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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Finding his true voice

Matt Damon  (Associated Press)
Matt Damon (Associated Press)
Rick Bentley McClatchy Newspapers

This is a huge weekend for Matt Damon.

He would have been happy with his starring role in the Clint Eastwood-directed “Invictus.”

But “The People Speak,” a television project he has been working on for years, is also launching tonight on the History Channel (8 p.m., cable channel 37 in Spokane, 34 in Coeur d’Alene).

It features dramatic and musical performances of letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans who helped forge the nation. Boston-born Damon reads The Declaration of Independence.

Both projects appealed to Damon because they deal with the triumphs of ordinary people.

“I didn’t hesitate when I heard I would get to be in a film directed by Clint Eastwood and work with Morgan Freeman,” he says. “And, I am very proud of the television program because of what it has to say.”

“Invictus” has Damon playing Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby team when Nelson Mandela (played by Freeman) was elected president in 1994. Mandela turns to the team to help reunite the deeply divided country.

Damon went through a long preparation of learning a South African accent and developing his upper body strength so he would look like a world-class rugby player. He also met with Pienaar.

“I went to his house to meet him and when he came to the door I just did this,” the 5-foot-10 Damon says as he tilts his head back to mimic looking up to the 6-foot-3 Pienaar.

“The first thing I said to him was, ‘I look bigger on film.’ ”

Damon’s been playing bigger in movies since the 1998 film “Mystic Pizza.” Since then, he’s appeared in “The Bourne Identity” trilogy plus “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

He’s also active in TV, from the Emmy-nominated “Project Greenlight” to “The People Speak.”

Freeman is part of that project, too, along with Don Cheadle, Kerry Washington, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder.

Damon spent almost 10 years trying to adapt Dr. Howard Zinn’s best-selling book “A People’s History of the United States” to television.

“It’s very hard to give history, to talk about history, in a two-hour movie,” Damon says. “This way it’s just using actual letters, and everything that’s being read has quotations around it.

“So it’s something that somebody throughout history actually said, usually a regular person, who stood up and changed the course of history.”

The birthday bunch

Actor-comedian Dick Van Dyke is 84. Actor Christopher Plummer is 80. Singer John Davidson is 68. Singer Ted Nugent is 61. Actress Wendie Malick is 59. Actor Steve Buscemi is 52. Actor-comedian Jamie Foxx is 42. TV personality Debbie Matenopoulos is 35. Singer Taylor Swift is 20.

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