In March 2020, just weeks into a nationwide shutdown as the coronavirus began wreaking havoc all over the country, Matt Damon and his co-stars from Contagion took to the internet with a series of PSAs for COVID-obsessed Americans.
At the time, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 startlingly accurate film about a fictional devastating pandemic found new popularity on streaming services. That prompted Damon (who played a man immune to the disease), Kate Winslet and company to collaborate with medical experts to encourage people to trust science and embrace social-distancing.
“You can actually sit on the couch or in a chair, like I’m doing, and watch TV and save a life at the same time,” said Damon.
Sixteen months later and the U.S. now has free and readily available vaccines for a disease that has killed more than 600,000 Americans — yet there remains a strong vaccine hesitancy among many Americans, particularly in more conservative states like Oklahoma, home to the Donald Trump-supporting “roughneck” Damon plays in his new dramatic thriller Stillwater. Only 56 percent of Americans over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, even as the more highly transmissible Delta variant threatens to create another deadly wave across the nation.
“There are a lot of reasons that people have, and I don’t want to belittle them,” Damon told us in an interview this week promoting Stillwater, in which his oil-rig man Bill Baker travels to France to aid his imprisoned daughter (watch above). “It’s tough for me, I have a couple friends who are immunocompromised and they can’t get the vaccine, so they have no choice but to rely on the rest of us to do our part to get to herd immunity. So I look at it that way.”
For Damon, it comes down to doing what’s best for the greater-good and trusting medicine and science over the rash of misinformation and irresponsible rhetoric spreading across social media.
“I wish at the beginning of this people came out and said, ‘Look, if we all do this, then we’ll protect each other better,’ rather than ‘Well, I’m not in this cohort so I don’t have to worry and it’s not going to hurt me that much.’ It’s just about looking at this as a ‘me’ thing or an ‘us’ thing.”
“But look, it’s a personal choice. That’s the beauty of America, it’s a free country. And none of us would have it any other way. But I fall heavily on the side of trusting science more than something you read on Facebook.”
Stillwater opens July 30.
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
Watch our 2020 interview with Contagion medical expert Dr. Tracey McNamara: