Matt Damon enters the Coconut Grove recording studio with a smile of obvious relief, notwithstanding the fact that in moments he will have to pronounce words like Kangerdlugssuaq. (You know, the glacier in Greenland.) Narrating a PBS show about the environment, no matter how tongue-torturous, is an easier gig than the one he just left, debating the moral implications of Santa Claus mythology with his 10-year-old daughter.
''We don't allow lying under any circumstances,'' Damon explains ruefully, 'and we've always taught her that. But now she's found out the real story on Santa Claus. `So you were lying!' she says. 'But it's like a great cultural lie,' we tell her. No. 'It's everyone,' we tell her. No. 'It's a fun lie.' No. . . . The argument is just not going well.''
Public policy and Santa Claus are not necessarily intertwined in most American households. But for Damon, a fiercely liberal activist who was one of Barack Obama's first and loudest Hollywood supporters (he compared Sarah Palin's vice presidential candidacy to ''a really bad Disney movie'' and suggested President Bush's twin daughters be packed off to Iraq), politics colors nearly everything.
''What we liked about Matt is that he's Harvard educated, so he's a very smart guy,'' says Hal Weiner, who with his wife Marilyn produces Journey to the Planet Earth, the PBS series Damon has narrated for the past eight years and was working on last week. ``But he's also a little political.''
Damon's intensely political take on life and art was on full view in the Cineart Group studio last week as he taped an episode of Journey to the Planet Earth for telecast on March 18. No chit-chat about cars or makeup or agents, and the only sexual discussion concerned the rampant promiscuity of the slutty fish lurking in the reefs off Belize. (Less weird than it sounds; the show was about the health of oceans.)
Instead, the small talk -- if that's the right phrase -- ranged from which New York Times columnist is the worst (conservative William Kristol, according to Damon: ''He's an idiot -- he wrote that we should be grateful to George Bush because he won the Iraq war. We! Won! The! War!'') to the proper place of torture in American foreign policy. ''Look, the best line about torture I've heard came from [retired CIA officer turned war-on-terrorism critic] Milt Beardon,'' Damon says. Whoops -- to find out what it was, you're gonna have to read my full story in Sunday''s Miami Herald.