Matt Damon has been actively involved in charitable work, including the ONE Campaign, H2O Africa Foundation, and Water.org.
Matt Damon was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Kent Telfer Damon, a stockbroker, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood education professor at Lesley University. Damon is of Scottish, English, Finnish, and Swedish ancestry, and is a distant cousin of actors Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck. He has a brother, Kyle, who is an accomplished sculptor and artist. He and his family moved to Newton and lived there for two years. After his parents divorced, Damon and his brother moved with their mother back to Cambridge, where they lived in a six-family communal house. Damon grew up near Ben Affleck, a close friend since childhood and collaborator on several films, and historian and author Howard Zinn, whose biographical film You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train and audio version of A People's History of the United States Damon later narrated.
Matt Damon took to role-playing as a child partly because his mother raised him "by the book," which made him feel as though "you couldn’t define yourself, because you already had been defined by her." He attended Cambridge Alternative School (now Graham & Parks) and then Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where he was a disciplined student but had a "terrifying" first two years due to his short height at the time. As a lonely adolescent, Matt Damon has described feeling "such pain in wanting to belong somewhere and not belonging." Damon performed as an actor in several high school theater productions; he has credited his drama teacher at Rindge and Latin, Gerry Speca, as an important artistic influence, even though Matt Damon recalls that, "Mr. Speca always seemed to trust Ben Affleck with the biggest roles and longest speeches."
Matt Damon attended Harvard University from 1988 to 1992 but did not graduate. While at Harvard, he studied English and lived in Lowell House. He took part in student theater, appearing in plays such as Burn This in Winthrop House and A... My Name is Alice (in one of the three male roles usually performed by women). Damon dropped out of the university to pursue his acting career in Los Angeles because he mistakenly expected Geronimo: An American Legend to become a big success. "By the time I figured out I had made the wrong decision, it was too late. I was living out here with a bunch of actors, and we were all scrambling to make ends meet," Matt Damon has said.
Matt Damon's first film role came in 1988 when he was eighteen, with a single line of dialogue in the romantic comedy Mystic Pizza. As a student at Harvard University, he continued to pursue acting and performed small roles in projects such as the TNT original film Rising Son and the ensemble prep-school drama School Ties. In 1992, he landed a big part in Geronimo: An American Legend with Gene Hackman and Jason Patric. Four years later, he auditioned for a small role in Cutthroat Island, but was turned away. Damon next appeared as an opiate-addicted soldier in 1996's Courage Under Fire. He was required to lose 40 pounds (18 kg) in 100 days (for only two days of filming). After following a self-prescribed diet and fitness regimen to lose the weight, Damon was told after filming that he was fortunate his heart did not shrink. He took medication for several years afterwards to correct the stress inflicted on his adrenal gland. Courage Under Fire gained him some critical notice, as The Washington Post labeled his performance "impressive;" Damon has stated that it was worthwhile to risk his health in order to properly portray his character and show the industry how committed he was to his work as an actor.
During the early 1990s, Matt Damon and Affleck wrote a screenplay about a young math genius, which they then pitched around Hollywood for a long time. Receiving advice from director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, and their friend writer/director Kevin Smith, the two made changes to the script. The script eventually became Good Will Hunting (1997), and received nine Academy Awards nominations, earning Matt Damon and Affleck Oscars for Best Original Screenplay. Damon was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the same film, which also netted an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for co-star Robin Williams. He and Affleck were each paid salaries of $600,000, while the film grossed over $225 million at the worldwide box office. The two later parodied their roles from the film in Kevin Smith's 2001 movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Also in 1997, Matt Damon was the lead in the critically acclaimed drama The Rainmaker, where he was recognized by the Los Angeles Times as "a talented young actor on the brink of stardom." After meeting Matt Damon on the set of Good Will Hunting, director Steven Spielberg cast Damon as the titular character in the 1998 World War II film Saving Private Ryan.
Matt Damon has become known for choosing a wide variety of film roles, from his portrayal of Patricia Highsmith's anti-hero Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) to a fallen angel who discusses pop culture as intellectual subject matter with Affleck in Dogma (1999); from a conjoined twin in Stuck on You (2003), which got a mixed critical reception, to the low budget experimental film Gerry (2002), which he co-wrote with Casey Affleck and Gus Van Sant. Matt Damon garnered generally positive critical reaction for his Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of Ripley, with Variety stating, "Damon outstandingly conveys his character's slide from innocent enthusiasm into cold calculation."
From 2001 to 2007, Matt Damon gained wider international recognition as part of two major film franchises. He co-starred as thief Linus Caldwell, alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts, in Steven Soderbergh's 2001 remake of the Rat Pack's 1960 caper film Ocean's 11; the successful crime dramedy spawned two sequels, Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). He played amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne in the hit action thrillers The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Entertainment Weekly placed Damon as an "action star" on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "When he first signed on as the ass-kicking amnesiac Jason Bourne in 2002, no one would've predicted that Damon would become the decade's best mixer of brawn and brains. Shows what we know." In August 2007, financial magazine Forbes created a list of actors who generated the best box office performance related to their salaries; the list placed Matt Damon as the most bankable star of the actors reviewed, revealing that Matt Damon had averaged USD29 at the box office for every dollar he earned for his last three films.
Matt Damon with Robert De Niro in Berlin in February 2007 for the premiere of The Good Shepherd
Damon played a fictionalized version of Wilhelm Grimm in Terry Gilliam's fantasy adventure The Brothers Grimm (2005), which was a critically panned commercial failure; The Washington Post concluded, "Damon, constantly flashing his newscaster's teeth and flaunting a fake, 'Masterpiece Theatre' dialect, comes across like someone who got lost on the way to an audition for a high school production of 'The Pirates of Penzance.'" Later that year, he appeared as an energy analyst in Syriana. In 2006, Damon joined Robert De Niro in The Good Shepherd as a career CIA officer, and played an undercover mobster working for the Massachusetts State Police in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong police thriller Infernal Affairs. Assessing his work in the two films, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote that Damon "does what few stars with his kind of billing do: he disappears." The Departed was a success amongst critics and audiences alike.
Matt Damon had an uncredited cameo in Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth (2007) and another cameo in the 2008 Che Guevara biopic Che. He lent his voice to the English version of the animated film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which was released in the United States in August 2009. He also made a guest appearance in 2009 on the sixth season finale of Entourage as himself, where he tries to pressure Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) into donating to his charity OneXOne—a real foundation for which Damon is an ambassador—and gets increasingly irritated when Chase does not seem to comply.
In 2010, Matt Damon re-teamed with director Paul Greengrass, who directed him in the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, for the action thriller Green Zone, which flopped commercially and received ambivalent reception from critics.
In motion pictures that feature him either as a leading actor or as a supporting co-star, his films have grossed a total of U.S.$1.94 to U.S.$2.42 billion (based on counting his roles as strictly lead or including supporting roles, respectively) at the North American box office, placing him in the top forty grossing actors of all time.
Matt Damon has appeared as a guest star in an episode of Arthur, titled The Making of Arthur, as himself. During Season 5 of 30 Rock, he appeared as guest star in the role of Liz Lemon's boyfriend in the episodes "I Do I Do," "The Fabian Strategy," "Live Show," and "Double Edged Sword."
Matt Damon's 2010 projects included Clint Eastwood's Hereafter and the Coen Brothers' remake of the 1969 John Wayne-starring Western True Grit; the latter movie started filming in March 2010 and was released in December of that year.
In 2011, he starred in The Adjustment Bureau and We Bought a Zoo.
Matt Damon will next work with frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh on a project as the longtime Liberace love interest, Scott Thorsen, opposite Michael Douglas in an upcoming film centered on the pianist's life. He will also star in Elysium.