Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and the Chemistry Mystery

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, stars of the new romantic thriller "The Adjustment Bureau," discuss their fiery onscreen chemistry.

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PHOTOGRAPH: ANDREW SCHWARTZ / UNIVERSAL

Chemistry is a mysterious thing. And not chemistry as in the mixing of chemicals but as in the sparks that fly when boy meets girl. Onscreen romances live or die by the strength of their leads’ chemistry, but the answer to how something so crucial to the success of so many films comes about is at best vague. “I feel like chemistry is such a weird thing and you can’t really pin down what it is. You can’t wrap it up in a box and be like, ‘Hey! We have got it now!’” Emily Blunt glances at her co-star for confirmation, but Matt Damon is conspicuously examining his microphone, pretending not to have heard anything she’s just said. She continues on, feigning obliviousness to his indifference. “I think it really helps when you genuinely like the person,” she says as Damon finally perks up, “[but] he’s going to deny that right now.” “Now I can’t,” he responds in a mock whine. The two look at each other for a moment and then burst into laughter. Whatever determines if two people have chemistry, Damon and Blunt certainly have it.

We’re here to talk about “The Adjustment Bureau,” the new romantic thriller starring Damon and Blunt. He plays an up-and-coming politician, she an accomplished dancer, and it is (cinematic) love at first sight. Their relationship, however, isn’t in ‘the plan,’ and the shadowy agents of the Adjustment Bureau step in to keep them apart permanently. It’s an intriguing premise but one that crumbles to ashes if the romantic fire doesn’t burn hot enough. If a man is going to challenge the very Agents of Fate themselves, the audience better darn well believe he loves the girl. “The whole [film] hinges on that one thing,” Damon says in regards to the chemistry. “If you don’t care about these characters and want them to be together, there’s no movie.”


PHOTOGRAPH: ANDREW SCHWARTZ / UNIVERSAL

Someone has derailed the conversation (unsurprising given the pure star wattage Damon exudes) to talk about Damon’s fantastic turn as LaBoeuf the Texas Ranger in “True Grit.” “I had so much fun making that movie,” Damon begins before Blunt interrupts him: “Me too! I played the [13-year old] girl.” More laughter follows as the two continue to trade jabs. Indeed, it’s as if the entire interview is really an excuse to see who can one-up the other in front of the press rather than a chance to promote their film (one can imagine them placing bets before hand to see who gets the most guffaws). I’d say it was a carefully calculated PR stunt if it wasn’t so effortless. Asked what inspires him, Damon, without batting an eye, says, “[Emily’s] performance in ‘Black Swan.’” Blunt, of course, had nothing to do with the film that just snagged Natalie Portman an Oscar. “Very smart,” she responds snidely. One more point to Damon, it seems.

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Onscreen chemistry not only dictates the success of a film, it can also predict the success or failure of the couple’s real-world relationship. In 2003, real-life couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez starred in “Gigli,” widely considered one of the worst films of all time. Online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes simply stated: “Affleck and Lopez lack chemistry.” The film tanked and a year later Affleck and Lopez had broken up.

In 2006, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn starred together in “The Break-Up.” They displayed little chemistry onscreen. In December of that same year their relationship embraced the title of their film.

On the flipside, in 2005 “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie snagged this blurb from Rotten Tomatoes: “The chemistry generated by onscreen couple Pitt and Jolie is palpable enough to make this a thoroughly enjoyable summer action flick.” Unsurprisingly, Pitt was divorced and officially together with Jolie that same year.


PHOTOGRAPH: ANDREW SCHWARTZ / UNIVERSAL

What then does this say about the nature of Hollywood relationships? The case could be made that if you don’t have it in real life then you won’t be able to pretend it into existence. There are obviously exceptions to this, but many actors and actresses appear unable to act themselves out of a chemistry-less box. A good actor can convince you that he is someone completely different, but a good acting couple can rarely fool the audience into believing they love one another if there isn’t already an existing spark. “The Adjustment Bureau,” then, is fortunate to have Damon and Blunt. Their real world repartee naturally carries over to the screen, and it’s not hard for audiences to believe they share a love worth fighting for. “[Chemistry] is a strange integral thing that I think you either have it or you don’t and it’s truly as black and white as that,” says Blunt. “I feel like a lot of our chemistry came from – we have the same sense of humor, sensibility and the way we work and I think even the way I like to think about stuff is very similar to [Matt].”

Damon has been asked about what his favorite films are, but before he can answer Blunt bursts in with “’Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘The Young Victoria,’” both films she starred in. He grins. “Not so much either of those,” he says but he concedes the round to her. It’s unclear who’ll be collecting the bet after the interview (they’re currently tied by my count), but that isn’t really the point. Damon and Blunt are just here to have fun and they’ve already accomplished that goal ten times over.

“The Adjustment Bureau” opens everywhere on Friday, March 4th.

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