How do you connect to the local communities when you’re travelling?
I was in Zambia in 2006 on a trip that [U2 lead singer] Bono put together. He does these trips for people who want to study these issues of extreme poverty, and each day has a different learning focus. It was fascinating; it was like going back to college. It was really great.
And one of those days, the focus was water. I ended up having an interaction with a 14-year-old girl who I went on a water collection with. In talking to her – it’s a very rural village in Zambia – I said, “Are you going to live here when you grow up?” And the translator asked her and she smiled, and she said, “No, no, no. I’m going to move to the big city of Lusaka, and I’m going to be a nurse.”
I had this great connection with her, because I remember being 14 and me and Ben Affleck saying, “We’re going to move to New York, to the big city, and we’re going to be actors.” And I remembered that feeling, and I really connected with this girl.
Where did you travel to film for The Martian?
For the Mars backdrop we filmed at Wadi Rum in Jordan. I was in awe of that place. It was really, really special. One of the most spectacular and beautiful places I have ever seen, and like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else on Earth.
Would you ever consider commercial space travel yourself?
I’m glad there are those types of people already but I think it would be tough for me to do. I will let Space X and those guys get out there for maybe 20 years or so before I go on a flight.
I have done a lot of space travel in the last couple of years on screen and you have to be a certain type of person, like the pioneers were, who crossed Death Valley in a wagon. It takes a special type of person who wants to push the envelope, to find where the very edge is and go there, and that is how we evolve and that is why we are here on the [American] West Coast.
What’s your favourite destination?
I love it in India. I’ve been to Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai. I love meeting people in those communities and hearing their stories – it’s incredible.
What does luxury mean to you?
Eating all the local food, that’s luxury for me. When I’m in India, I eat nothing but Indian food – I love anything that’s curried, I love spice. I like it a bit hot.
Can you give us one interesting travel story?
When I was doing the film Syriana, they arranged for my wife, Lucy, and me to go up to watch the sunset over the Arabian Peninsula from the top of that seven-star Dubai hotel that’s shaped like a sail, the Burj Al Arab. So we go to the very top – 60 storeys or something – we’re given champagne, and we go, “Oh my God, this is great.” But as I started to walk toward the edge, my legs locked up. I was absolutely frozen. I completely jumped my neocortex and went straight to this primal, full lizard-brain fear state. Lucy was walking all around the edge, while I was about to collapse from fear. She thought it was hysterical.