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Matt Damon says his first big movie role could have killed him

Matt Damon lost a dramatic amount of weight in a short space of time for one of his early movie roles, Courage Under Fire, and it was dangerous for his health.

Matt Damon

Matt Damon was part of an ensemble of actors including Brendan Fraser and Chris O’Donnell, as well as his Good Will Hunting co-stars Ben Affleck and Cole Hauser, in School Ties in 1992. But his big break came in 1996’s Courage Under Fire, in which he played a Gulf War medic with PTSD, alongside Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan.


Damon’s character in the war movie is traumatized by his experiences and is now addicted to drugs including heroin, meaning that he has lost a drastic amount of weight. Damon lost around 40 pounds (three stone) in three months for the role, without the supervision of a doctor or nutritionist.

In 2011, he told The Sun (via The Irish Independent); “I got jobs at 18 on films like Mystic Pizza, with just one line. It got me nowhere. By the time I got a part in Courage Under Fire, a desperation was setting in. I had to be thin and went on an unsupervised diet which could have killed me. A doctor told me later I could have shrunk my heart permanently.”

“I am 5ft 11in and went down to 9st 9lb from my usual weight, between 12st 5lb and 12st 8lb. It didn’t do me any good.” While Damon’s weight loss was dangerous for his health, his commitment to the role did end up paying off, in terms of his career. It caught the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as the lead in The Rainmaker in 1997. That same year, Good Will Hunting came out – for which Damon won the screenwriting Oscar with his best Boston buddy, Ben Affleck. He worked with Steven Spielberg in 1998, in Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan led to something of a Hollywood niche for Damon, who would go onto to need rescuing in the likes of Syriana, Interstellar, and The Martian. Someone did the math and figured out that Hollywood had spent around $900 billion rescuing the actor.

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