The Bourne series (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) takes a new leap in the taut spy universe with The Bourne Legacy. Based on the series of crime thrillers by Robert Ludlum, the films were each penned by Tony Gilroy and starred Matt Damon in the titular role. In Legacy, Jeremy Renner enters the game as Aaron Cross, a spy with his own mission and unique story. That's not all that's different; this time Gilroy adds director to his resume, crafting an even bigger world with its own mysteries. Gilroy, Renner, and costars Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton recently met with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to share just how much the Bourne series expands in its newer incarnation.
Emmanuel Itier: You just joined a new action franchise. What is it like to be a part of it? What do you find unique about this latest installment?
Rachel Weisz: Well, I love the Bourne films because I love the level of realism and complexity and when you see the stunts happening it looks like it's really happening. And with this film I like it because it lifts the curtain on the first three films and it shows you really who is in charge. So if you think you knew who was in charge, you didn’t.
Aaron crosses a new character. He’s part of a new organization. Treadstone is very antiquated and old fashioned and there’s a new organization called Outcome, and he’s an agent working for Outcome. And he’s a very different kind of soldier/agent. He knows exactly who he is. He’s not searching for his identity. He’s searching for something else.
EI: Even so, you’ve been part of an action franchise before, with The Mummy series. What differences have you noticed between the two different universes?
RW: Well, I love The Mummy series. It's very different from [this film]. The Mummy series is more tongue and cheek kind of humorous, I would say... more cute, I guess. This is hopefully hyper-realistic and I think one is meant to be able to identify with the character and think, oh gosh, this could be happening.
The science in it is not science fiction. It's actually real science. And these are already happening in small ways. I don’t know if this exact thing is happening but it's possible. So it's kind of, yeah, a frightening idea that this could be happening.
EI: What was your experience working with Tony Gilroy? How does it help you to have your director also be the writer of the entire franchise?
RW: Yeah, I mean he wrote the first three Bourne [films] so he’s the architect of the whole Bourne universe so I felt very safe in his hands.
EI: What do you think is the theme of this particular Bourne film, since the lead character and story have changed?
RW: I think the movie’s investigating some moral dilemmas in science and to what lengths people will go to either satisfy their ego and their work, or to change themselves, to do better work.
Emmanuel Itier: When you were first pitched the idea of being in the next Bourne movie, what was your reaction? Were you hesitant at all to step into Jason Bourne’s shoes?
Jeremy Renner: Well, they never said I was going to be Jason Bourne because that would have been a really easy no. I don’t think anybody would want to replace Matt and I don’t think there is such a thing to be able to replace Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. And I was concerned even after that because I still hadn’t [seen] anything from like the script or anything.
So I’m like how do you make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. It doesn’t make any sense, because I’m a fan of the franchise and I have been. I think it's a fantastic series. And then once I got the information, the script and what not, I’m like, okay, how clever. You guys are very clever. And then I thought what a great character and couldn’t wait to jump into it.
EI: How did you prepare to take on this next step in the story? Did you speak with Matt Damon at all?
JR: Yeah, I’ve known Matt a little while but we didn’t talk creatively about the picture at all. And I had my hands full physically to kind of go figure out how to get through these obstacles that were required of me.
EI: It seems from the film that you had a great amount of physical challenges. What were the most difficult scenes to shoot?
JR: I just feel like every day no matter what we’re doing is a big challenge and that’s the fun part. I feel like the job is, whether it be a fight sequence or an intimate little scene in a hotel... the flophouse scene was a little tricky but intimate and beautiful, I think. But the most nerve wracking was the motorcycle stuff, because you’re on two wheels in a third world country. JP was our motorcycle [guy], he was my stunt guy, and more my teacher. He’s French, he’s the best, the best, but even with that he gave me a lot of confidence.
But I still have an actress on the back that I’m responsible for. It's fine if I go down, okay. It's my fault, and okay, I get banged up, but I got Rachel [Weisz] on the back. So not only am I trying to protect myself and keep this rocking, but I have her that I’m kind of worried about. But she is very trusting in me and that, in turn, again gave me the confidence to be able to get out there and have some fun.
EI: Why do you think this Bourne franchise is so successful? What is it you think that people can relate to and enjoy?
JR: I don’t know. I can’t really speak for other fans. But for myself it's for the same reason why I want to be a part of it as an actor. It's the kind of cinema that I like. That in a world, especially where it's super heroes in tights and things, and things that are fantasy, I think there’s also great fantasy in something that’s very authentic and very real.
I found that also in The Hurt Locker, just when something feels so real there’s a fantasy within that. So The Bourne [Legacy] has such a wonderful, sort of authentic [feel]. It's smart, it's visceral. [It has] the ferocity of action, all those things, and then character. It's really important you follow these characters. French Connection is great example because there’s a great car chase, a very famous car chase in it. But if you don’t care about who’s in those cars then what’s the point, crash, blow up, I don’t care. We care about the characters in these movies. So that’s very exciting to me.
Emmanuel Itier: How does it feel to direct a Bourne movie after writing all the previous films?
Tony Gilroy: See, it was never on my menu. I never thought it would happen. it wasn’t something I was looking for. I mean, after I finished writing Ultimatum I was really sort of outside the party. It's one of the last things I ever thought I would do.
So they finished up and everything was wrapped so nicely and they couldn’t find a way to continue, I think, and then sometime later I got started on it and I incrementally got seduced into the idea. And when it finally came – when it finally got clear I really liked what we had and I didn’t want to let it go. But it wasn’t something I had wanted to do.
EI: What’s different about this new storyline with Jeremy Renner’s character?
TG: What we’re saying is that you saw before a small piece of something much larger. So we sort of pulled back the curtain and when you do that we really have a much more epic, wider landscape that’s different. We have a different point of view in the movie. Rachel Weisz is a character who actually comes in with a point of view and her own story. That’s unusual. And the character is obviously very, very different and [Renner’s] problem is very, very different.
EI: Finding a replacement for the franchise seems incredibly daunting after Matt Damon’s success. How did you cast Jeremy Renner? What was it about him that embodied this role?
TG: We knew that we couldn’t make a successful film if we didn’t have a character that was as essential as Jason Bourne was in a different way. We really needed to have something fundamentally important for the character. And when we found that for Aaron Cross we also then knew that we had to have a really brilliant actor. So we had to have a great actor.
We had to have an athlete, a movie athlete, someone who could really do the things we needed. And then we also needed somebody who wasn’t fully focused in the audiences’ mind, someone that they hadn’t really pinned down yet. So there was still some chance to form him in our way. We didn’t have to reshape him.
EI: What was the most challenging part of directing this movie, after being a writer behind the scenes for so many years?
TG: The shooting, I mean, there’s a hundred plus days of shooting all over the world, Korea, Canada, New York, Manilla for two and a half months. I mean it's the physical endurance of that is the hardest thing.
EI: How do you explain the success of the franchise? There are plenty of action films out there, but there seems to be a big fascination about the Bourne series in particular.
TG: I think it's had a lot of integrity. It's not cynical. It's not a cynical franchise. It's very real. I think the reality of it is really… everybody who’s worked on it, it's been thirteen years. There [are] a lot of people, different people, that have worked on it and two other previous directors. Everybody’s managed to maintain the integrity of that reality. And I think that if you have real people with a really emotional fuel burning in the midst of something truly spectacular, it really means something else. It’s not a green screen movie. It's not spectacular in that sense. I think that’s the hook.
EI: After writing four Bourne movies, what particular scene still resonates with you?
TG: I’ll be really bad – it's not in this movie. The scene that let me write the whole thing, there’s one scene, the very first scene that was ever written is in Identity. It's the scene in the café where he says to her, “How do I know how to do all these different things? How do I know the truck driver has a gun and how do I know I can run this fast? How can I know all these things and not know who I am?”
And that was the very first scene that wrote even before the script and that scene was my way into the whole thing. So I’ll pick that scene. There’s many scenes in this movie that I love and I should probably be saying something [about this film] but if you’re asking for one scene that was the key to open everything for me, that was that one scene in the first film.
EI: Are you up for another one after this one?
TG: Oh man. I’m up for a vacation. I really don’t know. We just finished eight days ago. So, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. We’ll see. It was a pleasure.
Emmanuel Itier: First off, were you a big fan of the Bourne franchise before signing on to be a part of it?
Edward Norton: Of course, yeah, yeah. I saw them all. This series, I think, has been one of the great spy film novels. It's like a cinema novel. And it's really fun. I think that these films tapped into something that’s very in the contemporary psychology, if I can put it that way. There are certain paranoias that I think we have today.
Not paranoias, there’s certain concerns we have about the way that government and corporations and intelligence services are interacting with the world and things they’re doing. And this film, I think, always tapped that nerve because it presents things in a realistic enough way that you feel like maybe you’re seeing how some of the things in our world are – that we see in the newspapers are actually happening.
EI: Was there a particular challenge you faced while shooting this film?
EN: It's very, very difficult to make your hair look gray believably I found out. I thought it would be like a half an hour. It was like nine hours in the salon, very challenging.
EI: Does it help you as an actor to be working with the director who is also the writer of the entire series?
EN: Very much. And on top of that, a big part of the appeal to me was just how much I’ve liked Tony’s other films too. I think Michael Clayton was like one of the really top contemporary films recently. I love that film. And so I was very excited by the prospect of working with him.
I think he’s a really sharp thinker and I think all of his films, the Bourne ones, and those other films have had this theme of challenging that idea of the way that the corporate system is sort of in danger of oppressing people in some ways. Most of his films have a hero who’s pushing back against the kind of corporate oligarchy.
EI: Yes, absolutely.
EN: And I like that. I think that’s a theme that I think is very real in people’s lives right now.
Universal Pictures' 'The Bourne Legacy' will be released in theaters nationwide August 10, 2012.