The Bourne Legacy is a tricky sequel. While it does follow the timeline of the first three films – and actually overlaps with The Bourne Ultimatum - the plot follows a completely different character, named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), and features a whole new batch of supporting characters (including Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz). It was certainly a challenge for co-writer Dan Gilroy, co-writer/director Tony Gilroy and the cast, but they made it work and now they’re talking about how they did it.
The Gilroys, Renner, Norton and Weisz recently came together for a press conference in Los Angeles to answer questions about the new Bourne movie, which is in theaters this Friday. Check out the conversation below in which they talk about maintaining a visual aesthetic from the first three films, shooting the film’s big action sequences, and the future of the franchise.
Rachel, this is a different role than we are used to seeing you in, can you talk about your experience playing an action character and what is was like riding with Jeremy on a motorcycle.
Rachel Weisz: What I really like about the tone of the Bourne films is that it is really realistic. So I’m not playing an action heroin, but I’m playing a scientist who is a normal person. I’m not physically gifted in any way so I think it is always very realistic. She is really scared and really terrified yet she gets to kick ass a little bit. I’m not a super hero. And what it was like to be on the back of a bike with Jeremy, It was terrifying. Actually Jeremy told me today, because he was very sweet and never told me in Manila, that it was the scariest stunt for him because he was responsible for my life, which he was. He didn’t tell me that in Manila – thank god. I just had to surrender and I had to hold on. But I didn’t have to act so it was just terrifying.
Jeremy, how was the training for this film compared to MI:4 and The Avengers, and if there is a sequel will it feature you and Matt Damon or will it just be a continuation of your character’s story?
Jeremy Renner: I think the difficulties were everyday always the same difficult. There is really no difference it is just a challenge. I was lucky enough to have Mission and Avengers, same guys I worked with on those came onto Bourne, and so I had a running start with that. If anything, it might have been a little easier even though what was required of me was a lot more. As far as the future, I’m excited that the architects and creators behind this whole thing have cleverly left it wide open for fans like myself wondering what the heck is going to happen next.
Tony, can you talk about the challenges of creating an original film that actually takes place during the timeline of the previous movie in the franchise?
Tony Gilroy: You know they tried for a long time. A lot of very smart people tried to figure how to go forward after Ultimatum. It was wrapped up so beautifully into such a nice package. I was not a part of that, I’m not sure if I could have figured out anything different to do with that. By the time everybody had left and the party was kind of over, and the second round of what do we do post Bourne, the first conversation was really like a game. It was really like how could we go forward. Then we thought; you know what you could do? You could say that it is only a small piece of this thing. So that’s a sexy idea, everybody gets involved and likes that. Then we though, God, you know, you could have Ultimatum play in the background of the first 12-15 minutes of the movie. That could be a phone call from the other movie to our movie, and then everybody gets very excited. Even Danny got excited. But it’s not the real deal. All that is very sexy, it’s like a beautiful shell but there is nothing. I didn’t get really interested even in writing a script on it much less directing it until the character dropped in the slot and the character came through. When we suddenly realized that there is a character who has as fundamental an issue, as fundamental a problem, and as much meat on the bone as there was for Jason Bourne but is completely different, that’s when it got interesting and that is when Danny and I started talking to each other nineteen times a day on the phone as opposed to once a day. Do you have anything to add to that?
Dan Gilroy: It was pretty effortless. The mythology of the first franchise allowed itself to be expanded upon. It was interesting to shift the angle on it and then say well this was going on simultaneously and there was enough real estate and open space that you could fill in pretty interesting backdrop and future for the franchise.
Tony Gilroy: And it was fun to put them together in the end to make sure everything worked. For the people that are the super freak fans that are really paying attention, there are a lot dissecting enjoyment for them there.
This question is for Mr. Norton, your character is very complex, even though you are focused that you are this cog in this wheel, do you feel that your character thinks that he is, or his department is nobler than they actually are?
Edward Norton: I think the essence of your question is, “Is he rationalizing corrupt behavior or does he have a point.” I think I’d rather not answer the question, that’s kind a question that is being purposely posed. That’s what makes Tony’s approach to this film more interesting to me than trafficking in villains in heroes. I think a lot of what we see going on in the world every day that makes us a little uncomfortable with what’s being done in our name and under our banner has that question embedded within in. Is our security worth the compromise of our values and at what level… that’s the question. I enjoy the idea of those paradoxes and those rationalizations being hanging out there for people to sit with and decide how they feel about this guy. I’m happy you’re asking the question and I’ll leave it at that.
Paul Greengrass did a lot to establish the aesthetic of the Bourne trilogy. I wonder in addition to putting your own spin on it, do you look back to his films to try to create a similar aesthetic in your world?
Tony Gilroy: Robert Elswit shot this film and we did two other films together. He’s sort of my other super soul brother. We spent a lot of time looking at the previous three films. We had a lot of conversations about how to hue to what had been there before. There’s a real inside baseball way to how they approached it and shot it. I thought we had a pretty legitimate opportunity because we’re saying it’s a much larger world., we’re blowing open the doors on this and we had a much bigger canvas and we had almost a responsibility, but we had free rein to having a slightly different visual vocabulary for that part of the film. When you get to the action, it really has to have the maximum testosterone and energy that you can. There’s a lot of ways to do that. I like knowing where I am in action sequences. I’m a big fan of that. A lot of attention went into that, how can we keep the energy up and orient people. All the conversations and all the anxiety, by the third day of shooting, it was the residue of that we carried with us through the next 100 days. We never really spent much time looking back. It’s something we thought about.
Jeremy, what was the biggest challenge in this film?
Jeremy Renner: Not getting hurt. Pretty much, I could not get injured. I wanted to do as much as I possibly could because of the responsibility of the authenticity of the three films prior. It would do a great injustice to this film if I could not perform what was required. I like those challenges. I like those physical challenges. Outside of that, it’s a job from page one to 120 and tremendous cast and directors and writing. It’s exciting to go to work.
Did you get hurt at all?
Jeremy Renner: I hurt my feelings [laughs]. I got banged up a little bit. If you don’t get banged up, you’re not working hard enough in my mind. But, I never got injured to where it stopped me from doing what I needed to do.
Jeremy, once you were cast in this role, did you talk to or hear anything from Matt Damon?
Jeremy Renner:No, we didn’t reach out to each other, at all. We never spoke creatively about it. I’ve known him for years, but I inadvertently ran into him before we started. We had a good time at a birthday party, and that was about it.
With the amount of work that goes into a film like this, looking at it from start to finish, does it ever seem daunting? How do you stay focused on the work, the whole time?
Jeremy Renner: It’s like running downhill, I suppose. That’s what it felt like, just running downhill. My personal workload, I felt, was minimal compared to the entire process of filmmaking. For me, it was about getting enough sleep and being physically adept enough to be able to perform when I needed to perform. That was it, every day. There was fighting, training, stretching, or whatever I had to do to get through the day. It was like, “Here’s food. Here’s water. Now, go do this.”
Tony Gilroy: “Act! Now!”
Jeremy Renner:The treats were the moments like I had with Edward and Rachel. Those were the little treats along the way that kept me going through the really physical part of the movie.
How long did it take you guys to film the motorcycle chase sequence and what kind of conversations did you guys have in terms of approaching it? How many days did it take to shoot?
Tony Gilroy: I wish I had the accounting on this, because I’ve been asked this question. I do not know how many days we shot. I know that long before, even before we had the script finished, I sat down with Dan Bradley, who had done the other films and is a second unit director and the stunt coordinator, and much more than all of that, before there was ever a script, and I sat down with him and said, “Look, here’s what’s coming up and I need you desperately.” And we started conversations right then. And it goes from just the very first preamble conversation of, “What’s the best motorcycle chase that’s ever been done?” and “Why doesn’t anybody else do it?” and “Why are they all limited in some way?” and “How can we make it better?” and it goes from there to a script to visiting Manila and plotting out the places we’re going to do it, and then it gets down to Dan Bradley and a bunch of people, grown men, sitting around a table with Matchbox cars. “He’s going to go here and that’s going to go here! And then he’s going to spin out!” It’s literally play. It’s six-year-olds playing underneath the Christmas tree all the way to guys with welders and chainsaws in a shop in Manila building the rigs to make it. It’s like what you said before. If you thought about it all at once you’d never do it. It’s like having kids. If you knew what you were into you’d go, “Forget it, I can’t handle it.” But you go and all of a sudden you’re pregnant! [laughs] And then the kid is there and you have to feed him and you have to clothe him. It’s one stupid little step after another and then you get to the end and you’re like, “Wow, what did we do?” And we end up here.
Dan Gilroy: And then they go to college. And then they hate you.
Tony Gilroy: I know! Anyway, enough.
Tony, could you talk about stepping into the director’s chair after writing the first three films?
Tony Gilroy: Not something I ever, ever, ever thought I would do, was not on my bucket list at all. I never even thought I’d be writing another one. So, in that sense, no different than any of the other films I directed; I wrote them, they were mine, so I got to direct them the first time sort of working on the script. It happens so incrementally, as I said before. We started playing a game and the game got more interesting and then the character came alive and I’d been looking for what to do next. I was trying to find something in the world of big movies, and I wanted to try before I got too old to try to do a big movie and I’ve been looking for something to do that was interesting enough to spend those two years of my life on, and this started to get really interesting. All of the sudden, this really looked like something that would be fun to do for two years. So it wasn’t a burning desire, it wasn’t something that I ever thought would happen. Quite surprising to me.
For actors, if you had to go up against your own adversary and could pick – Aaron Cross or Jason Bourne – who would you choose and why?
Jeremy Renner: Rachel? [laughs]
Rachel Weisz: Who would I choose to go up against? I really don’t know how to answer that question.
Ed Norton: This might be one of those moments where we remind somebody about the fine line between what’s real and what’s imaginary [laughs].
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.