"The Bourne Legacy" could be seen by some as a long-time coming for writer/director Tony Gilroy. While the almost billion-dollar grossing series has been defined by Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, arguably the man behind the scenes masterminding many of the strings was Gilroy, who wrote all three 'Bourne' films (two writers were hired to work on 'Ultimatum' after his first draft).
So it’s almost ironic that in "The Bourne Legacy," Gilroy (Academy-Award-nominated director of “Michael Clayton”) pulls back the series' own curtain to reveal the deeper and wider machinations in a much larger conspiracy. And the director's job was not an easy one. "The Bourne Legacy," moves forward without its lead Jason Bourne and instead has to perform some akimbo side-step moves to introduce new antagonists and heroes. Starring Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz, "The Bourne Legacy" is a multi-layered and fascinating expansion of the franchise's world and mythology.
The Playlist had the opportunity to talk to Gilroy at length several times over the summer. What follows is an abridged version of those conversations where Gilroy discussed the charged history of the old series, the challenge of mounting a new 'Bourne' series without Jason Bourne, his thoughts on the semi-controversial "enhancements" in the film, the death of the Oscar drama and much much more. For a feature article overview of from these conversations, you can read more of our earlier interview with Gilroy here.
I wrote on a lot of movies that I didn't direct. It was cumulative. I started working on “Michael Clayton” while I was writing on “Proof of Life” [circa 2000] and and then I came to ‘Bourne Identity.' So I think ‘Bourne’ when it came along, interrupted the work on ‘Clayton.’ I was always doing ‘Clayton’ for myself. I had a script, several years earlier, this big paparazzi movie that I wanted to direct that didn't get off the ground, I didn't quite have the balls to put it together, I kind of wimped out on that.
So I had my eye on the door, but it wasn't... My fantasy after ‘Clayton,’ was I can write for dough on big movies and then every year and a half I can go make a really make a ‘Clayton’-type small-ish drama. Who knew that that movie business would disappear. It disappeared instantaneously. By the time we finished “Duplicity” that middle ground of dramatic filmmaking -- that movie business was over. I don't kid myself at all, I think that movie business is gone and not coming back. It's like complaining about the weather, it's a fact. There will be festival films, there will be a way to live, where a movie like ‘Clayton’ gets made if you get a movie star like [George] Clooney to waive his fee, there will be exceptions for decades. But as a rule the middle class drama, ambitious drama, it's on TV. Everybody knows that, it's why TV is so great right now, they've got it.
Do you feel obligated to the previous Bourne films? Do you go in thinking about the pressure from three successes?
I really don't at all. For me, there were lots of different things for me to do. “Michael Clayton” changed my life [ed. it was his feature-length debut as a director/writer and it earned 7 Oscar nominations], I really lucked out to do the things that I did when I did them. The first blush of these first [new ‘Bourne’] meetings were both exploratory and mercenary in some sense, you know? But all of a sudden we stumbled across the one thing we haven't touched on yet in this series.
So what’s the basic difference between Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross?
There is something very fundamental and soulful and really emotionally powerful that's driving Aaron Cross, that was such a potent piece of character motivation, and such a fresh idea, it's like you go “Wow, this is a really big meal, this is something that actually interests me, and could hold my interest through the pain threshold of making the movie.” You try to find something that will interest you and interest the audience. If you don't have a choice, you know, you, you need the paycheck or you just got divorced there's all kinds of reasons not to do it. But if you don't, if you're in a happy place, for me it was really, “Oh my god, there's a fire inside this that's really cool, and I think we can attract really amazing actors.”
And to keep it fresh?
Well, everybody's doing Bourne. There’s five things on TV exactly like that. That is an old party. It's time to leave the party, you don't want to be the last people out the door, so let's go first. Because if you try to just redo it, that's the “Super Bowl” thinking of cynical things. If we fail let's fail for doing something, really taking it out. So if you were looking at it as a dynastic thing we probably would have recreated what we had before.
What was the thing that made you cast Jeremy, why him?
We knew how complicated the part was. You really needed to have someone who could be completely socially nimble in one moment, and completely private the next. We knew it would be an emotional odyssey we were going to put him on. We also knew we were going to introduce story in a really unusual way, which is to sort of let it sneak up on you rather than announcing it at the top. So we needed an amazing actor, obviously. We also needed somebody who could just physically handle it and from all of the reports back on “Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol” [which ‘Legacy’ DOP Robert Elswit also shot], I was terribly impressed with how physical he was. I think he also got a close hand deal watching Tom Cruise work, and I think it was sort of a graduate program. So he's physically just good. We needed somebody that we could form, that was just sort of slightly unformed, that we could identify. So that was the venn diagram on what we were looking for.
That's true, he's just getting to that point, and you guys have the benefit of him being in 'Mission Impossible,' ‘The Avengers’ and this. That's a good sweet spot to be in. He did a lot of his own stunts, right?
Yeah, he's amazing. Almost to the point of having to take stuff away. He's very, very good. There are a couple of people out there that are like that, just really gifted actors, and movie athletes. It's really amazing. Let's put it this way, he didn't have to be that good to make it work. I'd never been that intimately involved with what it takes, it just makes it so much easier when a guy can learn his shit faster than the stunt guys can learn it. When he knows how to take care of himself and not get hurt and simplifying and improving and acting all the way through it, so that every step becomes a performance, in a way. We're very lucky to have him do that, there's only a couple of people that can do it.