Informant, The: Interview with Star Matt Damon

Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre in Soderbergh’s "The Informant," which Warner will release Sept 18, 2009 after world-premiere at the Toronto Film Fest.

"The Informant!" is a dark comedy about corporate espionage, multinational price fixing, wiretapping, embezzlement, FBI investigations and a high-level company whistleblower. What's so funny about that? In the hands of director Steven Soderbergh, pretty much everything.

The film follows the somewhat strange and unpredictable journey of Mark Whitacre from corporate golden boy to FBI informant in the years from 1992 to 1996. "The more I learned about the story, the more I responded to the material," Soderbergh says. "But I knew there have been serious films done on similar subject matters by great filmmakers. I thought one way to do something distinctive was to play the irony of the situation. Everything fell into place once that decision was made.

Damon observes, "It's like peeling an onion. You start with a certain set of assumptions and then realize you can't assume anything as the situation becomes utterly ridiculous. It's a great story and a really incredible character."
In fact, as Damon remarks, Whitacre's narration is not only unreliable, it is also not necessarily related to the scene unfolding on the screen. "It's more of a stream of consciousness, a kind of digressive thinking," he says. "He might be in the middle of a conversation with someone when something triggers this inner monologue that can spin off in any direction: ties, polar bears, frequent flier miles…whatever."
About his Character
Damon describes his character: "He's a successful guy–a brilliant young executive on the rise at this huge company, which raises the question about why he does what he does. It could well be for altruistic purposes–maybe he really is conflicted about the illegal price fixing–but slowly you start to realize that something is a little 'off.' That's one of the things that made him such a fascinating character to play."
Gaining Weight

Damon, who did gain about 30 pounds to play Whitacre, notes, "His face is also rounder than mine so I had little things stuck in my gums to push my cheeks out. And I wore a fake mustache. Whitacre was also bald and wore a hairpiece, but the hairpiece was so good that no one knew he didn't have hair. It's actually a great metaphor for the character. It was right there in front of everybody and nobody ever figured it out."

Damon offers, "It is absolutely exhilarating for him to have to steer conversations and try to get people to say certain words and get them on tape. And he's very good at it. He has to be really clever and Mark loves being the smartest guy in the room."

Damon observes, "From the outside, it seems delusional to think that after bringing this company down, they are going to make you the president. But to his way of thinking, the ADM brass are the bad guys; they are doing something illegal. So why wouldn't they reward the guy who is cleaning house and restoring the reputation of this great company? What a great signal to shareholders to have this guy running the place. Whether or not that's a sound argument is another question."

The actors agree. "When you come out of hair and makeup in the morning, Steven is ready to shoot," states Damon, who counts "The Informant!" as his fifth film under Soderbergh's direction and is no stranger to his approach. "Everybody on the set knows that you had better come in absolutely prepared and ready to go. It's one of the things l love about working with him."

"Looking at where the house is, there's nothing out there but corn," Damon laughs. "I mean nothing but a two-lane highway and a lot of corn. And he had eight cars, including a Ferrari and a Porsche. Eight cars."
The Movie's Tone
Damon concludes, "It sets an interesting tone for a movie dealing with a subject you might not think would lend itself to comedy. But the story and the way it's told is so absurd that you can't help but shake your head and laugh."