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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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Bourne Legacy, Ed Norton, skip crop

But composing ‘Bourne’ was never very simple. Not for a fourth iteration and not even during its nascent beginnings. At the risk of sounding redundant, “The Bourne Identity” was plagued by set problems, delays and setbacks, and the events of 9/11 further affected the approach studios and filmmakers made toward any geopolitically-flavored film. Director Doug Liman -- who brought the Robert Ludlum-penned books to Universal in the first place -- was effectively barred from helming any further sequels and everyone involved assumed the film would be a turkey.

“Oh man, nobody was more surprised than me. It's a very long and quite honestly, a story people have avoided talking about for a long time,” Gilroy said about “The Bourne Identity” drama. “It really was a very dire situation, the key participants in the film were the people who were most shocked at its success.”

Gilroy said after principal photography on the film was completed, he and the producers on the film had to spend an additional year repairing and deconstructing the movie with reshoots and re-editing. An entire post-9/11, friendly fail-safe ending was shot and then discarded (it’s on the DVD extras). He calls the experience extremely educational in the manner in which a movie is malleable. “It's not a way to make a movie,” he stressed. “I learned a lot about what I would never do.”

"It's not a way to make a movie. I learned a lot about what I would never do.”

Gilroy’s antipathy towards Paul Greengrass is no secret. Suffice to say they butted heads during the makings of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” When Greengrass deconstructed Gilroy’s screenplay in ‘Ultimatum’ (as he did with ‘Supremacy’) and painted himself into a corner on set, unlike ‘Identity’ -- where Gilroy would fax in changes and rewrites that very day -- the screenwriter was nowhere to be found. Part of his own ultimatum for writing the 'Ultimatum' screenplay was not babysitting the script outside of a master draft (instead screenwriters Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi were called in as fixers).

Nearly $1 billion dollars later, the ‘Bourne’ trilogy had wrapped and arguably concluded itself with satisfying finality. Jason Bourne discovered he was originally born as David Webb in Indiana. He was a patriot who volunteered for the Treadstone program, and he no longer suffered from selective retrograde amnesia. He was free. As far as Damon and Greengrass were concerned, the themes of identity and amnesia were pounded into the ground. Two aborted “Bourne 4” screenplays later, the direction with where to take the next film eluded everyone; and the drafts penned were never to the liking of Greengrass and Damon. In the fall of 2009, two years after “The Bourne Ultimatum” was released, Greengrass walked away from the series (something The Playlist reported first) and with loyalties intact, effectively took Damon with him; the actor refusing to star in a ‘Bourne’ picture without his director.

While both filmmaker and star would not rule out a return to the series one day, they acknowledged, until a good idea surfaced, they would let the series lie as it was. “There were no traditional good ways to go,” Gilroy said. “They were sort of out of road.” And Gilroy was long gone by then too, having already chalked up an impressive seven Oscar nominations for his directorial debut “Michael Clayton,” and released his sophomore effort, the corporate espionage picture, “Duplicity.”

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


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