With the exception of the snazzy gray suit and the exquisite dark-haired damsel on his arm, Matt Damon doesn't look much like a movie star as he moves around a function room at the Hotel@MIT. Greeting guests at a fund-raiser for the Central Square Theatre, the guy is gracious and genuine. ''Helping out was a no-brainer," Damon told us. ''It's such a personal thing to have a theater in my neighborhood." (Conceived by the Underground Railway Theater and the Nora Theatre Company, the new 175-seat playhouse will open, with any luck, in 2006.) ''The Bourne Supremacy" star has been all over the world, but, to hear him talk Saturday night, he's still a Cambridge kid at heart. ''The foundation of everything I know about hard work and discipline was instilled in me by my [high school] acting teacher Gerry Speca," said Damon, a Rindge & Latin grad. ''To this day, it's his voice I hear when I have to do something particularly masochistic for a role." Like what, we wondered? Oh, getting down to a gaunt 139 pounds for ''Courage Under Fire" comes to mind. ''People look at that character and think he's haunted," mused Damon. ''But all I was thinking was 'I want a cheeseburger.' " In town for a few more weeks shooting ''The Departed," Damon said it's a treat to work with director Martin Scorsese. ''It's kind of the mecca for actors," he said. ''Marty is, as advertised, incredibly energetic." Next up is a film directed by Robert De Niro, then a Steven Soderbergh movie based on Kurt Eichenwald's book ''The Informant," and then another ''Bourne" pic. ''It's such a fleeting and insecure career that you're always conscious of the fact that it will go away," he said. Before that day comes, Damon listed a few filmmakers he'd like to work with, mentioning in particular Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Peter Weir, Alexander Payne, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Fernando Meirelles. About his gorgeous girlfriend Luciana Barroso, Damon had little to say. Goofing on l'affaire de Tom and Katie, the actor warned the audience, ''Don't ask me about my girlfriend because I'll start jumping on this chair."
Damon's costar Jack Nicholson took a break for lobster at Anthony's Pier 4 Saturday.
Return the penguin, no one gets hurt
Keep an eye out for a 3-foot-tall penguin that for years stood sentry outside the manse of photographer Elsa Dorfman and husband Harvey Silverglate. Much admired by neighborhood kids and the couple's famous friends, including poet Gail Mazur, filmmaker Errol Morris, and frequent houseguest Jonathan Richman, the bird has gone missing, and Cambridge cops are investigating. Sculpted by John Lundstrom, the penguin didn't just waddle away. How do we know? It weighs more than 350 pounds. ''At least whoever took it has taste," said Dorfman.
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They said it
'I've got to tell you something, he's one of the worst dates I've ever had.'
-George Clooney, showing up at a Hollywood event in his honor with actor Sam Rockwell