It's pretty rare for nice guy Matt Damon to stick the knife in anyone, but when he spoke to GQ recently, his candid remarks about screenwriter, and longtime Bourne series scribe Tony Gilroy, made their way around the world. Calling Gilroy's draft for "The Bourne Ultimatum" a "career-ender" and "unreadable" (it was later rewritten by George Nolfi and Scott Z. Burns), it was another sting sent to the screenwriter who has already had a rocky relationship with the franchise. The short version is that he more or less hated the first two films, and made Universal pay him through the nose for the third installment (with the added condition that he didn't have to talk to Greengrass). But Universal is sticking by Gilroy, who also happens to be directing "The Bourne Legacy" (more on that in a second).
Donna Langley, Universal's co-chairman, told The Hollywood Reporter about 'Ultimatum' that she was "thrilled with the script Tony submitted and greenlit the film based on that script." And this is where things get tricky and become the crux of the Greengrass/Damon/Gilroy dispute. In their respective minds, Greengrass and Gilroy believe they are the leading voice of the Bourne franchise, however, they are on polar opposite sides when it comes to turning a script into a film.
"Paul and Tony have clashing styles," a source told THR. "Tony does all the work before and delivers a finished script. Paul wants the script to be ever-evolving during shooting." So that means expensive re-writes and re-shoots (which happend on pretty much every Bourne movie to one degree or another), and Universal didn't seem to care as long as the money kept rolling in, which it did, with more and more each time. Then there was "Green Zone."
As we reported back in 2009 when Paul Greengrass first exited "Bourne 4," the film was supposed to be a tiny pet project made between the blockbuster series, in order to keep the director and Damon happy. But when Greengrass' method of "finding the movie" during shooting caused the production budget to run to $150 million and couple that with its $94 million worldwide haul, the cost conscious studio was suddenly wary of going down a financially unpredictable path with the director, even if it was on another 'Bourne'.
In November of that year, Universal execs took Damon out to dinner and told him they wanted to move ahead with the series, but the actor stuck with his director, refusing to continue without him. And so entered Gilroy once again, who came up with an idea for a story to center around a different agent (now played by Jeremy Renner) leaving things open for Damon and Greengrass to come back one day. So, everything is gravy right? Well, it was until Universal decided to let Gilroy direct it too without telling Damon or Greengrass.
"It certainly wasn't an omission for any reason. You just have to move on with your business," Langley now claims, while adding that "the franchise can live on [with Renner]. If at some point it can include Matt Damon, fantastic. If it can't, we're reconciled to that."
But it seems that rift between Damon/Greengrass and Gilroy is still very, very deep. As Damon explained to KCRW after dropping truthbombs at GQ, it was him seeing the 'Legacy' production offices in the vicinity of Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" that he's now shooting that set him off. "I was seeing this every day, and then I came back to New York and did this interview and kind of blurted it out…It was idiotic of me to say anything. At the end of the day, it's between me and Tony, and we'll figure it out or we won't," he said.
"I think if [Bourne Legacy] doesn't work, we can just ignore it and pretend it didn't happen, and that'd be fine," Damon also said. "But I expect that it will work and only help us if we did another one, which I'd love to do." But with Gilroy and Greengrass at odds, Universal cinching their belts (look at the number of projects they axed this year including Greengrass' "Memphis") and seemingly ready to move on with the franchise whether or not Damon comes back and well…you can read between the lines.
Of course, this all depends on how well (or not) "The Bourne Leagcy" does when it opens on August 3, 2012.