Matt Damon got his big break at age 18 when he was given a small role in 1988's Mystic Pizza, starring Julia Roberts, Annabeth Gish and Lili Taylor. Unlike many of today's actors, however, the Massachusetts native didn't grow up in show business -- a conscious decision on his mother's part.
"My mother [Nancy Carlsson-Paige] thought it was child abuse. She literally did," Damon, now 42, recalls in the August 2013 issue of Esquire. "She was a professor who specialized in early childhood development, and she thought putting a child onstage or in a commercial or in a movie was child abuse."
When he was shooting the upcoming movie Elysium, Damon decided to ask his costar Jodie Foster what it was like growing up in Hollywood. "I mean, she's basically been acting since she was born," he says of Foster, who famously played a preteen prostitute in 1976's Taxi Driver. "I figured, if anyone's going to know, it should be her, right? So I asked her. And she sort of smiled and said, 'It depends on the child.'"
To that end, Damon has made a conscious effort to shield his own children from the spotlight. (Damon has three daughters with wife of seven years Luciana Barroso: Isabella, 7, Gia, 4, and Stella, 2. He is also stepdad to Alexia, Barroso's daughter from a previous marriage.)
"If you can control the celebrity side of celebrity, then it's worth it," the actor says. "I look at [Brad Pitt] -- and I have for years -- and when I'm with him I see the intensity of that other side of it. I remember telling him that I walk my kids to school, and his face just fell. He was very kind, but he was like, 'You bastard.' Because he should be able to do that, too. And he can't."
Damon says he's been able to stay under the radar because he sees himself as a family man and not a movie star. "I fell in love with a civilian. Not an actress and not a famous actress at that. Because then the attention doesn't double -- it grows exponentially. Because then suddenly everybody wants to be in your bedroom," he tells Esquire. "But I don't really give them anything. If I'm not jumping up and down on a bar, or lighting something on fire, or cheating on my wife, there's not really any story to tell."
The Academy Award winner adds, "They can try to stake me out, but they're always going to get the same story -- middle-aged married guy with four kids. So as long as that narrative doesn't change too much, there's no appetite for it."