TCA Press Tour: Matt Damon’s History report

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Jason Bourne is getting historical. Matt Damon, star of the ‘The Bourne Identity’ and other action films, dropped by the TV press tour in Pasadena on Wednesday to promote his longtime passion project. And there weren’t any spy chases or high-tech gizmos in sight.

Damon is an executive producer of ‘The People Speak,’ an unusual History documentary that features Damon, Marisa Tomei and other celebrities performing selections from diaries, speeches and other primary sources related to American history.

The show is adapted from Howard Zinn’s controversial ‘A People’s History of the United States,’ which narrated the story of Americans’ struggle for social justice through the eyes of ordinary people. The book has sold an estimated 2 million copies.

Despite that success, Damon and his partners struggled for a decade to get the project produced for the small screen.


‘From the moment we had any influence in this town, we’ve been trying to get this project off the ground,’ Damon, who grew up near Zinn in Boston, told reporters. It demonstrates how everyday citizens have changed the course of history.’

Fox was initially interested. Later, HBO proposed a series of dramatized films based on the book. Screenwriter John Sayles was recruited to write a script, Damon said. But HBO eventually ‘ran out of gas for us,’ the star added.

On History, the show will focus on dramatic readings of archival material by veteran performers such as Damon (who also kicked in financial backing for the project) and Tomei.

‘This was just most sensible way to do it,’ Damon said. ‘It’s using actual words.’

In addition to readings by actors, the film also features musical performances by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen as well as some artists not previously known as socially conscious troubadours (Pink? Lupe Fiasco?).

Damon suggested that viewers have a greater appetite for history these days, given the intense interest in current politics.

‘It is the job of the citizenry,’ the star said, ‘to be engaged.’

-- Scott Collins