Exclusive: Matt Damon Talks True Grit

On the Coen brothers' horse opera

If its classy trailer and bold, brilliant artwork is anything to go by, the Coen brothers' return to the West, True Grit, will comfortably match Henry Hathaway's workmanlike, if Oscar-worthy, adaptation of Charles Portis' novel. And according to Matt Damon, the new Grit sticks more closely to the source material - which should keep the spotlight more closely on its teenage protagonist than ageing gunman Rooster Cogburn.

By his own admission, Damon's turn in True Grit, as Texas Ranger La Beouf, is "a supporting role", which gave the first-time Coen collaborator plenty of chance to cast a (semi) critical eye over the co-directors' remake/reimagining of Hathaway's 1969 Western. And, lo, it's dead good. "It's just a brilliant adaptation," enthuses Damon. "They change stuff to make a two-hour film out of it, but retain so much of the dialogue, and Charles Portis - who is still alive - has an ear for the way people talk. It's a really special script."

Portis also brought a comic touch to his tales of the old West. It's humour that Damon's ranger will channel amid all the Old Testament-style retribution as 14 year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists Cogburn's (Jeff Bridges) help to track down his father's killer.

As he explains to Empire, Damon found a surprising inspiration for his character: "We had all worked with Tommy Lee Jones, who is from near where my character is from, in Texas. And Tommy is a really smart guy - I could just sit and listen to him talk. So I played my character like Tommy Lee Jones. He likes to hold court like Tommy Lee, but La Beouf is a windbag - a total jackass..."

There's more news and pics from the Coens' return when the December issue of Empire rides into town on the, er, magazine pony express this Thursday.

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True Grit out in cinemas on January 14, 2011.