Matt Damon is an unlikely body role model. Which is to say, he’s as well known for fuzzy, family-friendly fare as he is for action-heavy adventures. For every Jason Bourne there’s a We Bought a Zoo. For every The Great Wall there’s a The Martian.

It’s a quality that has allowed Damon, 50, to carve out a career as an American everyman. The nice guy with a sassy how-do-you-like-them-apples streak. Thank god Tom Hanks got through Covid last year, but at least had a Matt Damon waiting in the wings.

Which doesn’t mean Damon is afraid to put the work in when a mean transformation is required. After all, this is the guy that helped popularise brutal hand-to-hand combat in the Bourne films, essentially teaching everyone from James Bond to John Wick how to fight. Not to mention his role as hulking South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar in 2009’s Invictus.

While not necessarily Damon’s most physical role, starring in Neil Blomkamp’s 2013 sci-fi dystopia, Elysium, entailed his most physically impressive transformation. To play labourer-turned-hero Max da Costa, who fights his way out of the slums after a radiation-based accident, Damon bulked up and dropped body fat until he looked like he could walk through walls. Even without the robot exoskeleton.

The man behind the transformation is Jason Walsh, founder of Rise Nation, a global chain of innovative training spaces. Walsh grew up with a passion for outdoor exploration and calisthenics. His love of fitness initially took him into coaching before he left for California to set himself up as a PT. After training Jessica Biel, his reputation began to grow, and he eventually got the call to meet with Damon in 2012.

“Matt was living in Malibu,” Walsh recalls. “His agent has been a client of mine for 15 years and recommended me. Matt had signed on for Elysium and had to be in incredible shape – the movie had a lot of demands physically.”

But, after years of intense physical transformations Damon, now in his 40s, was feeling the effects of constant wear and tear and was reluctant to put his wellbeing in the hands of yet another PT.

“Matt was reluctant to work with anybody,” Walsh says. “I went out to talk to him. He said: ‘Listen, I’m injured. My back is jacked, my shoulder is jacked. And it all came from trainers. I’ve worked with a dozen different trainers and every one of them has hurt me.’”

Walsh – who believes in focusing on biomechanics issues specific to each client – asked Damon to give him a week. They tentatively got to work, running through stretches and low-impact calisthenics movements. Seven days later, Walsh surprised Damon by throwing an American football at him. Naturally, Damon caught it without thinking. And without pain.

“I asked him ‘How’s that shoulder?’” Walsh recalls. “He had that Matt Damon smile on his face and he said ‘You son of a bitch.’”

Trust earned, the work could begin.



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