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"We're Mission: Plausible, Not Mission: Impossible": Tony Gilroy Talks 'The Bourne Legacy'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 11, 2012 at 12:36PM

With the summer movie season underway after the opening of "The Avengers" last weekend, there's one movie that's taking a stealthier approach: "The Bourne Legacy," the fourth film in the blockbuster Robert Ludlum spy franchise, and the first without star Matt Damon in the lead role. Bringing in writer-director Tony Gilroy, who penned all three films to date before he went on to find his own success as a helmer with the Oscar-nominated "Michael Clayton," the film sees Jeremy Renner star as Aaron Cross, an operative from a CIA program more advanced than Operation Treadstone, with new cast members Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Oscar Isaac and Stacy Keach joining the returning Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney.
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Bourne Legacy Tony Gilroy

With the summer movie season underway after the opening of "The Avengers" last weekend, there's one movie that's taking a stealthier approach: "The Bourne Legacy," the fourth film in the blockbuster Robert Ludlum spy franchise, and the first without star Matt Damon in the lead role. Bringing in writer-director Tony Gilroy, who penned all three films to date before he went on to find his own success as a helmer with the Oscar-nominated "Michael Clayton," the film sees Jeremy Renner star as Aaron Cross, an operative from a CIA program more advanced than Operation Treadstone, with new cast members Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Oscar Isaac and Stacy Keach joining the returning Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney.

The film debuted an impressive teaser trailer a few months back, but with an August 3rd release date still a ways off, Gilroy and the studio have been keeping their cards close to their chest on the project. A few weeks ago we spoke to Tony Gilroy about "The Bourne Legacy," and he gave us a few insights into his approach to the project, its scope, and how it'll be, true to its title, honoring the legacy of the three excellent actioners that came before it.

Gilroy acknowledged that his involvement with the earlier films had put him off a little, saying "That's more of a reason not to come back." But as he relates, Universal were left a little adrift when Damon and director Paul Greengrass elected not to return. "There were no traditional good ways to go," he told us "they were pretty much out of road. So it was a blank piece of paper." And once he started to think of possibilities of where to take the franchise, he found himself excited about the prospect: "It started as kind of a fun math problem. What do you do? Where do you go? It wasn't a real thing to me at the time, so I said 'You could do this!' And they went for it, and I went for it. That's the other side of it. You dig a lot of holes in the ground, and 98% of what you come up with you throw away, and every so often you come up with something, and go, this has all the things that could interest me for... it's two years of my life, by the time I'm done."

Edward Norton, Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy

As for continuing the series, while the title came from an existing Ludlum book (which has a very different plot), Gilroy says that it fit perfectly with his plan. " 'Legacy' was utterly appropriate. It could have been 'The Bourne Aftermath,' 'The Bourne Consequences,' anything like that." And it will follow on directly from the events of previous films, including some overlap. " 'Ultimatum' is sort of playing in the background in the first 10-15 minutes," Gilroy said. "The events of 'Ultimatum' trigger what happens in this film."

By all accounts, 'Legacy' has a truly global scope that's barely been hinted at by the marketing so far, with shoot locations including "Korea, Abu Dhabi, a long time in Manila, way up in Canada, we shot in New York for a bunch of different places." But despite the giant nature of the production, Gilroy felt confident, because he had a concept he believed in. "The idea is king. Once the story drops, you know where it goes, and you've got a reason and a theme, you can stand back and know that everything from then on is going to be about effort and taste and luck and money...But the idea is king, and whether that's easy or hard [to come up with] I don't really know. But the making of the movie is physically taxing."

The Bourne Legacy Jeremy Renner

Of course, the film will be chock full of action, and although he's not directed in the genre before this, Gilroy thinks he's in a good place to pull it off. "I wrote a lot of action," he told us. "I've seen a lot of action, I've watched a lot of action being directed, Dan Bradley [2nd unit director on the original trilogy, as well as 'Quantum of Solace' among many, many others] is on this picture -- the legendary asset that he's been to so many directors, we worked really, really closely together. And you have to have the money, if you're really going to do the kind of things that make people wake up. They have to be so different, and so specific, and so enormous, and all of those things require economics. And you've got to be into it. I don't think you can direct action if you're not into seeing it done well."

Perhaps most importantly, as someone who's been involved since the franchise was born over a decade ago, Gilroy hasn't forgotten what makes the series stand out from the competition. "I was there right at the very beginning, with Doug [Liman], advocating for chamber action and not orchestral action. The continuing thing is that we have very deep, complex characters with real behavior and real problems, and that [sense] that they have a life off the screen, and you take those real people, and put them in extreme, visceral situations, and then you have something that's motivated, in real locations, with real gravity and physics, and things go wrong," he explained. "We always say we're 'Mission: Plausible,' not 'Mission: Impossible.' It's the spectacularity of the specifics that was always the DNA here. And how you shoot it and how you cut it and what music you put against it is almost secondary to that idea."

"The Bourne Legacy" hits theaters on August 3rd.

Interview by RP

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


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