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Movie Mom

Interview: Tony Gilroy, Writer-Director of “The Bourne Legacy”

posted by Nell Minow

Tony Gilroy, who wrote the Matt Damon “Bourne” movies, takes over as director for chapter four, “The Bourne Legacy,” with Jeremy Renner taking the lead role.  It turns out, as they tell you in the trailer, there was never just one.  And that does not mean just one “Bourne”-like spy.  There was another secret program that has become out of control.  I spoke to Gilroy about the new film.

Tell me a little bit about how this character is different from Jason Bourne.

Aaron Cross is part of a different program, developed by the same sort of mastermind, by Edward Norton and his little agency there. The program is tasked with completely different objectives. The Treadstone program that Jason Bourne was part of was assassinations, they were assassins, it was rather pure and simple. The Outcome program that Aaron Cross is part of is not part of the CIA, it’s sort of been franchised out to the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and their responsibility is very long-term, submerged, isolated immersion into the most dangerous places on the planet, really, and as warrior spies. There’s a real intelligence aspect of it. So the skillsets are—obviously they have to kick ass, physically, all of the bad-assery is the same—but the personality type and the things they’re looking for are very different, though. The Outcome agents have to have a real, very nimble intelligence, have to be able to be socially flexible, have to be able to blend in, have to be able to have a really high level of curiosity, so it’s a different set up.  And their problems are extremely different. Jason Bourne, obviously as everyone remembers, he wakes up, he has amnesia, he can’t figure out who he is and we basically play his moral quandary for three picture about hoping he was a good person and finding out he’s not and trying to deal with that. Aaron Cross is the opposite of that. He knows exactly where he came from all too well and remembers everything and is just desperate not to return to where he started.

You did a terrific job in casting the film. Tell me about one of my favorite actors, Oscar Isaac.  

No secret, we had a very public search for who would play Aaron Cross.  Jeremy was not available to us for much of that, his name came up very, very late. We looked at a lot of really amazing people over a long period of time. Oscar was a very strong contender at one point for the lead in the movie.  He came in and did just an astonishing audition for us. It was such a great audition that it was really hard to ignore and so we flirted with that idea for a long time and when it came time to make the film there was a very significant part—Character number three, who’s the only other Outcome agent that Aaron Cross meets, and they have a couple of scenes together. I called Jeremy and said, “Hey, no secret, Oscar was a contender for this part, do you have any objection seeing if he’d be interested in coming to play number three?” and Jeremy’s like, “Oh my God, he’s great, bring him.”  It was very exciting to have the two of them in the scenes we had together. Oscar’s just going to be a huge star; he’s a really remarkable actor.

Do you think that the success of these films or the enduring appeal of these films says something about where we are in terms of our lack of trust in large institutions and the government in particular?

We’re playing on that. It doesn’t start off trying to be an issue film. You don’t start off the movie saying, “Oh, we’re going to make a movie about an issue” or “we’re going to have issues in the movie” or “it’s a political movie.” It never begins like that. It really starts first and foremost with the character, and is there something really desperate for the characters involved? Any sort of larger theme is really, really down the line. You hope that there’s something there, but the first important thing is that the characters are alive and really need something. The other part of it is we really need to make—these movies are a ride, this needs to be a two-hour, really exciting adventure, and that’s the twin motivator. Those are the two engines on driving this forward. If you get all that stuff, if you get other stuff in there, it just enriches it. The idea that you can make a movie and people are just on the edge of their seats for the whole two hours, that’s a victory and the extra credit is if you can have people talk about the movie two days later and argue about it or provoke some other conversation. That’s the cherry on top.

I loved the house Rachel Weisz’s character lives in. I thought it told us a lot about who she was. What did you have in mind for the role that the house was going to play in telling the story?

Even in the script, it was a very, very important thing, and it was the location that we struggled the most to find.  We actually found the perfect house, and we fell in love with the perfect house, it was just extraordinary. We walked in and said, “Oh my God, this is just fantastic,” and we thought we were going to be able to shoot there, and it turned out, the house was too fragile to have us work there.  We were in despair and we ended up building it almost inch-to-inch in a variety of ways, I don’t want to get into the whole movie magic of all the things that we did, but we really rebuilt that house. What you said is absolutely true, more than any movie I’ve been on, the house really identifies her character in an extremely economical, visceral way. And then on top of that is the idea that you could have an action sequence play for 10, 12 minutes inside your character’s consciousness in a way.  If the house represents her, the fact that we can have a huge action sequence almost inside the interior life of the character, whose life is in danger, it’s a really cool opportunity, and we knew how much we wanted to get out of it. Kevin Thompson, the production designer, couldn’t be happier with it and the house is really the crowning achievement of a lot of deep work on the movie, a lot of people worked really hard to make that happen.

Do you think there will be other Bourne characters or is Aaron going to continue forward, or what’s going to happen next?

I don’t know! I really don’t know. There hasn’t been any real substantive, concrete, even sideways conversations about what’s exactly going to happen. I think that next Friday the movie is going to come out and we’ll see what audiences say, and that will tell us a lot about who, what, where and when. I think, I hope.

Before I let you go, I have to tell you that every time your first film, The Cutting Edge, comes on TV, I watch it again.

Oh, I know, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, I don’t know what to say about that, it’s a long, weird trip from “The Cutting Edge” through everything else, I’m so happy it’s back there in the beginning. Every time I see Blades of Glory, I get a thrill because…

It’s a tribute!

I’m a big Blades of Glory fan.

Me too! 

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