Sitting in a Los Angeles hotel room, Matt Damon looks like he's still in character.

His plaid shirt, blue jeans and boots are a familiar look from his new movie, "Promised Land."

In the film, Damon plays Steve Butler, a corporate salesman for a major national gas company. His career is going according to plan until he faces a small-town teacher who opposes the company tapping into the area's available resources.

Damon, 42, not only stars in the movie, he also co-wrote the screenplay with John Krasinski from NBC's "The Office."

"We really wanted to make a movie about America, where the country is now and where we've come from -- the old America and where we're headed," Damon says.

This undated publicity film image provided by Focus Features shows Matt Damon starring as Steve Butler in Gus Van Sant’s contemporary drama,
This undated publicity film image provided by Focus Features shows Matt Damon starring as Steve Butler in Gus Van Sant's contemporary drama, "Promised Land," a Focus Features release. (AP Photo/Focus Features, Scott Green) ( Scott Green )

"We talked about a bunch of ideas, but ultimately we settled on natural gas because the stakes are so high and it really is something that's dividing a lot of communities. And people feel really strongly about it on both sides, so it was really a great issue to use as a backdrop."

The controversy is centered around the process known as hydraulic fracturing -- also known as fracking -- through which natural gas is extracted from the ground.

Water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas. Opponents of fracking say the chemicals used in the process can contaminate water or surrounding land.

While some have been quick to call the film "anti-fracking," Damon denies that.


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"No. It's a pro-community movie, it's a pro-democracy movie. You know, it's about civic engagement and people taking responsibility for the decisions that they make," Damon says. "The energy industry -- nobody's seen it from there yet but we'll see what happens when they do. I know they won't like the message at the end of everybody having a voice."

The film's director, Gus Van Sant, says "Promised Land" is more about corporate America, which was a theme he enjoyed taking on.

While Damon says his personal view on fracking doesn't matter, Van Sant says he's not anti-fracking though he has reservations.

"Nobody really knows what can happen, what will happen. There's some really bad things that have happened," Van Sant says.

"In the case of upstate New York, one of the problems is there's a potential to destroy New York City's water, so New York City would actually have no water, which is pretty big. So if New York City doesn't have drinking water and they have to ship in the water just so they can find some natural gas, it's maybe not worth it."

Of course, the movie has its share of romance and humor, including a scene where Damon's character is dared to participate in a drinking game called "Absolute Madness," in which he has to go shot for shot with the bartender.

As it turns out, that came from Damon's real life.

He recalls going out for drinks during a press junket for 2004's "Ocean's Twelve" when the film's producer, Jerry Weintraub, began reminiscing about the times he hung out with Frank Sinatra and how the men in those days could really drink, unlike men today.

"He went on and on about it. And George (Clooney) said, 'That's absolutely untrue, I could drink you under the table.' And Jerry rose for the fly and he was like, 'Yeah, all right. Let's see right now.' And George said, 'Right now, shot for shot,' " Damon remembers.

"George had a giant bottle of water -- he'd set Jerry up. He gave Jerry vodka and gave himself and Brad (Pitt) water and they proceeded to take eight shots of water and Jerry proceeded to knock himself out."

Unlike some of his A-list friends, Damon has been able to keep his private life out of the public eye.

He doesn't have a Twitter account, saying his first reaction to things isn't necessarily what he'd want broadcast to the masses. And being married to a noncelebrity (Argentina-born Luciana Barroso) with four daughters ranging in age from 2 to 14, Damon says he's kind of gotten a pass from tabloids and paparazzi.

"I think ultimately what sells for those guys is scandal and sex and those kind of things," Damon says. "If you're a married guy raising his kids and you're not married to someone famous, in their world, you lose some of your sizzle, so they don't bother chasing you around. You know, if they chased me around, they'd just chase me home every night and there really isn't a story there unless I make one."