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

The Playlist 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, Weisz, Renner

Having washed his hands of the entire affair and launched a very successful directing career, bringing Tony Gilroy back into the ‘Bourne’ fold wasn’t initially tenable. There had been drama. There had been endless aggravation and fences had to be mended before conversations could really take shape. Producer Ben Smith and his Captivate partner Jeffrey Weiner, also the executor of the Ludlum estate, coaxed an initially reluctant Gilroy into a meeting in New York one morning after the director had “previously rebuffed inquiries from others on the subject before,” Smith said. The duo scored a small coup when Gilroy hesitantly agreed to give it a “thought” and nothing more. It was all they could ask for.

But before Gilroy fully came on board, he says a “lot of crazy ideas were being thrown around" by the studio and producers. He describes reboots, ‘Bond’-like recasting and prequels -- all ideas that were toyed with -- as deeply cynical. "You can't replace Matt Damon with Sam Worthington or whomever, or do a prequel,” he says. “We had to keep reminding everybody who is getting frustrated that we couldn't do anything cynical. You have to approach it like a really soulful, authentic thing."

"You can't replace Matt Damon with Sam Worthington or whomever, or do a prequel.You have to approach it like a really soulful, authentic thing."

Weeks later after some digging, Gilroy called the Captivate producers up (who produced the picture in association with Patrick Crowley and Frank Marshall of Marshall/Kennedy) and said, much to their elation, “I have an idea.” They never dreamt he would write the thing, let alone eventually direct it. Gilroy describes these meetings as exploratory and mercenary to a certain extent, equating it to a fun math problem one tries to solve with zero pressure. But then he hit a vein. And soon he hit an artery. Then came genuine excitement.

“You hit something and you go, ‘Oh my god, there's a fire inside here that's really cool,’ ” Gilroy says about hitting the eureka moment that eventually spawned the larger ‘Legacy’ narrative and more importantly the character who could anchor it, Aaron Cross. “This has all the elements that could interest me for, you know, two years of my life.”

Gilroy’s idea was risky. Matt Damon wasn’t coming back anytime soon, and they’d have to re-platform their franchise with a new star. But the idea was so juicy and rich, the producers and Universal were soon on board. “It didn't take a lot of convincing for everybody to be like ‘Let's just double down and be ambitious,' ” he says. “Not in a cocky way, but if we fail let's fail for really doing something, really blowing off the doors.”

“The Bourne Legacy” does just that. It’s high-octane chess and while familiar in tenor, the picture pushes the envelope of what you’ve come to expect from the ‘Bourne’ story. “Enchancement” -- a chromosome modifier spelled out in recent trailers -- is a four-letter word in some circles of the fan-based ‘Bourne’ universe, but Gilroy believe those who are most vocal about these issues are going to be most pleased when they realize how it connects to the series’ core themes of bending an agents will to do their bidding without question; the perfect soldier. Jason Bourne, after all, had also originally volunteered for Operation Treadstone and soon his identity had been subsumed beyond his own recognition.

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


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