No movie star in recent memory has received more heat for his political views - indeed, the very audacity of having opinions on a range of subjects and the smarts to express them persuasively - than Matt Damon.
George Clooney, Sean Penn, Viggo Mortensen and Susan Sarandon all have a long history of left-wing activism and have been targets of conservative politicians and media.
However, none has experienced the intensity of the vilification endured by Damon, culminating in the breathtakingly sustained satirical assault launched by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in Team America: World Police (2004), a bombardment so vicious you would have thought he was a Third World dictator and not an actor (indeed the mention of his name triggered outbreaks of schoolboy sniggering).
But Damon survived the weapons of mass disrespect to become a major box-office star, one of the few Hollywood actors (along with Oceans 11 buddies Clooney and Brad Pitt) able to draw grown-ups to the multiplexes, which many now consider a noisy nightmare more akin to a school playground than a place for escape and entertainment.
Whether he is starring in movies with a sociopolitical relevance such as Syriana, the Bourne series, The Informant!, Invictus, Contagion or the recent fracking drama Promised Land (which he also co-wrote and co-produced) or breezier diversions such as the Oceans pictures, True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau and We Bought a Zoo, his choices are marked by an intelligence rare in an industry characterised by stupidity and excess. For many, Damon is a trusted guide to cinematic quality.
His latest film, sci-fi thriller Elysium, is very much in keeping with Damon's philosophy of smart, progressive entertainment.
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, who rocketed to fame with his sensational, Oscar-nominated first feature District 9, Elysium is set in the near future when the world is divided between the haves and the have-nots - between those who live above the clouds in an orbiting idyll of Kubrick-ian beauty and calm and those who toil on ruined, overcrowded planet Earth.
When a factory worker on Earth named Max (a shaven, tattooed Damon) contracts cancer in an industrial accident he's forced to strike a deal with people smugglers to get him to Elysium, where all diseases can be eradicated by slipping the patient into a glass crib and pressing a button.
While Elysium tapers off into a standard sci-fi action flick the opening is sensational and deeply disturbing, especially for Australian viewers, with Jodie Foster's imperious, cold-blooded defence secretary ordering her forces to shoot down a ship carrying refugees before they set foot on the hi-tech paradise (apparently Papua New Guinea is not an available alternative in 2154).
Damon admits he hasn't been following the Australian situation but says that illegal immigration is a major issue in the United States, with the American-Mexican border one of the flashpoints of the international emigre crisis.
He is also believes Blomkamp alludes to the issues without forcing them down our throats, despite what he considers is a misreading by many commentators in the US, who see the film's ending as hopelessly utopian.
"Where the film goes and how it ends has been misunderstood by some of the journalists back home. They've said 'That's not a solution. It's so stupid and simplistic and naive that you could just open up Elysium. Elysium is just going to get overrun like planet Earth'," argues the 42-year-old actor who leapt up the Hollywood food chain with Good Will Hunting, which he wrote with co-star and close friend Ben Affleck.
"But that's what Neill (Blomkamp) wants you to think. He wants you to walk out of the cinema scratching your head and thinking 'This isn't a solution at all. What are we going to do?' Neill didn't want to make a message movie. He wanted to make one with a heart and soul that speaks to the world we're all living in."
While Elysium is hardly a call to arms it has been described by the industry bible Variety as advancing "one of the more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory, beating the drum loudly not just for universal health care but for open borders, unconditional amnesty and the abolition of class distinctions as well".
"Is it tough being such a high-profile leftie in Hollywood," I ask Damon over the phone from Sydney earlier this week as part of the global push for Elysium and to ensure it doesn't join the depressingly long list of recent big-budget Hollywood flops.
"It's not just hard in Hollywood. It's anywhere in America, where the discourse has become so vitriolic that if you plant your flag anywhere on the spectrum you're going to hear about it, particularly in the blogosphere," he says.
"The second you say something it's out there and gets an immediate reaction, both positive and negative. Ultimately, I don't worry about that stuff. If you listen to it you would go crazy."
Indeed, Damon is such a big target that when he put his children into a private school in Los Angeles - he has three children with Argentinian Luciana Bozan Barroso and one stepdaughter - he was attacked for hypocrisy as he has long been a supporter of public schools (a tweet from Jeb Bush provoked the brouhaha).
"I deliberately chose a private school because of the ruinous policies put in place by the Republicans. I chose a private school that most closely resembled the public schools I attended when I was growing up. It was a big deal in my family. It made for long, long discussions and a lot of hand-wringing because we're all public- school kids."
Damon even hit the headlines when he expressed disappointment with the presidency of Barack Obama. Damon, however, was a little less critical of Obama when we spoke, perhaps aware that his words can be taken up by the conservative cause.
"It's not over yet and I'm a perennial optimist," Damon says. "He's dealing with a historically intransigent opposition so I do remain hopeful even as I am unsettled by a number of issues, including a continuation of Bush's education policies and the inability to hold Wall Street to account for its greed and recklessness."
Thankfully, the thoughtfulness the Harvard-educated Damon brings to politics is matched by his approach to movie making, which is why he has never made the kind of blockbusters that bring the massive rewards and global exposure enjoyed by the likes of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr.
"There's no careful plan to my career," Damon says. "I just choose movies that I want to see. I've stopped seeing the big, dumb blockbusters because I don't go to those movies any more. I'm not the core audience for those kind of movies.
"My idea of a great blockbuster is Inception. It's smart, it's original, it's not a superhero movie. It's not based on anybody else's ideas. It's why I was attracted to Elysium."
Damon was a huge fan of the blistering realism and purposeful rather than splashy use of special effects of Blomkamp's stunning debut District 9.
"The first time I sat down with Neill he pulled out this graphic novel with all these astonishing visuals: the vision of this paradise in the sky, of Los Angeles in the future and its multi-ethnic masses struggling to survive, the exoskeleton that Max wears to get into Elysium. It was just stuff I hadn't seen before in a movie."
Damon admits that movies such as Elysium, despite its $100 million-plus budget, don't bring the big rewards of the franchise flicks, nor do the smaller movies in which he has built his reputation for quality. However, he believes that with integrity comes a longer, richer career.
"If you take a big pay cheque and make a really mediocre movie you can really pay a price for that. Audiences remember and hold it against you. If you choose good films your career will last."
Elysium opens today.