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Matt Damon, trained killer

Actor reprises his role as Jason Bourne in 'Supremacy'

By Stephanie Snipes

Matt Damon reprises his role as CIA assassin Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Supremacy."
Academy Awards
John Travolta
Ben Affleck

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Matt Damon is trained to kill with his bare hands.

This is not obvious from many of his film roles. He played a mathematical genius in "Good Will Hunting," a golfer who has lost his swing in "The Legend of Bagger Vance" and a casino thief in "Ocean's 11."

Then again, he played a renegade angel in "Dogma," and Tom Ripley, a man who kills his friend and assumes his identity, in "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

So maybe the evidence has been there all along.

The truth is, Damon -- who returns to the big screen as Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Supremacy," which opens Friday -- has, in fact, learned the ways of a professional killer. It's a skill set he perfected to strengthen the believability of Bourne, a CIA assassin.

He started with six months of martial arts training and another six months learning boxing for 2002's "The Bourne Identity."

"Doug Liman, who directed the first one, decided that the way boxers walked was the way he wanted Bourne to walk. There was a kind of directness in it and an efficiency about the way they moved," said Damon in an interview at CNN Center in Atlanta. "And it really did work. I felt a huge difference in the way that I moved, it was really interesting."

Then there was the weapons training.

"Even though I hold a gun in 'The Bourne Identity' for probably a total of 20 seconds, there was a really huge plot point at the beginning of the movie which was that he gets a gun for the first time in his hand and it's like an extension of his arm. And he's so comfortable with it that that's what makes him drop it," said Damon. (In "The Bourne Identity," the amnesiac Bourne has no idea he'd been a CIA assassin.) "So the only way to kind of do that is to put in a couple hundred hours of shooting."

'Happily surprised'

With months of kung-fu moves and a near perfect boxing stance mastered, Damon was in great shape. But he wasn't sure if he wanted to do a second film.

"When I did the first one I only signed up for the first one 'cause I didn't want to be contractually obligated to do more than one if it wasn't a good experience. And, I'd never done an action movie and I was a little leery of the whole thing," said Damon.

Bourne Supremacy
In "The Bourne Supremacy," Jason Bourne tries to get information out of a CIA employee (Julia Stiles).

"I'm not just going to do a sequel just because it's available and because people in the business say, 'You should have a franchise.' "

Once cautious, Damon's doubts subsided when he read the script. "The Bourne Supremacy" picks up where "Identity" left off, with the main character still unsure of himself. When the CIA starts pursuing him, he retaliates, using all his special training.

The studio's decision to sign on director Paul Greengrass ("Bloody Sunday") sealed the deal, said the good-natured Damon, who is far more laid back than Bourne, making a few wisecracks and politely asking if he's properly answering questions.

"There are some semi-bold moves that the story takes and so I was really kind of surprised, happily surprised, when I read it, just because I thought that 'Well, yeah, the people who liked "The Bourne Identity," that's the kind of sequel they deserve,' " said Damon. "So I called Paul and we met and we sat down and talked. And to hear him talk about what he wanted to do with it, and to hear his enthusiasm, it was something I couldn't say no to."

Ready for 'the ultimate job'

While some actors seem to struggle with picking their next good part (see John Travolta in "Battlefield Earth," or Julia Roberts in "Mary Reilly"), Damon has a simple process.

"When I'm picking a movie it's always the same three things. It's the script, and how good the script is, who's going to direct it, and finally the role. If I can get two out of those three it's great. If I can get three out of three then that's ideal," he said.

Damon in Ryan
One of Damon's early roles was as James Ryan in "Saving Private Ryan," directed by Steven Spielberg.

"But it's rare, the three out of three. I think for me, 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' had a great script, a great director, and a great role," Damon noted.

He's also partial to "Good Will Hunting," the film he wrote with cohort Ben Affleck. The film won them the Academy Award for best screenplay.

And although acting has treated him well, Damon -- who will be appearing in "Ocean's 12" in December -- hopes his future will include directing.

"The more involved I've become in the whole process of filmmaking the more I really want to direct. It's really the great job, it's the ultimate job ... on the creative side," said Damon.

To do it right, he plans to take it one step at a time.

"I'd like to write something and do something really small for the first time. [Steven] Spielberg [who directed Damon in 'Saving Private Ryan'] actually once said to me, not to be a name-dropper" -- he added sheepishly -- " 'The first time you direct all you should do is tell a very simple story and just see if you have a knack for telling a very simple story. Take all the trickery out of it and just see,' " said Damon.

"So, I think the first time around I'd like to do something along the lines of 'Good Will Hunting.' ... Write a script that I thought was really good, get great actors, and just try and capture performances and put it together and see if I had a knack for doing it."

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