Video: Damon and De Niro on spies, politics

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updated 12/19/2006 12:17:48 PM ET 2006-12-19T17:17:48

Robert De Niro and Matt Damon joined Chris Matthews on the "Hardball" College Tour at George Mason University in Virginia to talk about their new CIA thriller, “The Good Shepherd.” They also discussed spies, patriotism and politics.

CIA veteran Milton Bearden, who was a station chief with the CIA in Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan and Germany also joined in the discussion.

This is a transcript of their conversation.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL" HOST: You know, some newspaper reporters just said these college tours are part pep rally, part show business and part political program.

But thank you.  I know you don’t do a whole lot of this, Bob.  It’s so great to have you on.  And Matt, it’s so great.  When I think of the CIA, I think of you.  I think of you in “Meet the Parents” ...

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR:  Yeah.

MATTHEWS:  Where a kid goes to meet his girlfriend’s parents and he meets a CIA agent as his father in law to be and you take him into the back basement somewhere - what is it about you and the CIA?  You seem to want to be one of these torturer scary guys.

DE NIRO:  That’s the character that we came up with when we were talking - Jay Roach, the director and Ben Stiller and I one day where I think I had the idea of, why not be a CIA guy and then the lie detector thing was another thing that I brought up.

MATTHEWS:  You’ve spent, I heard, a number of years trying to get this movie done.  That’s good.  What is it about the beginning of the CIA and its whole history that fascinates you? 

DE NIRO:  I mean, I’m a child of the Cold War, East versus West, KGB, CIA. All that stuff is intriguing and fascinating stuff, and it’s scary, too and it’s a great subject.  It’s intriguing and it’s a great subject.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the CIA?

DE NIRO:  I think they are hardworking people, very smart.

MATTHEWS:  They’re right near here, by the way.

DE NIRO:  Yeah, that’s what I heard. And dedicated and trying to do the right thing.

MATTHEWS:  Like?

DE NIRO:  Well, we have other things.  We all know what they are and I hope that they’ll be fixed.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the CIA - are they too ruthless, are they too incompetent?  What would you say there problem is right now? 

Are they too good or not good enough?

DE NIRO:  I don’t know.  Maybe you would ask (inaudible), so I’m not sure what they feel about (inaudible).  I’m not sure.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about it as an actor.

DE NIRO:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  You act.

DE NIRO:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  You’re the best maybe.  Isn’t he the best?  I think he’s the best.

And he - agents and anybody here whose parents are CIA agents. 

There are probably a few spooking around here that we don’t know about. 

Nobody ever tells you their parents are in the CIA.  You have to lead a life that is 100 percent, 24-7 acting.  At the risk of your life.

DE NIRO:  Yeah.  I would say yeah, in certain circumstances I would say for real.

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to do that?

DE NIRO:  I don’t think so.

MATTHEWS:  You’d rather risk the critics.

DE NIRO:  Right.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you Matt about your character in this movie.  I just saw it last night.  I just got a DVD of it.  You are so much the guy who joins the CIA during the Second World War.  You want to serve your country but who is this guy who wants to be a CIA agent?  Who are you?

MATT DAMON, ACTOR:  Well, the character is like I think a lot of the people of that kind. They were kind of picked out of Skull and Bones at Yale...

MATTHEWS:  Elite guys.  Like you.

DAMON:  Yeah.

MATTHEWS:  Harvard, Yale.  You’re pretty much an elite guy.

DAMON:  Well, yeah.  Every once in a while we have to slum and play someone from Yale.  But - I had to say it.

MATTHEWS:  What’s his motivation?  Why does he want to go risk his life? You are married to Angelina Jolie and you’ve got no time for her which is kind of hard to believe.

DAMON:  That was actually the biggest problem I had with the script.

MATTHEWS:  Well, to use an old expression, you knocked her up, you had to get married and that was your reason to get married.  You didn’t really want to marry Angelina Jolie.

DAMON:  Right.

In the movie, I am already - there is another girl that I am courting and really care about and so the Angelina thing kind of happens out of nowhere.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that was interesting casting to take Angelina Jolie as sort of a Stepford wife, unhappy wife in the ‘50s?

It’s amazing. 

DE NIRO:  Well, we talked about it for - got (ph) the other couple of times.  She really liked it, she had some feeling about it and I knew that she would do something special with it and I had seen her in other things that I liked that I thought would be great to have and I was very happy.  I was more than happy.  She does a great job.

MATTHEWS:  Is that like when they have Charlize Theron who plays like the ugly killer and Grace Kelly plays the wife of the drunk in country?

DE NIRO:  Well, maybe.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s take a look at the movie.  Everybody here has seen it, by the way.  Let’s take a look at it:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OF "THE GOOD SHEPHERD")

DE NIRO:  ... to create a new foreign intelligence service.  One that would do in peace time what OSS did during the war.  Philip Pound will be heading the agency.  Richard Angel will be his exec and you will be taking Division C, special operations and report only to the director.  It would be doing it overseas, obviously.  Subversive operations, intelligence gathering and analysis and I would be interested in your thoughts about this, particularly your area of expertise, counterintelligence.

DAMON:  I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP OF "THE GOOD SHEPHERD")

MATTHEWS:  I’ll be glad to help.  How many times in the movie are you like then when the girl says would you like to stay and have sex with her another night and not be a spy and you go, "If you’d like me to."

So much of your character keeps saying, if you want me to I’ll take my clothes off - What is this guy about, this CIA spy?

DAMON:  I never thought of it that way.  No, I think he very much believes in what he is doing and he - the family life, that’s the sacrifice that he makes, that a lot of people make and when we met with family members of these people who were from the families of the CIA who were there from the beginning, they were very nice.  They shared some recollections and it was clear that it was a sacrifice made by the entire family.  They had not had a lot of time with their fathers who were off doing this and not telling them and - it’s hard to have intimacy in a family when you don’t know about the person and they’re not sharing it with you, they’re not telling you.

MATTHEWS:  That’s the personal piece and then there is the fact that you’re taking on - I think the movie is tough on the CIA.  I think it shows the patriotism of this guy, your character.  But it’s so tough on the institution.  They are ruthless.  They knock off - the nice people in the movie are getting killed all the time and they’re doing it like God.

Your guy says okay, we’ve got to do it, we’ve got to kill this person, we’ve got to kill that person.  It’s like a mob movie.

DE NIRO:  I mean, there is a certain - the secrecy in a mob movie like “The Godfather.”  There is of course an obvious similarity.  I was concerned that I didn’t want to make it like a shoot ‘em up type thing. 

People get killed just to - I wanted to give it some kind of credibility at least.  There is one shooting but the other killings which are - the other two are (inaudible).

MATTHEWS:  But they are so personal.  You really get to know these people and like them.  The old professor, the Nazi spy.  You really like these people and you just eliminate them right in front of you.

DE NIRO:  Well, you know, life goes on.

MATTHEWS:  No it doesn’t.  What do you think is - you think you’re going to get a hit from the CIA on this?

DE NIRO:  I don’t think so.  As an actor you always look at the motivation of the character from their point of view why they’re doing it.  They don’t think of themselves as doing anything other than what they believe they should do and the same as a director.  I do that with all the characters.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they’re going to just take this hit, the CIA, and just live with it?

DE NIRO:  I think in fact it might be good.  People are opening up the CIA and I think it helps for relations with the people of America.  It’s not a bad thing.

MATTHEWS:  Is it a recruiting poster for the CIA?

DE NIRO:  Well, you never know.

MATTHEWS:  Which one is it?

DAMON:  Is it bad or is it a recruiting poster?

MATTHEWS:  I’m here to provoke interesting answers.  I don’t have an answer.  No, I think the movie is a great movie, but it’s tough.  It’s HARDBALL.  And that’s a good thing.

You’re great.  You’re talking much more than I thought you would.

DE NIRO:  Well, it’s easy to talk to you and everybody here in the student center.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we need a CIA?

DE NIRO:  I think ultimately we do, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Okay. We’re very near the CIA here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OF "THE GOOD SHEPHERD")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Margaret tells us that you’re going in the CIA.

DAMON:  My wife has a vivid imagination.  I’m a trade advisor.  Civil servant.

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS:  How dare you.

DAMON:  You are never to tell anybody what I do.

JOLIE:  How dare you.

DAMON:  You are never to tell anyone what it is that I do ...

JOLIE:  Those people are my friends.  I don’t have a lot of friends.

DAMON:  Never.  Do you understand me?  Never.

JOLIE:  What you do?  I don’t know what you do.  You leave at 5:00, you’re home at 10:00 seven days a week.  You don’t say a damned word to me.  I live with a ghost.  I don’t know what you do.

(END VIDEO CLIP "THE GOOD SHEPHERD")

MATTHEWS:  That scene with Matt, his wife getting ticked off with him because she dropped his cover.  Is that a scene that you’re familiar with in life?

MILTON BEARDEN, FORMER CIA STATION CHIEF:  I’ve answered this question before.  I usually say you really need to contact my ex-wife on that.

MATTHEWS:  Matt, your character has to walk around his whole life.  His kid doesn’t know what he does.  His wife is not supposed to know.  And all of his relatives think he is some dorky international business guy.  Meanwhile, he is fighting the reds every hour of his life.

DE NIRO:  Dry goods.

MATTHEWS:  What’s that like?

DAMON:  I imagine it’s pretty difficult.  I mean, from the people we talk to, it’s a big sacrifice these people make.

Video: CIA officer: ‘Everybody loves blowback’

MATTHEWS:  And when these guys come home at night, they don’t get any medals.  The country doesn’t give them a cheering section.  There is no pom-pom girls waving for them.  They risk their lives every day and they get what for it?  What was the motivation for you all those years?

BEARDEN:  I came in in 1964.  The CIA.  When it was a fairly easy thing to move in - Kennedy had put out a call to America’s young people —to campuses all over the place and we went off to do a thing that I think we understood and that was probably enough rather than to come home and get a pat on the back or a medal.  Take this character Anya, the pampered and beautiful daughter of a senator and she ends up married to some guy who is in dry goods at the trade department.  What is that?  Sure it’s tough.

MATTHEWS:  And then we got the CIA today that did interesting things like create the mujahideen in Afghanistan which became - the fighters of the Soviet occupation and then became al Qaeda.

BEARDEN:  No, come on.  Americans learn their history from the football coach around here?  What is that?

MATTHEWS:  You want to get...

BEARDEN:  The Soviets created...

MATTHEWS:  You want to get like this?

BEARDEN:  You want to get like this?

MATTHEWS:  You are like this now.  Let’s go.

BEARDEN:  OK.  Let’s go.  The Soviets, probably by invading the country, killing a million and a half people, wounding a million and a half, driving 5 million into exile might have had a little something to do with creating the people who rose up against them.  Jimmy Carter...

MATTHEWS:  But didn’t you give them Stingers and everything and arm them?

BEARDEN:  You bet we did.

MATTHEWS:  Didn’t we bring in the Arabs from all over the Arab world into Afghanistan to help build them up?

BEARDEN:  No, absolutely - let me make you a promise right here, right now.  You go find one single Arab that we brought in from the Arab world, trained and recruited and I will sit down on the show with you and about five minutes we’ll be asking him to get out of here.  Didn’t happen. That story for the media has always been just too good to check.

MATTHEWS:  So the CIA did not play a role in throwing the Soviets out of Afghanistan?

BEARDEN:  You bet we did and it was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS:  Help me.

BEARDEN:  Help you what?

MATTHEWS:  What did we do?

BEARDEN:  We armed the Afghan people to resist the Soviet invasion.  End of story.

MATTHEWS:  And where did the people who came out of it who became the al Qaeda crowd come out of it?

BEARDEN:  The al Qaeda crowd came to a failed state which the United States of America, in all honesty, created by just walking away.

MATTHEWS:  So?

BEARDEN:  You go ahead in February 1989, you drive the Soviets out of Pakistan.  Great up to that point.  Within a few months the Austrians and the Hungarians had opened the border and the whole world was collapsing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

We walked away from Afghanistan and let the state fail.

MATTHEWS:  And then al Qaeda came up and...

BEARDEN:  And then al Qaeda came up.

MATTHEWS:  The Taliban, they grew out of it.

BEARDEN:  Well, the chaos came and the Taliban came to put some order to it.

MATTHEWS:  I’m looking for—what’s called blowback, right?

BEARDEN:  Everybody likes blowback.

MATTHEWS:  I love blowback.  It’s what happens with the unintended consequences of covert operations.

BEARDEN:  No, it’s what happens with the unintended consequences of every major policy thing you do.  Arming Stalin to fight the acute evil, the Third Reich, was a very good idea but it kept them going for another 30 years.



Students at George Mason University ask Robert De Niro, Matt Damon and Milton Bearden questions at the "Hardball" college tour:

QUESTIONWhat advice do you have for students who would like to work for the CIA, if we want to be recruited?

DE NIRO:  Well, you should ask Milt.

BEARDEN:  I think it would be a terrific career for you, and I think it’s a place where young women have every chance to succeed, as much as a young man does.

I think you have to understand that there were probably four distinct CIAs in the last 60 years.  We’re showing you one here.  A couple more.  I spent 30 years through pieces of them.

There will always be a need for very bright young people like yourself to go do things for their country.

QUESTION FROM STUDENT:  Is it difficult going from dramatic movies to comedic and directing?  And which one do you prefer?

DE NIRO:  I don’t mind the comedies.  They’re fun to do.  I enjoy them.  I can kind of do crazy things and maybe they’ll work, maybe they won't, but at least I enjoy them.

QUESTION FROM STUDENTWhile preparing to shoot some very intense scenes in the movie, I was curious to know if the torture scene, in particular, made you think about the methods being used currently in Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. has been holding detainees since 9/11, and if you feel the ends justify the means in getting what is supposedly best for the safety of the U.S. citizens and the rest of the people around the world?

MATTHEWS:  Waterboarding, is that what it was, Matt?  You were watching that movie?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, basically.

MATTHEWS:  They had a guy with a hood over him.  They kept pouring water on him—I’d never seen this before—making it look like—feel like he’s drowning.  It was a horrible scene.

DE NIRO:  Yes.  Powerful, powerful.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what we do?

BEARDEN:  We all know we’re doing it now.  I think it’s an issue.  I think—I think there’s sort of metaphorical stuff that you need to work with in a movie, but...

MATTHEWS:  How often does that fail and just kills the guy?

BEARDEN:  I think that it kills and destroys the people who are doing it about as it does the people that it’s being done to.  I think that America needs to say, “How much do I want to give up of what this country has been—become over the next—last 230 years, peace at any price or make me safe.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BEARDEN:  How much do I want to give up?  And that’s the question that you’re going to have to fathom.

MATTHEWS:  Robert De Niro, when you directed that scene, that horrible scene in that movie, maybe the toughest scene to watch, where you see a bunch of guys dressed up like that, you know, dressed up, well-educated, elitist, Ivy Leaguers.  And they’re just watching this Russian guy, who looks to me authentically trying to defect, treating him like dirt, like an animal, torturing him, intellectually and physically.  What was that about?

DE NIRO:  Well, I thought that this would get the point across.  It was very powerful and we had done some research.  Part of it was from Abu Ghraib, obviously.  I’d seen those images.  And the other part was just what we thought would make the point at that point in that scene.  That was it.

MATTHEWS:  What did you feel, doing that?

DAMON:  Watching it or...

MATTHEWS:  Doing it.  You’re an actor.  You’re playing this guy who’s just taking it.  He’s watching another guy, another professional, being tortured like that.  He was obviously trying to tell the truth. 

And yet, you didn’t want the truth.

DAMON:  From the perspective of the character, though,  everything that I do makes sense to me, which is why I think it was a well written movie.  I understand why I’m doing that in that situation.  I believe what’s at stake, if I don’t understand exactly what this person’s intentions are, is worth the price of doing that, to my character.  Not this—I mean, to my character.

MATTHEWS:  Ends justifies the means?

DAMON:  No.  To him in that situation, his behavior is justified. 

Everything the character does in the movie is justified, to him.

MATTHEWS:  We’ll come back and talk about that.  That is fascinating.

Milton Bearden, thank you very much.  We fight with you, and you won.  Thank you, anyway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OF "GOOD SHEPHERD")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what about you, Mr. Wilson?  What do you do?

DAMON:  Are you in school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don’t say very much, do you?

DAMON:  When there’s something worth saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, I think (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP OF "GOOD SHEPHERD")

MATTHEWS:  Let’s take another question.

QUESTION FROM STUDENT:  My question can be answered by either Mr. De Niro or Mr. Damon.  What was the exact purpose for Joe Pesci’s part in the movie? Can you elaborate more on his part?

DE NIRO:  Well, that scene I’ve always loved, and could you not have that scene?  Yes.  I wanted that scene because I loved the scene and to get Joe in it was—I couldn’t imagine anybody else doing it, and the scene itself and what goes on between Matt and Joe’s—their respective characters, where he says “and what do you people have” after he says I have this, the Italians have this, the Jews have this, blah, blah, blah, he says, “and so what do you have?”  And then he says, “the United States of America.  The rest of you are just visiting.” 

I mean, that’s the essence of the movie in a certain way.

MATTHEWS:  Did you not like the N-word in there?  Is that what you were mad about or what?

STUDENT:  No.  I just was a little confused.

MATTHEWS:  No, I’m serious, because that was a tough scene.  That guy was not exactly politically correct, that guy Joe Pesci played.  He was playing “The Godfather” actually, right?  He was playing “The Godfather.”

I don’t want to put thoughts in your mind.  I was just trying to stir things up with you, that’s all.  You know, what’s it like acting with this guy, or his direction?

DAMON:  What’s it like?  That was the main reason for me to do it was the chance to work that closely with him on a movie that he was that passionate about.  It’s basically the best safety net in history as an actor is having him watch over your performance.

MATTHEWS:  You’ve done this now twice.  You’re taking on the CIA. 

You took on the political establishment with “Wag the Dog.”  You basically said the political establishment was all a bunch of fraud, charlatans and they start war to cover up for some president messing around with a kid, right?  And now you’re taking on the CIA.  You’re pretty ballsy.

DE NIRO:  No, I mean, I didn’t direct “Wag the Dog.”

MATTHEWS:  No, Levinson did, but you were behind it though, weren’t you?

DE NIRO:  Well, Jane Rosenthal and myself and Barry Levinson kicked it off and started it, yes.



MATTHEWS:
  So you basically said a president of the United States, someone like Clinton, would start a war because he had an affair—or whatever you want to call the little thing—with his intern and it turns out that we—right after the movie comes out, not only do we have a president with a messing around with his intern problem, but she’s wearing a damn beret just like in the movie.  How did you know to put a beret on Monica Lewinsky before Bill Clinton ever met her.  How did you know that?

DE NIRO:  That’s—yes, you know, that’s David Mamet.  That’s why he’s a great playwright.

MATTHEWS:  He’s a prophet.

DE NIRO:  He has great writing.  He’s a prophet too.

MATTHEWS:  What did you think when you saw that not only did you get it right, not that Bill Clinton started a war, but he was accused of doing that thing, you know, in Sudan or somewhere about blowing up the truck.

DAMON:  The aspirin factory.

MATTHEWS: The aspirin factory, but that you actually predicted a presidential embarrassment that led to a—like it or not an impeachment is what happened, and you had it so prophetic?

DE NIRO:  Listen, that was Barry Levinson, David Mamet, thinking and doing an as-if and somehow it just did get.

MATTHEWS:  But you played this incredible Gonzo political consultant who could do anything, who could turn reality into unreality, and the other way around, who could make things seem like something is going on in the world when it’s not.

DAMON:  Yes.  And that seems to have come to passage, right?

MATTHEWS:  How so?

DAMON:  Well, I mean, look at the war we’re in right now.  You know, you could certainly argue that that was a PR battle.  Yes, what do you think?  I mean really, what you know?

MATTHEWS:  Does this audience agree with him?

DAMON:  There’s no other reason to rush that fast to war unless you know, you don’t have it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the war was fought because the region—was it about WMD?  Was it about Mideast politics?  Was it about ideology?

DAMON:  It kept changing when their excuses would change.  They’d go, wait, actually they don’t have any of that stuff.  They’d go, oh, well then it’s actually about democracy.  Well democracy is not going to work.  We’re just going to settle for—as long as it’s secure.  I mean, it just keeps changing.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think guys like Cheney—I love to pronounce his name correctly, by the way.  Do you think guys like—it’s like a Dickensian name, Cheney.  Do you think he knew he was saying stuff that wouldn’t turn out to be true, or was he just mad dogged to fight the war?

DAMON:  I’d like to see him under oath.

MATTHEWS:  I would, too.  I’d like to see him with you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think if you waterboarded Cheney, like in the movie, that you’d get a different truth out of him?

DAMON:  Well, there’s two answers to that question.  One is he doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who has any real personal courage.  When it was his turn to go, he didn’t go.  He deferred six times.

MATTHEWS:  He said he had other priorities.

DAMON:  Yes, he had other priorities.  And he doesn’t seem to have other priorities about sending other kids there and other peoples kids.

(APPLAUSE)

The second part to the answer is that I believe that if you waterboard anybody, they’ll tell you anything and that torture is completely impractical, on top of being dishonorable.  It’s completely impractical because if you torture a normal person, if you torture anybody, they’re going to tell you whatever you want them to tell you.  So if you’re getting information that you’re going to then use and you get it by torturing them...

MATTHEWS:  ... Why has man at his worst throughout history used it then if it doesn’t work?  Why has it always been part of—going to the Middle Ages, back to ancient times?  People were so cruel to each other, they get what they want out of them.  Why do they do it if it doesn’t work?

DAMON:  I don’t know.  I don’t do it.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OF "THE GOOD SHEPHERD")

JOE PESCI, ACTOR:  These are the guys that scare me.  You’re the people that make big wars.

DAMON:  No, we make sure the wars are small ones, Mr. Palmi.

PESCI:  Let me ask you something.  We Italians, we’ve got our families and we’ve got the church.  The Irish and the homeland, we use their tradition.  What about you people, what do you have?

DAMON:  The United States of America.  The rest of you are just visiting.

(END VIDEO CLIP OF "THE GOOD SHEPHERD")

QUESTION FROM STUDENT:  My question is for Mr. De Niro.  If your character, General William Casey, were alive today, what do you think he would say about the current state of the CIA?

DE NIRO:  Well it’s based on Donovan, not Casey, but it’s a good question.  I think he would not be happy based on what he said, because I feel he’s like the conscience of the piece and of the story. 

So he would—he’s probably—if he had anything to do with it, he maybe would have changed it or I’d like to think of him being—changing it or correcting the things before they happened, but that’s all easy to say, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he’s the real bad guy you guys are fighting in that war, even though the movie is tough and somewhat cynical in a way because he talks about motivation and maybe about how people were manipulated in their motivation.  There really was a Nazi threat to the world.  I mean, they killed all the Jews, the threatened the world, 50 million people died in that war.  There really was a Cold War, especially under Stalin.  He really did want to go for Europe and the world maybe.  It’s a real fight and you have to win it, right?

DAMON:  Right.  Absolutely.  And I think that argument or that issue—that issue in that scene is what I say.  He says he wants oversight, and I say how can you have oversight of a covert agency?  And that is—it’s going back to what...

MATTHEWS:  How do we answer that question?

DAMON:  It is the essential question of the day though?  What of your liberties are you willing to trade for your security?  How scared are you?  How real is the threat?  What do you know, as you say, those were real wars.  There are real wars—there are people who want to do great harm to American civilians in American cities.  That—you know, we live in lower Manhattan.  You guys are right next to D.C.

I mean, this is real and so this is a question we need to be asking ourselves, but it needs to be something that we all—to me, what bothers me the most about the state we’re in right now is I don’t feel that there’s a shared consciousness and a shared sense of sacrifice, and we have these young men and women who are fighting a war and our president tells us to go shopping.  And I think that more can be asked of us and we need to be participating more, for I think that makes for a more robust democracy.

MATTHEWS:  But didn’t the country really respond pretty strong—and the world—at Abu Ghraib? Our country really didn’t take an interest, right?

DAMON:  Well, of course, absolutely.  Yes, and Rumsfeld, if you ask me and a lot of people, everyone thought he should have stepped down then after that. 

MATTHEWS:  You think that knowing what you know, that think that went up the chain of command, the whole idea of how they treated prisoners?

DAMON:  Yes, yes.  Absolutely, yes.

MATTHEWS:  You think that, Robert?

DE NIRO:  Yes, I think so.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go to the next question please.


QUESTION FROM STUDENT:I was wondering if you ran into any classified barriers when you were developing your character and also working on the film?

DAMON:  What type of barriers?

MATTHEWS:  Top secret stuff you couldn’t use.

DAMON:  Classified—actually, oh, there’s a mountain of research material for this movie because it’s a pretty well-documented time. there are a lot of biographies that have been written about people who were there at the beginning of the CIA, so there’s actually a lot of information.  I’d actually taken a class in college about this, and had read some of these books and so I didn’t—I didn’t brush up against anything that hadn’t been declassified.  I don’t know if you did?

DE NIRO:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And we really did overthrow the government in Guatemala, we really did overthrow the government in Iran.  We did all that, right?

DE NIRO:  Yes.

DAMON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Next question, please?

QUESTION FROM STUDENT: My question is for you, Mr. De Niro.  Do you ever plan to do any future work with Al Pacino?

(APPLAUSE)

DE NIRO:  Yeah, if we find something.  Yes, absolutely. Got to find something.

MATTHEWS:  Take that home with you, that answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP OF "GOOD SHEPHERD")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There is no war.

ROBERT DE NIRO:  Of course there’s a war—I’m watching it on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And who might you be, when it’s all said and done.

DE NIRO:  My name is Conrad Reeve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who do you work for?

DE NIRO:  Nobody whose name you want me to say, Mr. Young, I promise you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It’s all well and good, but when the ‘fit hits the shan,’ somebody is going to have to stay after school.  Who do you suppose that might be?

DE NIRO:  I don’t know what you’re talking about?

(END VIDEO CLIP OF "GOOD SHEPHERD")

MATTHEWS:  Well that was Doctor Nix and the Green Machine. 

QUESTION FROM STUDENT: I was just wondering, would either of you go to war right now?  Not right now, I guess, but would you go to war if you were us?

DE NIRO:  Well that’s such a complex question.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  If you were drafted?

DE NIRO:  Well, I don’t know, that’s another thing about the draft and so on, if it ever would come up again.  I mean, I was for going to Iraq originally and then I saw, I realized that when we went in we didn’t know how to deal with it once we were there.  We just thought they’d all cheer us and we’d be out and then they’d want Democracy.  We’re dealing with—we were just talking about before—the thousands of years old cultures that have all their in-fighting, whatever.  I mean, we can’t come in unless we have a real plan or strategy and I never thought that.

DAMON:  There is this great book that just came out about that called “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”  That’s definitely a book worth reading, just about that.  We kind of blundered in there with the best intentions, but nevertheless without a plan.  So, but in terms of your question, I agree with Bob that it’s a complex question.  It would depend on certain situations.  I don’t think that it’s fair, as I said before that it seems that we have a fighting class in our country that’s comprised of people who have to go for either financial reasons or you know, I don’t think that that is fair.  And if you’re going to send people to war, if we all get together and decide we need to go to war, then that needs to be shared by everybody, you know.  And if the president has daughters who are of age, then maybe they should go to.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION FROM STUDENT:My question is for both Mr. De Niro and Mr. Damon—it kind of piggybacks that last question.  I’m speaking for the population of aspiring filmmakers and actors here at the school.  What is your role as prominent celebrities and as artists in being proactive in the issues at stake? What is your role as an actor or a filmmaker?  What can you do right now?  What should you be doing?  What should your fellow actors and filmmakers be doing?

DAMON:  Making movies about issues that are interesting to you.

(APPLAUSE)

DE NIRO:  I agree.  I mean, "The Good Shepherd” is an example of that, and not that you don’t get involved in other issues directly, obviously, and—yes.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let’s break with that tradition right now.  Where do you guys stand on ‘08?  Who should be the next president?

DE NIRO:  (LAUGHS)

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Give me the one, two, three.  Who would you most like to see as the next president? And number two and number three, something like that.  You don’t have to nail it down, go for win, place, show or something. Who do you want?

DAMON:  Barack Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

DAMON:  But, I would also say that I do some work with a group here in D.C. called Data.  They’re part of the parent organization of the One campaign who prioritize Africa and issues of extreme poverty. 

And whoever’s in there, Republican or Democrat, I hope they take up that issue.  And I will say that I disagree with George Bush about a lot of things, but so far, his emergency plan for AIDS relief, is an outstanding...

MATTHEWS:  In Africa.

DAMON:  In Africa. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the money getting through?

DAMON:  The money—not only is the money getting through, but I’ve been there and I’ve seen—I have met people who are alive because of that money.  It is the only place you can actually look at our tax dollars and equate it with lives saved.  It’s a fantastic program, along with the global fund, and the president should be applauded for it.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. De Niro, you have one?

DENIRO:  Well, I think of two people: Hillary Clinton and Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you’ve read his slogan, haven’t you?

DE NIRO:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Don’t tell mama I’m for Obama.

DE NIRO:  (LAUGHS)  Somewhere in there...

MATTHEWS:  Are you somewhere between them?  Would you like to see that ticket maybe?  Or is that too far out?

DE NIRO:  Possibly.  No, I don’t think it’s far out.

MATTHEWS:  Are we ready for an African-American president?  That’s a fair question.

DE NIRO:  I think we are.

CROWD:  (APPLAUSE)

DE NIRO:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Would you campaign for Obama?  Would you go out and work for him?

DAMON:  Yes,  I would support him strongly, but, again, I mean, a lot of the work that we’re doing at Data requires a bipartisan...

MATTHEWS:  I love the work you’re doing in Africa.  It’s great.  I think you’re so right.  Thank you.  And you’re really nice to Bush on that.

DAMON:  He deserves it.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. De Niro, it’s an honor.

DENIRO:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  It’s a great honor to be here.

Thank you very much, Matt.

The movie’s called “The Good Shepherd”.  It’s everything about the CIA, a very personal struggle of a guy who gives his life and really his soul fighting for his country but ends up doing things he never would have done on his own.

And a special thanks to Dr. Alan Merten, president of George Mason University. Good night from HARDBALL and the College Tour.

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