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Exclusive: Tony Gilroy Pulls The Curtain Back On The Secretive 'The Bourne Legacy'

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist July 20, 2012 at 12:08PM

Tony Gilroy has a mini-armada at his disposal. In June of 2012, in an unassuming block of offices in midtown Manhattan, the writer/director is sequestered with a team of editors orchestrating the next installment of Universal’s lucrative ‘Bourne’ franchise, which grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide theatrically and a surfeit more from DVD and omnipresent cable appearances. But Gilroy -- who was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in 2007 for "Michael Clayton," and is the author of all three original ‘Bourne’ scripts -- isn’t simply mounting a reboot or a reimagining, or conducting a linear sequel. Instead, the filmmaker is attempting to pull off a feat rarely attempted with Hollywood tentpoles: a parallel circumnavigation of the familiar ‘Bourne’ narrative told through the eyes of another agent.
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The Bourne Legacy, Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz

Gilroy says the 6 month shoot for “The Bourne Legacy” -- which hit locations as far and wide as Seoul, Korea, Manila, Jarkarta, Abu Dhabi, Northern Canada and several parts of the U.S. including crowded New York City -- was “physically taxing.” While it’s not impossible to do otherwise, the writer/director says for him to write convincing action he has to be physically present. For ‘Identity,’ he had already lived in Paris and knew its streets well. For ‘Supremacy,’ he went to Berlin and Moscow and on ‘Ultimatum’ it was Tangier, sitting on rooftops, mapping out how rooftop chases would go. "The more you know the world, the more know the physics of a geography."

The kinetic, shaky-cam aesthetic of the 'Bourne' films is an anathema to Gilroy. It’s similar to the chatty, pop-culture hit-men that arrived in every film post “Pulp Fiction”; he's seen the style done to death. He calls the disorientated sequences in "Full Metal Jacket" masterful and says the same about scenes in "Black Hawk Down," because they’re purposefully made to create a timbre of fear, but he also gives the series plaudits for inventing that visual language. "I think there are much greater offenders [than ‘Bourne],' " he says, "At least they had real gravity.” That pragmatic mandate has stuck. He says his team refers to themselves as “Mission: Plausible,” not “Mission: Impossible.” Similarly, while “The Bourne Legacy” isn’t a wholesale reinvention, the filmmaker thinks the former dynamic is played and has tried to expand the film's overall grammar. “Everybody's doing ‘Bourne.’ That’s an old party,” Gilroy says of the way the Bourne’s disorientation aesthetic and overall tone has been co-opted by every action movie under the sun. “You gotta know when It's time to leave. You don't want to be the last people out the door so let's go first.”

"Absent of global warming, lack of water and basic elements, the development of Nation States outside of our control is I think the greatest issue of our time.”

“I believe in corporate evolution,” Howard Tully, as played by Tom Wilkinson says ruthlessly in Gilroy’s sophomore effort, “Duplicity.” It may seem like a throwaway line in relation to the writer/director’s other films, but it’s a type of narrative raison d’etre for Gilroy. Not one that he consents to morally, but one he subscribes to narratively. Look at “Michael Clayton” and “Duplicity,” and you’ll see odious corporate influence at the nexus of his stories and this theme also drives “The Bourne Legacy.” After all, behind every corrupt politician willing to create a not-on-the-books Black Ops organization generally lies a corporate entity willing to profit from it.

At the heart of it all, pulling a lot of the unseen strings in the series so far is Edward Norton’s CIA architect agent Ret. Col. Ric Byer. “His character is just a complete polymath with a military background,” Gilroy said. “He's managed to prove a great power utilizing military muscle and bodies and resources with corporate money, corporate research and the intelligence communities need for everything.” Norton and Gilroy fit hand in glove and the filmmaker doubts this is the last time they’ll work together.

“It's so rich and real,” Gilroy said of the shady intersection where the military and corporate influence overlap, intersect and inbreed. It’s endless narrative fodder for him, and those illicit and corrupt operations not only helped him launch the ‘Bourne’ series, but sustain its ideas indefinitely. “It's vampiric,” he said. “It really is. Absent of global warming, lack of water and basic elements, the development of Nation States outside of our control is I think the greatest issue of our time.”

“There's a very large corporate elements [at play in the film], pharmaceutical corporate elements, and all of this is very, very real,” Gilroy says suggesting all one needs to do for inspiration is look at their headlines in their newspaper.

This article is related to: The Bourne Legacy, Tony Gilroy, Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Features, Interviews, Interview


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