Damon and Soderbergh, An Informative Pair

Matt Damon as 'The Informant!'

Dangerously Dim: Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is a quirky corporate executive turned whistle-blower who can't seem to do anything right. Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures

This interview was first broadcast September 16, 2009

The non-fiction book The Informant, written by investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald, follows a not-always-reliable whisteblower working for the agribusiness giant ADM. The whistleblower — a mid-level executive named Mark Whitacre — alerts the FBI to a price-fixing conspiracy while constantly bungling their case.

Matt Damon plays Whitacre in the film adaption of The Informant! The movie, which comes out on DVD February 23, has a lighter tone than the book, which director Steven Soderbergh says was a conscious choice.

"When the book reached us in 2001, I'd recently finished Erin Brokovich, and Michael Mann's The Insider had come out in 1999," Soderbergh tells Terry Gross. "I think our sense was we needed to do something different ... that just taking the standard approach wasn't really going to be exciting or fresh."

Damon says the decision to shift the tone also affected the way he approached the role.

"Once Steven made the decision to shift the tone, it became unnecessary to meet Mark [Whitaker] - and kind of inappropriate to meet him," Damon tells Terry Gross. "You know, I had originally thought I'd go down and see him. He was in prison at the time, and I was going to go visit him. But it just became — it wasn't about doing a rigorous character study at that point. It was about, you know, trying to make something that was more like a — Steven called it more like a subjective fever dream."

Joel McHale and Scott Bakula portray FBI agents in 'The Informant!' i i

Wait... What?: FBI agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale) are forced to deal with Mark's lies and paranoia. Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures
Joel McHale and Scott Bakula portray FBI agents in 'The Informant!'

Wait... What?: FBI agents Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Herndon (Joel McHale) are forced to deal with Mark's lies and paranoia.

Claudette Barius/Warner Bros. Pictures

To transform himself into Whitacre, Damon physically changed the way he looked. He gained weight, wore prosthetic implants in his cheeks and nose, and wore a wig and moustache.

"When your body changes and you feel clothes hitting certain parts of your body they don't normally hit and — it just affects everything. It's like a kind of a way to immerse yourself into that other guy," Damon says.

In addition to discussing The Informant, Soderbergh also reveals how his success at an extremely young age — he won the Cannes Film Festival's top award with his movie Sex, Lies, and Videotape, — affects the way he view Hollywood.

"I think the danger is always that you get frozen in the moment of your success because you're afraid that it's going to go away," Soderbergh says. "And I looked at it as just an opportunity, that the sort of crazy luck that we had was going to present me with the opportunity to explore a little bit, and I tried to take advantage of it."

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