THR's Actor Roundtable: 6 Leading Men on Politics, Over-40 Actresses and the Dangers of Success

This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Matt Damon revealed why he doesn't want his daughters to become actresses. Jamie Foxx told a great story about accosting Denzel Washington outside a nightclub in his pre-fame days. And Richard Gere promised to hook Alan Arkin up with a visit to the Dalai Lama. Those were just a few of the surprising interactions at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actor Roundtable. Damon, 42 (Promised Land), Foxx, 44 (Django Unchained), Washington, 57 (Flight), Gere, 63 (Arbitrage), and Arkin, 78 (Argo), joined John Hawkes, 53 (The Sessions), for a freewheeling discussion Oct. 24 in a small room at La Descarga restaurant in Hollywood, where they talked about politics, money, making fried chicken for Nelson Mandela -- and their awards-worthy films.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What's the most shocking thing that has happened to you in Hollywood?

Alan Arkin: Gentle, loving kindness.

Richard Gere: What year was that? (Laughter.) I work with really kind people all the time. But it's not really stable people that get into the movie business. I like the challenge of it. I like seeing people under pressure and finding out what's inside. If everything's great, you don't learn anything.

Jamie Foxx: The thing that shocks me is how girls react to you making it big. I remember doing the comedy club at the Regency West in the hood -- I was straight from Texas. When I got there, it was the most beautiful women in the world, and I sat down before I went up, and they didn't know who I was. I said, "Hey, how you doing?" [He imitates their scornful look.] Then I go onstage and get a standing ovation and come back. "Why didn't you tell us?!" It was sort of like a -- what do you call it, a micro …

Matt Damon: microcosm …

Foxx: … microcosm of what the bigger picture is. Before I got my teeth closed up, my teeth were a little jagged, and this girl was just ragging on me about how, "Your teeth is all messed up, your teeth is all messed up!" Right?

Gere: You got real pretty teeth right now.

Foxx: And then I did this movie, and girls were like, "Oh my God, you're gorgeous!" When you're hot, everything is crazy, but when you're not …

THR: How do you know if the women are genuine?

Foxx: You don't. I mean, in Hollywood, when you don't have anything and you're on the outside, and things aren't going the right way, that's when you find your most genuine people, in tougher times.

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THR: Denzel, what shocked you most about fame?

Denzel Washington: Nothing, 'cause it wasn't like it was an overnight thing. I'm just a working actor. I'm still not famous, as far as I'm concerned. The fame part, other than getting a reservation at a restaurant … I'm just a regular guy.

THR: How do you handle it when people come up to you in a restaurant ?

Washington: I just slap the shit out of them. (Laughter.)

Damon: Fame was sobering because I had a couple movies that didn't work, and basically my phone just stopped ringing. But I went to London. I did a Kenny Lonergan play called This Is Our Youth. And then The Bourne Identity opened, and everybody was my friend again.

Washington: You did one of those first movies with me, right? Courage Under Fire.

Damon: That was a huge break for me.

THR: But you decided not to do the latest Bourne.

Damon: That was because they didn't have a script! I was always open to doing it with Paul Greengrass, the director, and they never had a script. A lot of times what happens in these big-budget movies is they'll get a release date, and they'll book everybody's time, and they'll just send you off to a location with no script -- and that's your problem, and you got to figure it out. I didn't want to put myself in that situation again because that takes years off your life. I'd rather have a script and go through it in a sensible way, and even if we throw the script out, there is half a script.

Washington: He needs a script?

Gere: What kind of an actor is that? (Laughter.)

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