The filmmaker on how he came up with a Bourne-less Bourne movie, how Jeremy Renner can take a beating, and why you should watch more TV.
1. Making a Bourne-less Bourne movie was like a puzzle he had to solve.
“Everything had crapped out for them,” says the straight-shooting Tony Gilroy of the series’ producers. Indeed, they’d originally started making a fourth Bourne movie in 2008 but couldn’t keep Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass on board (they may be back for a fifth). Gilroy had also been well out of the loop for years, having immediately moved on to writing and directing Michael Clayton after he turned in his script for The Bourne Ultimatum. Yet the challenge intrigued him. “It came to me as a sort of game,” he admits. “How to continue without Matt was really like an engineering puzzle. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only person they were asking.” In fact, Gilroy hadn’t even seen Ultimatum, his script having been revised and rewritten before the movie was released in 2007. But he soon realized that he could treat Bourne’s story as “just one room in the mansion” with a whole other structure beyond it, as well as new characters.
2. He believes enhanced super-spies are becoming more fact than fiction.
Another thing that intrigued Gilroy was the R&D being conducted to give real-life agents the kind of physical and mental enhancements already enjoyed by fictional super-spies like Bourne and Renner’s character Aaron Cross. His script would ultimately integrate some of what he learned about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the high-tech wing of the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as shadowy organizations and companies looking to make the perfect soldier. “There are so many different areas of science that are exploring the same things,” says Gilroy, “people working with implants and behaviour modification and even on a genomic level. I’d keep going, ‘What about this? Oh, they’re doing it already.’ It was much more confirmation than research, in a weird way.”
3. He was lucky that Jeremy Renner likes the rough stuff.
The new film maintains the series’ reputation for intense fight scenes and stunt work, with the action culminating in a motorcycle chase through Manila. Gilroy claims that Renner’s physical prowess made all the difference. “He’s a frigging athlete,” raves the director. “Tom Cruise is well known for doing crazy, crazy stunts and Jeremy got a master class in that [when he worked on M:I 4]. So he came to us with an advanced degree in this kind of work. He learns so fast and you don’t have to [stunt] double him.” The actor’s eagerness was essential to the overall mission to up the ante. “We know how visceral we have to be,” says Gilroy. “The bar is really, really high. You have to kick it a little bit harder than the last time, and then kick it harder again.”
4. If you’re looking for a movie with more talk and fewer explosions, he thinks you should stay home and watch TV.
Though renowned for his action writing, Gilroy’s canniest feat was making two of the smartest studio dramas in recent years with Michael Clayton and Duplicity. Yet he believes that Hollywood has pretty much consigned entertainment for grown-ups to the small screen—which isn’t such a bad thing. “The best entertainment that’s maybe ever been on the planet is on American television right now,” he says. “And we’re at the beginning of it—I think it’s a fire that’s going to be keep burning.” In his view, a movie needs some element of “the spectacular” to get a green light in Hollywood. So as much as he’d like to make another Michael Clayton, he knows it’s a hard sell both for the studios and for moviegoers—as he says, “I don’t want to be wasting my time chasing an audience that’s someplace else.”
The Bourne Legacy opens Aug. 10.