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Interview: Tony Gilroy Talks The Challenges Of Mounting 'The Bourne Legacy,' Addresses The 'Enhancement' Concerns & More

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist August 9, 2012 at 3:25PM

"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).
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Rachel Weisz, Bourne Legacy
The scale of this is massive. Was there a point where there was a question mark of whether you were directing this or not?
It was such an incremental thing. To try and come up with a way to move forward, the math problem of it... I knew that the story would be empty calories if we didn't have a good character and so when the character really dropped, and I figured out what his problem was, and what he needed, and where he came from, it got very, very interesting to me, and then the story changed very quickly. When things happen quickly you get excited about them. By the time I had finished the treatment, I put [the idea of directing] on the table right from the beginning and said it was something I wanted to talk about.

Edward Norton, Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy
Lets talk practical differences between the Treadstone agents and the Outcome agents in these movies.
On a practical level, the Treadstone program was about assassination. They're basically assassins. They live in the world -- you can see Clive Owen [in ‘Bourne Identity’] as a piano teacher, they have covers -- but they're essentially assassins. There was nothing that would be described as espionage, [they're] basically a kill squad. The Outcome program that Aaron is part of, Oscar Isaac is one of them too... The conceit is that Edward Norton is the mastermind of this entire franchise. We're stepping back a little bit in time here, he's been a developer, he's been at the nexus of the corporate military and intelligence communities. There's a very large corporate element, pharmaceutical corporate element, and all of this is very, very real.

Corporate intrigue, pharmaceutical companies, that's your bread and butter as also evinced in ‘Clayton’ and “Duplicity.”
It's vampiric, it really is. I think it's the dominant issue of our time. I really do. I mean absent global warming and lack of water, the development of nation states outside of our control is I think the greatest issue of our time. Ed Norton’s character is just a complete polymath, with a military background. He's managed to achieve great power utilizing military muscle and resources, with corporate money and corporate research and the intelligence community’s need for everything. Well this other program, the program that Jeremy's in, is a Department of Defense program. Assassination isn’t their primary objective. They haven't just been physically enhanced, there's a cognitive aspect to it that's very important. They're very, very nimble, very adaptive ,and they're very diverse, and the things that they do are very long term and of extremely high value to the DOD.

So it's kind of like a satellite programs?
Yeah. And there are other programs that we both allude to. Actually, the guy that's chasing them is from a different program. If this [film] works, there’ll be a real cosmology and real mythology going forward.

And you mean sequels and keeping this new franchise going.
Yeah. And in a non-cynical way, that's the biggest thing I think about. That's where you start on this, you have to start from a non-cynical point of view. You couldn't replace Matt Damon with Sam Worthington or somebody else, or do a prequel, or a lot of the crazy ideas that were floating around. They have these very cynical ideas and you have to keep reminding everybody who is getting frustrated that we couldn't do anything cynical. I mean cynical in your day to day approach. You have to approach it like it's really a soulful, authentic thing.

Jeremy Renner Rachel Weisz Bourne Legacy
So much of the original Bourne movies is Jason's amnesia and this morality play. But Aaron’s arc is quite different.
Yeah, he remembers everything. It would kind of be a big spoiler, but there's a really huge moment in the movie where he and Rachel Weisz finally connect. They don't know each other very well and they end up in a place where they can be quiet, and she asks, “Why is it so important that you stay enhanced?” The answer to that question and the things that have led him to this program. How he got there, why he's there, is an incredible...for me as much a very powerful motive as the morality issue was for Matt Damon’s character. So it's very, very different, he's not morally confused at all. There’s an element of “Spartacus” in here, of the people in that program tugging at their leash a bit, but it's a more fundamental thing for him and it's not about morality. The thing that seals the deal is you're always looking to have fresh concepts, or some even erroneous confidence that you have some way of executing it in a way that's going to be different.

Pushing yourself and the story a bit?
There has to be something about it that smells new. But a character has to need something. What do they need? The need, Aaron’s problem here, which again, I don't really want to get into on a spoiler situation. It's almost a Greek thing, he's been given awareness. He's been taken from darkness into the world. He's been invested, you know, he has almost a transcendent appreciation for life. It's not a drug movie, it's not that he's a junkie and wants to stay high. When he says “thank you” to her at the end it's a pretty big statement. That's what you look for in a character, you look for somebody who really needs something.

The enhancement elements has already become a semi-controversial issue for hardcore fans.
You know there's a pretty rich history going back through the three films for anybody who's really seriously been paying attention. The first guy that hits Matt in the apartment in Paris, what's his death speech about? What is he talking about? He has some really interesting things to say. The architecture of the programming underneath is not a new concept. There's nothing about this that we're talking about here that isn't coming at us really really quick. It's just not a Marvel show at all, it's absolutely real and anybody who spends 15 minutes at the movie and digs around online is going to find out the things that I found out, the edges of the stuff that I found. This is kind of an atlas.

One can argue it's happening around us in sports all the time.
Oh my god, yeah. And there's no drug testing in war. This has been going on, it's just that now the science is finally meeting the real application of this stuff, and if you look around it's not even restricting the kinds of things we're talking about. There's all kinds of programs we're really exploring. We're not science fiction at all. You're looking at science in a very crude infancy here that will probably become very much a part of the future in all kinds of odd ways.

This article is related to: Tony Gilroy, The Bourne Legacy, Jeremy Renner, Interviews, Interviews, Features


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