After the success of the Ocean’s franchise, Matt Damon and director Steven Soderbergh have teamed up again for The Informant! Based on the non-fiction thriller by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, it tells the story of Mark Whitacre, a rising star at Fortune 500 company ADM, who blew the whistle on ADM’s illegal price-fixing practices. But while Whitacre secretly taped colleagues’ business meetings for the FBI, he was also busy defrauding his employers of US$9million (Dhs33million). A screenplay that was seven years in the writing, The Informant! is a darkly humorous look at the unravelling of Whitacre.
Why the wait before you could make this movie?
Matt: Once Steven made the decision to take it in a more comic direction, for all of us it became less important to do rigorous character studies of the actual people, and it was more about having fun with this terrific script. Scott [Z. Burns] wrote it seven years ago and we’d refer back to it once or twice a year. Steven and I worked together three times in those intervening years and we’d always say, ‘Yeah, I read it again last night. It’s still really good.’
Matt, you gained 30 pounds for this role. What was the motivation for transforming yourself like that?
I sent Steven an email when we were finally getting ready to do it after all this time, and I said, ‘What do you want this guy to look like physically?’ And he just wrote back, ‘Doughy.’ So that was it. Those were my marching orders. I didn’t question it; I just started eating. [Laughs]. There’s actually a prosthetic piece of my nose as well. Steven’s idea was he didn’t want any hard edges to the character. He wanted him kind of undefined. You can’t quite pin him down. So it’s kind of a metaphor for who he is as a character in the movie.
How did that extra weight make you feel?
It felt fantastic, actually. I’ve never had that much fun making a movie. I just ate whatever I wanted and thought about nothing but this screenplay and the other actors. And it was really nice to not think about anything else, compared to a Jason Bourne movie where I go home after a day of work and I’ve got to go to the gym. I prefer to eat. [Laughs].
Early in your career you lost 30 pounds for a role.
Yeah, nowhere near as fun as putting it on. [Laughs]. I talked to Robert De Niro [about putting the weight on], because he had done it really famously for Raging Bull – he put on 60 pounds. I asked him about it and he said, ‘Well, the first 15 pounds are really fun.’ And then he goes, ‘You have to go to work after that.’ And it was true, almost, because I found the 30 pounds to be really fun. And then kind of towards the end, I was like, ‘I should get rid of this weight.’ But I wasn’t really that excited about getting rid of it.
What makes the combination of you and Steven work so well?
Steven: It’s no different than when you meet people who are like-minded and they become friends. When you meet someone in a work situation who you feel has a very similar ethos, you gravitate toward them and you want to repeat that experience because it makes the work so much more fun.
There are many reversals in this film, where you think one thing is true, then the truth does a 180.
Steven: Well, that’s the impression you get reading the book. And I think that’s what drew me to [Whitacre’s] character. I’m becoming more and more convinced that a good movie is rooted more in character than subject. There were so many times in the book where this shoe would drop and you’d just gasp. And you would have to reframe everything that you thought you knew up to that point. That’s a really good situation to have to build a movie around.
Steven, you shot what comes across as a period film. The music almost puts it in the ’60s, but you keep reminding us that it’s the ’90s. How come you played around with that?
Oh, I’m always pretending that I’m in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s sort of a Jedi mind trick to pretend that I’m making movies in that golden period of American film. Some people have mentioned that visually, in terms of what’s actually in the frame, it doesn’t look like a ‘90s film. And I said, ‘You have to remember we’re talking about the Midwest in the early ‘90s.’ Things take a little longer to reach them. Things don’t change as quickly as they do in the urban centres of the country. What I thought was great about the costumes were the ties. When I watch the movie it’s all I can look at. It’s just an endless supply of these crazy ties.
Matt: That was from the book. I mean, he was known for wearing these really very colourful ties.
Matt, have you ever had to do some major bluffing yourself?
We work in the film business, so we’re on the high wire the whole time. I think there’s an element that probably everybody has – definitely I have, and I know Steven does – that feels like somebody’s going to show up one day and tell you, ‘Okay, put that down. Get out of here. What are you doing here? Who let you in here? You know you’re not supposed to be in here making movies. Go get a job.’ So, yeah, I definitely feel like the other shoe might drop at any time, and I’ve actually always kind of felt that way.
There’s still a movement going on to have Mark Whitacre pardoned. People are saying he is a hero for whistle-blowing. What’s your opinion on that?
Steven: As I get older I realise that two opposing ideas can actually both be true. I think he was a hero. I mean, to my knowledge, it’s the biggest case of its kind that has ever been prosecuted in the US. And there was a joke going around the FBI, a play on the acronym of the Gross National Product. They call it the Whitacre National Product, because his case ended up resulting in such huge fines that it was a gigantic source of income for the government. But he also embezzled money. So it’s one of those weird things. Though I had no interest in judging him. I just wanted to lay it out there and let people have their own reaction to it, because I didn’t think he was worthy of condemnation. But it’s also obvious that he had a complicated relationship with the truth.
The Informant! is in UAE cinemas now.