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Humble Damon cheers Oscar hopeful, friend Ben Affleck

By Mike Collett-White

BERLIN (Reuters) - It seems that wherever Matt Damon goes to promote his movies he is asked about something else altogether - his old friend and collaborator Ben Affleck, whose Iranian hostage drama "Argo" is in the running for a Best Picture Oscar.

Damon shared a screenplay Academy Award with Affleck for the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting" and has gone on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, with blockbusters including the "Ocean's Eleven" and "Bourne Identity" series.

He was in Berlin on Friday for the festival premiere of "Promised Land", a tale set in rural America that tackles the controversial gas extraction technique known as "fracking".

At a news conference following the press screening, the 42-year-old did not have to wait long for a question about Affleck, and, once again, he lavished praise on an actor who he said had endured his share of tough times.

"His life is so interesting that I kind of never get tired of talking (about it)," Damon joked.

Of the critical acclaim and string of awards for "Argo," he said: "I'm really happy for him. He certainly deserves it."

"He's worked so hard and he's taken it on the chin for years from the press and just from everywhere. He was really in a rough spot 10 years ago," Damon told reporters, referring to the ridicule Affleck suffered during his romance with Jennifer Lopez and their 2003 movie flop "Gigli."

The actor recalled Affleck once telling him he was "in the worst place you could be career-wise: I sell magazines and I don't sell movie tickets'."

Damon singled out some "fantastic" performances by Affleck in recent years: "Hollywoodland," "The Town" and "Argo" itself, the last two of which he also directed.

He would not, however, be drawn on the chances of "Argo" landing the big prize at the Oscars on February 24.

PROMISED LAND "BOMBS"

Less successful has been "Promised Land," which Damon readily admitted had "bombed" in the United States. It opens across Europe in February, March and April.

According to Boxofficemojo.com, the movie earned just $7.6 million at the North American box office.

"I'm leery of becoming one of those people who lives so much in a bubble that I just think everything I do is great," he said. "I try to be mindful of that and listen.

"I've had a lot of movies that ... haven't been well received by an audience and I'm realistic about that, but with this one I just really love it and a big part of my heart is in it and I don't understand what I'm hearing back."

He said it was possible that "Promised Land," also starring Frances McDormand and directed by "Good Will Hunting" filmmaker Gus Van Sant, would be appreciated more in the future.

"I've had movies bomb worse than this one and then actually make their money back."

"Promised Land" is one of 19 movies in the main competition at the Berlin film festival running from Thursday to February 17.

Also screening on Friday were Polish entry "In the Name of" and Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise: Hope," the final part in a trilogy looking at the lives of a single family, in this case an overweight teenager sent to a diet camp.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Jill Serjeant and Doina Chiacu)

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