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“We’re Mission: Plausible, Not Mission: Impossible”: Tony Gilroy Talks ‘The Bourne Legacy’

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

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.”

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.”

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

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five fingers sale


The ensemble cast especially Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton attract to me a lot.

art vandelay

man renners a badass right now with avengers and bourne in the same summer


can't wait for this,great cast, great director i'm sold


Great interview, it's one of my most anticipated films of 2012, please release a second trailer.


"And how you shoot it and how you cut it and what music you put against it is almost secondary to that idea."

I think I'd respectfully disagree. We're talking Paul Greengrass' shaky-cam, manic cutting and John Powell's Bourne score (both elements which have been ripped off in everything from Taken to Quantum of Solace) were as much a part of the DNA of this movie as Matt Damon. I defy anybody not to close their eyes and think of the vomit-inducing car chase at the end of Supremacy, and say these movies had shooting / editing / score as the afterthought.

Characters and arcs were important, but equally important were style, pace, visual identity, and that's what I suspect will be missing in this one.

Oh, and Jeremy Renner doesn't bring in the ladies like Matt Damon as Jason Bourne did.


Plausible is a stretch. I've always felt like Gilroy's film required some suspension of disbelief. They are more realistic but things don't always make sense. I'll go to my grave saying that not only was the flash forward of the car bomb in Michael Clayton not a good idea but that the car bomb itself made no sense. (I just don't know who decides that the best way to shut someone up in a way that will be easy to sweep under the rug and not get too much attention is an exploding car.)


With all the myriad sequels and remakes and reboots on the horizon, why is this one feels like the most bold-faced cash grab? "There was never just one". Come on!! There was until he wouldn't come back for the sequel.

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