August 02, 2004 12:00 PM

At the July 15 premiere of The Bourne Supremacy in Los Angeles, Matt Damon arrived to the usual hoots and hollers from the crowd. But as he was speaking to reporters and smiling for the photographers, the fans suddenly erupted in a thunderous roar—easily dwarfing Damon’s earlier reception—as they spotted another VIP on the red carpet. With a huge grin, Damon turned to a colleague and quipped, “I wonder who that is—George or Ben?”

Good question—both his pals George Clooney and Ben Affleck were in attendance—but Damon would probably be happy to share the applause with someone else, even at his own premiere. Damon, 33, prefers to quietly do his work—he pocketed a reported $15 million to return as amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne in the sequel to 2002’s The Bourne Identity—and avoid public spectacles like red carpets or, say, engagements to Jennifer Lopez. “He’s not spoiled,” says Bourne Supremacy producer Paul Sandberg. “He’s just a good guy, and everyone likes him.”

Now, however, Damon is back in the spotlight after spending more than a year in Europe, where he worked on The Bourne Supremacy as well as this winter’s Ocean’s Twelve and next year’s The Brothers Grimm. While Damon relished his anonymity abroad, walking the streets of Europe largely unnoticed, being away from home had its downside. “Berlin in the wintertime is a really dark city,” says Damon of Supremacy‘s German shoot. “It was overcast all the time. It’s the right tone for the movie, but in terms of your state of mind, it wears you down not seeing the sun for months at a time.”

In contrast, making Ocean’s Twelve has been a sun-dappled delight. Damon spent the past three months reuniting with Clooney, Brad Pitt and the Ocean’s Eleven cast. Besides a jaunt to the south of France, where they took in the Monaco Grand Prix and went diving off a yacht, the stars made a weeklong visit to Clooney’s Lake Como villa in Italy. “He invited all of us to stay at his house, so it was a really fun week,” says Damon. Though curious onlookers gathered outside Clooney’s home (the mayor finally ordered townsfolk to stay away), “I was hanging out,” says Damon, “and reading books.”

Also on hand was his girlfriend, Miami Beach part-time bartender Luciana Barroso, whom a source says he met last year while filming Stuck on You. The Argentine-born Barroso, a 28-year-old mom with a 6-year-old daughter, was at Damon’s side throughout the European shoot of Ocean’s Twelve. But their big relationship test came over the July 4 weekend, when Damon brought Barroso home to meet his family and friends in Boston. Introducing her to pals at a local restaurant, he kissed her “every five seconds,” says friend Jamal Prince. “He’s very serious about her. In the past he kept the other ones secretive. This one he’s not hiding.” Like Damon, she also prefers privacy to premieres and paparazzi. “She’s not really interested in that stuff,” says Ocean’s Twelve producer Jerry Weintraub. “She’s interested in him.”

With Barroso at his side, Damon is planning another ambitious schedule, including two more films and a third season of Project Greenlight, his movie-making reality series with Affleck. He says he would “love” doing a third Bourne film but is content no matter what happens. “He knows he’s one of the blessed people,” says Weintraub. “He’s happy about life and enjoys every day that he gets up.”

Jason Lynch. Dana Meltzer, Rachel Biermann, Nick White and Tom Cunneff in L.A., Anne Driscoll in Boston, Kelly Carter in Lake Como, Praxilla Trabattoni in Rome and Linda Trischitta and Jon Warech in Miami

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