When the presenter of a Dublin breakfast programme learned Hollywood actor Matt Damon was in quarantine in the affluent suburb of Dalkey, he spent six weeks tirelessly campaigning for an interview.
It was never a serious request though, admitted Nathan O’Reilly.
So he and co-host Graham O’Toole were stunned when Damon’s assistant called this week to ask when he could go on air.
‘I’m about to throw up’
Mr O’Reilly told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme he and his co-host initially thought it was a prank.
“He said: ‘Guys, Matt has been listening to the show. He wants to come on.’
“I looked at Graham and said: ‘Are you pranking me?’ And then Graham thought I was pranking him.”
But when the A-listener did indeed call in to SPIN 1038 via video-link on Wednesday morning, Mr O’Reilly realised it was no prank, and told the actor: “I feel like I’m about to throw up.”
“I was just flinging words at Matt,” he said of his interviewing technique.
“I knew Matt Damon was in Dalkey, but I never expected we would get him on the show.”
He described the interview as “the classic tale of the tall man with the dream”.
Mr O’Reilly explained that he first heard Damon had flown into Dublin with his wife, Luciana Barrosa, and their children in early March to film Ridley Scott’s new film The Last Duel.
Almost immediately, production was shut down under Covid-19 restrictions and the actor and his family have been living in Formula 1 star Eddie Irvine’s house ever since.
‘Not going to happen’
Mr O’Reilly heard of members of the public who had spotted or met Damon and invited them on his show.
“I started getting people on the show who had met Matt Damon either jogging, in a park, or seeing him swim, but all the stories were not leading us any closer, they were just interesting tales,” he said.
“We did it for nearly six weeks and then I accepted defeat. I said: ‘It’s not going to happen.'”
When he did finally call in, Damon told the presenters he had heard the appeal while driving in Dublin a month ago.
“I was in the car with my kids and I heard you talking about all this stuff, and you guys gave the number to call in,” he said.
“And I was trying to memorise the number, and then I walked into the house and my wife started talking about something and I totally forgot your number.”
Since then, every time the Bourne Identity star had been listening to the station in the car he had listened out for the number.
Then his wife advised him to look SPIN 1038 up online.
“She’s like: ‘You’re such an idiot, just like look up their number, you don’t have to wait for them to say it!'”
He also told the radio hosts that U2 frontman Bono – who lives nearby – mentioned the appeal to him.
“He said to me last week: ‘You know there’s a radio station that’s looking for you.'”
“I was like: ‘I really gotta track those guys down, I gotta call into that show. It’s gone on too long.'”
Mr O’Reilly joked that he had previously been kicked out of a Dalkey residents’ Facebook group after sharing his appeal with the locals.
Sightings of the actor had been creating a stir in the area for weeks. Dublin mum Siobhan Berry spotted him after a family swim with her children and asked for a picture.
The photo of Damon holding bags from a well-known Irish supermarket chain was widely shared on social media.
She and her husband initially agreed not to share the photo publicly, but after hearing the interview, she changed her mind.
“You may have seen this photo doing the rounds of late,” she tweeted.
Damon confirmed to the SPIN 1038 presenters that the plastic bags he was carrying contained towels, not cans of beer, as some had suggested.
In the 15-minute interview, the Contagion star said his eldest daughter Alexia – who had remained in New York where she was attending college – contracted coronavirus at an early stage of the pandemic, but “got through it fine”.
“We’ve got the three younger ones and our oldest one, we’ll reunite with her at the end of the month… but everybody’s okay,” he said.
He also described the experience of being in lockdown in Dalkey as being “like a fairy tale”.
“I can see why all these [Dalkey residents], you know when we came in they were like well Bono lives over there and Enya lives over there…”
He said he felt guilty that his family, who had brought teachers with them to Ireland so their children could be educated during filming, were having such a stress-free experience of lockdown.
“Yes, you have to stay within two kilometres of your house, but in two kilometres of here, there’s trees and woods, there’s ocean… I can’t think of any place you’d rather be in a two kilometres radius. I thought it was incredible two months ago, but now it’s blooming… it’s ridiculous.”
He said that when “the world rights itself”, he will go back to filming.
“I have at least a few months more here. Who knows what the world is going to look like [at that stage].”