‘The Bourne Legacy’ Writer/Director Tony Gilroy Interview
The narrative architect behind the Bourne film series, Tony Gilroy, takes the helm in the next chapter of the hugely popular espionage franchise, ‘The Bourne Legacy.’ The writer/director expands the Bourne universe created by Robert Ludlum with an original story that introduces us to a new hero (Jeremy Renner) whose life-or-death stakes have been triggered by the events of the first three films. Faced with the public and political fallout from the events of ‘The Bourne Ultimatum,’ the CIA decides to shut down “Operation Outcome,” the successor to “Operation Treadstone.” Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent of Operation Outcome, and Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a research scientist who helped create the Outcome agents, must find a way to escape before CIA agent Byer (Edward Norton) can have them assassinated. For ‘The Bourne Legacy,’ Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton join fellow series newcomers Stacy Keach and Oscar Isaac, while franchise veterans Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn reprise their roles. ‘The Bourne Legacy’ comes to cinemas August 10th in the US and August 13th in the UK.
As the writer of the first three films, how was it keeping in the same tradition of what came before with the first three Bourne films, but then also taking it into a place that people may not expect?
Tony Gilroy: We wanted to create a larger conspiracy, the conceit here was that everything that we were seeing before in the previous films was sort of housed in one arena, and we’re sort of saying, “You’re only seeing one ring in the circus, one small portion of something that’s much larger.” When they finished the first three films, they wrapped up everything in such a perfect package, it was very difficult to go on from there – and a lot of smart spent a lot of time thinking about how to do that. The trail sort of ran cold. But there began talk how to go on, and my conversations, what I went back to them and said was, “What if we say that what happened in the three previous films was a small piece of something much larger, and that there was a much larger conspiracy outside of Treadstone and Jason Bourne?” And that got everybody very excited, and that began the conversations, it was a very sexy way of moving forward. In working it up, it didn’t really get exciting for me until we got the character of Aaron Cross and finding Aaron Cross, finding what his issues were, where he came from, what his problem would be, where he might go? That was when it got really interesting to me. You sort of march one stitch after another, it just grew to where we are here today (laughs).
Having this new character, new problem, this larger conspiracy, that was the launching pad in continuing this world, one that had created a new kind of spy thriller?
Tony Gilroy: The thing that separated Bourne most clearly from the action films of the moment was the depth and complexity of the character’s problem. The idea of an assassin ‘coming to’ with no recollection of his dark past and paying the price for recovering his memory by realizing that he’s not the person he wants to be was an incredibly compelling motor. In the hands of an actor like Matt Damon, there was no limit on how honest and detailed those ideas could be expressed. It was fun to think of ways to stage the Legacy story, but until there was a new character with a new problem that felt as powerful there wasn’t going to be a script. When that last piece fell into place, when Aaron Cross came into focus, when the thing that he needed became as clear and soulful to me as what we’d gone after with Bourne, that’s when everyone decided it made sense to move forward.
You looked into many secretive US government agencies and intelligence agencies that fund research programs with the objective of enhancing the psychological and physical performance of American soldiers and spies, what was that research process like?
Tony Gilroy: Yeah. There’s no drug testing in war. There’s a very real appetite to have soldiers with increased energy, higher pain thresholds and less need for sleep. The warrior who heals, learns and processes information faster is the dream of every commanding officer. We’re in a place now where the science has begun to make real that dream in a very unpredictable and terrifying way. This was an odd story to research because I was doing more confirmation than prospecting. I kept finding that my imaginative ideas for Outcome and Candent and NRAG were already there and in play. Every hint that we’d laid along the way in the trilogy about Treadstone and its science-medical background fit perfectly into the existing reality. Then it was just a matter of asking what would happen if everything went wrong.
What was it about Jeremy Renner that made you think he would be the perfect person to give life to Aaron Cross?
Jeremy Renner: The bar was so high, Matt Damon had set the bar so high with Jason Bourne. And there’s such an expectation with these films, they’re not just pictures, they really have a rich emotional life and the human behaviour is real, you feel like it’s really happening. We had the opportunity with Aaron Cross, somebody who’s just as soulful and just as complicated, so we really needed an amazing actor – and Jeremy Renner is that. We also needed someone who is physically extraordinary, because we knew what we wanted to do and we knew what was expected. Then we also needed, as the third piece, which was perhaps the most difficult, we needed someone who has those two skills, those two attributes, but wasn’t so clearly identified in the audiences mind – that they didn’t have a perfectly clear picture about them as another character, or an idea about them. We wanted to identify him as our guy, who was just enough out of focus to bring him forward. That was the trifecta that we were looking for.
Having an actor with so many attributes and layers to them, I can imagine that provides so much more opportunities to explore and do things….
Tony Gilroy: Definitely. With Jeremy, he’s such a soulful actor, and that was the same thing that Matt Damon had with Jason Bourne. It really gives you such an opportunity as a writer, as a director, as other actors to have somebody who can hit on all cylinders, who can do anything. Everything else can be pushed and fixed or wrangled in some way, while acting is magic. I learned that a long time ago. The reason Jeremy’s such an amazing actor is that he is a complicated guy. He’s sweet and he’s hard, and he lets himself draw on all of that, all the time. I must’ve watched ‘The Hurt Locker’ 18 times. In every scene, he is molecularly involved with the physical aspect of what’s happening at the moment. This integrity that he has, this feet-on-the-ground awareness and this surprising, explosive intelligence, made Jeremy the perfect cousin for Bourne. Jeremy came to us at a really high learning curve. When they took him out to the track the first time, the reports were, “Oh my God, wow! He can do this and this…and this…and this. We don’t have to double this!” (Laughs) Jeremy’s so good that he actually was at the level where the insurance company got nervous.
In Rachel Weisz’s Marta, you have someone who is devoted to her groundbreaking research as a biochemist, sort of ignoring the ethical conflict of her work. But then she’s forced to confront the morality of her choices when her life is in jeopardy?
Tony Gilroy: Marta is an accomplished research scientist with some real emotional chaos in her private life. She’s been ignoring some pretty heavy moral contradictions in her work for Outcome, and when things explode she’s launched into about as hardcore an odyssey as any character I’ve ever written. And by the end of the film she’s not just surviving, she’s kicking ass. It’s a demanding role. The bar for credibility is very high in this franchise, and she gave us more than we ever dreamed of. I knew how good she was, but I was still astonished by what she brought to the film. She pretty much surpassed my expectations every day. And with Aaron and Marta, they need each other in a way that is so fundamental – I’ve never written anything where two people need each other as much. They’re absolutely, umbilically hinged together. They will not make it without each other in any way. There’s no way that one of them gets through without the other.
Then with the character of Byer, you needed someone with weight. How was it having Edward Norton in this role, as this chess master?
Tony Gilroy: We were casting the mastermind of the entire franchise. We knew we’d be saying to the audience that this is the guy that’s been sitting beside you in the theatre for the last 12 years watching the CIA screw everything up for him. We needed a world-class actor; we needed weight. We needed someone with the kind of intelligence that’s in the room before the scene starts, and above all I needed an actor I could collaborate with to make sure that Ric Byer’s worldview wasn’t painted entirely black. He believes he’s one of the very few people who can bear the moral weight of the darkness necessary to keep his country safe. There’s a lot of people that re doing a very busy job of trying to protect us, who are doing a lot of things they have to wonder about all the time. Byer’s a guy who made that decision a very long time ago, and he’s a guy who decided that he was strong enough morally to accept the moral consequences of what he does. And he decided that this is something to protect something that he firmly believes in.
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