not a strong look for me. (laughs again)

“Downsizing” opens on Dec. 22.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

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