In a summer where more has been more when it comes to movie marketing (to the extent where a 25-minute cut of “The Amazing Spider-Man” has been assembled from clips and trailers alone), there’s one film that’s managed to keep things pretty much under wraps: “The Bourne Legacy.” A continuation of Universal‘s blockbuster spy franchise, which sees Tony Gilroy — writer on the first three films — take over directorial duties having subsequently proved his chops (and how…) on the Oscar-nominated “Michael Clayton,” the picture also stars Jeremy Renner taking over lead duties as Aaron Cross, another top-flight agent, albeit a very different character.
Even after the debut of the full trailer a few weeks back, only the barest hints of plot and details on the film have slipped out ahead of the movie’s release. But Renner covers the latest issue of Empire Magazine, with an extensive feature on the film, and a few tidbits on the project, and its gestation, have slipped out. Five highlights from the piece are below, and you can read much more in the new Empire, which is on newsstands and iPads now. “The Bourne Legacy” hits theaters on August 10th.
Tony Gilroy was surprised and puzzled by Matt Damon’s quotes about his “Bourne Ultimatum” script.
There was a bit of a storm last year when the usually mild-mannered Matt Damon went off on Tony Gilroy, the co-writer of all three original ‘Bourne’ films, and director of the fourth. Gilroy allegedly agreed to pen the first draft of “The Bourne Ultimatum” under the condition that he wouldn’t have to deal with director Paul Greengrass, and Damon told the magazine “I don’t blame Tony for taking a boatload of money and handing in what he handed in. It’s just that it was unreadable. This is a career-ender. I mean, I could put this thing up on eBay and it would be game over for that dude. It’s terrible. It’s really embarrassing. He was having a go, basically, and he took his money and left.” Damon later sort-of-apologized, saying “This is between me and him. So saying anything publicly is fucking stupid and unprofessional and just kind of douchey of me,” but Gilroy has remained silent throughout. Until now, that is. Though Gilroy doesn’t throw fuel on the fire, telling Empire, “I don’t understand that at all. I don’t know where it came from. I think Matt is one of the greatest actors of his generation.” Pals again?
Early in the fourth film’s development, there was talk of recasting Bourne himself, or making the film a prequel.
In the midst of a tough few years, Universal were clearly keen to have one of their few franchises continue, but there was one major problem; ‘Ultimatum’ had essentially wrapped up the protagonist’s story. As producer Frank Marshall says, “Jason Bourne knew what his name was and where he came from and he didn’t really want to be an agent anymore. So that didn’t really leave us a wide source of story material.” A fourth script was commissioned, first from George C. Nolfi, then Josh Zetumer, but neither won much favor, and things were complicated further when Paul Greengrass walked off, essentially taking the loyal Matt Damon with him. As such, according to Empire, a number of other options were considered, including making the film a prequel, recasting, Bond-style (although Marshall says, “You’ve still got the same story problem: what are you going to do?”), or passing on the mantle to a different agent. Ultimately, Tony Gilroy came in, and came up with the take in “The Bourne Legacy.”The new film opens up the world much further, with the possibility that even more Treadstone-type programs could pop up in future films.
Gilroy’s approach turned out to delve further into the machinations of the CIA and their secret Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, coming up with parallel schemes, one of which — Operation Outcome — is the focus of “The Bourne Legacy.” As Gilroy says, “If you think of the first three Bourne films as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then we’re showing you Elsinore. So you thought you were seeing something that you weren’t. What if there were a larger story? What if Treadstone weren’t the only black-ops programme? I think that’s a really promising idea.” And Outcome isn’t the only one introduced in the new film; others come up too, which may figure further into later sequels. Frank Marshall says “You see there are several different programmes in the movie with different skill sets. All possibilities are open.”
Don’t call Edward Norton’s character the villain.
One of the things that have set the original films apart is the complexity of the quote-unquote bad guys: almost all of the antagonists, from Chris Cooper in the original to Edgar Ramirez in the third, have their moments of sympathy — they’re not simply maniacs, but are fighting for a cause or following orders. And while Edward Norton‘s character, Ret. Colonel Ric Byer, described as “a puppet master,” and the man tasked with tying up the loose ends of the secret ops, was said to be “a villain” in early trade reports, expect him to have more texture than that. Norton (in a rare blockbuster excursion) tells the magazine, “Tony hated it when people started publishing that I was the villain. Tony works in shades of grey and moral fog. It’s too reductive to say ‘villain.’ I think he works in a more sophisticated way than that.” Indeed, Gilroy sees a character as another manifestation of a theme that’s run throughout the series. “One of the things that’s always been fun about the Bourne series is that it’s always been an expression of the fact that even when you think you’re on the inside you can still be just a cog in a machine,” he explained. “Then people start to realize that they’ve been co-opted and they begin to push back.”
Jeremy Renner isn’t worried about being in too many franchises.
After the success of “The Hurt Locker,” Jeremy Renner suddenly became one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading men, signing on to several potential franchises in quick succession: “The Avengers,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” Indeed, he was so busy that he initially wasn’t thought to be a possibility for Bourne, with Joel Edgerton, Luke Evans, Anthony Mackie, Garrett Hedlund and Oscar Isaac among those who tested for the part. But as Gilroy says, “Jeremy wasn’t on any of those ‘available’ lists until we got to the third wave. All of a sudden his name popped up, so Frank Marshall and I popped over to Berlin, where he was making ‘Hansel & Gretel,’ and we had dinner with him and showed him the script.” Renner signed on, a little wary of carrying the series on his shoulders, but now he doesn’t seem to be concerned about franchise-fatigue and clearly is just trying to enjoy the ride. “I stumbled across some really great pieces of cinema. I got really lucky,” he said. “If we get to do another one of these, right on. If Tom wants me for another ‘Mission,’ I’m happy to do it… If ‘Avengers 2‘ happens, awesome. If it doesn’t, awesome. I’m not going to worry about what comes next. I’ll just worry about talking to you right now. I could be dead by the time ‘Avengers 2’ comes around. Who knows? I don’t want to be, but you know what I’m saying.”