By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD— Matt Damon became an action star playing amnesiac spy Jason Bourne in the “Bourne” trilogy based on Robert Ludlum’s popular novels. The action-packed franchise earned nearly $1 billion globally at the box office.
Building on the foundation of the “Bourne” universe, Tony Gilroy, who adapted the Ludlum books into screenplays, takes the helm in an all-new chapter of the espionage franchise, with another spy at the center of the intrigue—Aaron Cross, played by none other than the ubiquitous Jeremy Renner (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” “The Avengers”).
Renner, 41, plays a spy who literally comes in from the cold—he emerges shirtless at the outset of the action-packed film from a remote icy lake—only to become targeted for elimination by the covert Defense Department operation that created him and other secretly biologically engineered spies. More than an assassin, Renner’s Aaron Cross discovers he and other agents were designed for use in isolated, high-risk, long-term intelligence assignments. With the secret military project being shut down for fear of becoming publicly exposed (jumping off a plot development of 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Cross teams up with a scientist (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz) whose team has created a formula that enhances the spies’ physical performance and is also slated for termination.
Cross’ journey takes him from the frozen wilderness of Alaska (with Calgary’s Canadian Rockies standing in for The Last Frontier state) to Washington, D.C. to New York to the crowded and narrow streets of Manila, where a nail-biting motorcycle chase ensues.
Renner, Gilroy, who co-wrote the script with his brother, Dan, and Weisz recently gathered here to talk about extending the “Bourne” legacy with a brand new hero and an all-new compelling adventure that complements the original trilogy.
Front Row Features: Jeremy, what was the biggest challenge for you in taking on this role? Was it the stunt work and the physicality or bouncing around to different locations around the globe or the pressure of stepping into a franchise that had such a precedent beforehand?
Renner: Not getting hurt, pretty much. I couldn’t get injured. I wanted to do as much (of the stunts) as I possibly could because of the responsibility of the authenticity of the three films prior. It would do a great injustice and disservice to this film if I could not perform what was required, and I like those challenges. I like those physical obstacles.
Front Row Features: Did you get hurt?
Renner: I hurt my feelings here and there. (He laughs.) You get banged up a little bit. If you don’t get banged up, you’re not working hard enough. So yes I did, but I never was injured to where it stopped me from doing what I needed to do.
Front Row Features: Jeremy, how much more difficult is hand-to-hand combat in this film versus what you did in “MI4” and “The Avengers?”
Renner: The difficulties were always just as difficult. There’s really no difference. It’s a challenge but a different set of circumstances. I was lucky enough to have the same (stunt) guys I worked with on those on “Bourne.” So I had a running start with that. If anything, it might have made it even a little easier, even though what was required of me was a lot more.
Front Row Features: Rachel, could you talk about your experience doing an action role?
Weisz: What I like about the tone of the “Bourne” films is that they’re really realistic. I’m not playing an action heroine. I’m playing a scientist who’s a pretty normal person. She’s really scared and terrified. At the end she gets to kick ass a little bit, but I’m not a superhero.
Front Row Features: What was it like to be on the back of the motorcycle with Jeremy?
Weisz: It was terrifying, really terrifying. Jeremy told me today that when we were in Manila that was the scariest stunt for him, because he was responsible for my life. He didn’t tell me that in Manila, thank God, because I would have been, “oh my God.” I just had to surrender. I just had to hold on, but I didn’t have to act being scared.
Front Row Features: What was like working in the capital of the Philippines, and how was it technically in terms of the advantages and disadvantages of working in a very busy city like that?
Gilroy: We chose it not just because it narratively fit with what we were doing but also because there was a real film infrastructure there. The (Manila crew) was really professional. When you told them what you wanted to do, they did it. They knew what it was going to take. There was a real motivation and appetite to get us to go there, so we knew we would be able to get the kind of access to the things that we needed. I can’t imagine doing this any place else.
Front Row Features: What do you recall most about working there?
Gilroy: The people in the Philippines are so extraordinarily nice. There’s just such an upbeat, pleasant and positive attitude that the people have while we’re disrupting their lives. We camped out in their neighborhood for a month, closing off their roads and blowing things up. It was a tough city to get around in. There were some really funky places we went, but the people made it possible.
Front Row Features: Jeremy, it seems like one of the big differences between your character and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is your character likes being an agent. How did that difference help you wrap your head around the part?
Renner: I don’t start off by figuring out the character by comparing it to another character. I looked at page one to page 120 and then go over all the circumstances with Tony and figure it out from there. It was very exciting to me that it’s a new palette of colors and a new canvas to paint upon with these circumstances. I feel connected to (Cross’) idea of wanting to belong to something, to have a sense of purpose. That’s what I initially connected to. Aaron is a guy that really wanted to belong.
Front Row Features: Jeremy, how difficult were the scenes in the lake and snow for you?
Renner: You don’t ask for that sort of physical torture, but it’s very telling and makes it easier to play because it’s part of the scene. It’s not everyone shooting in the Rockies and pretending it was summer. I was cold. It was supposed to be. The only thing that was really challenging is that I’m supposed to be a tough guy and be able to think, “oh yes, it’s not cold.” But I’m freezing. It’s just another one of those challenges that you have to overcome. It wasn’t easy, but it was beautiful, and the snowy scenery became a character in itself.
Front Row Features: Did you talk to Matt Damon before taking on this role?
Renner: No. We didn’t reach out to each other at all and never spoke really creatively about it. I only inadvertently ran into him. I’ve known him for years, but I just inadvertently ran into him at a birthday party before we started. We had a good time there but that was about it.
Front Row Features: What was your training regime for this?
Renner: My personal workload was minimal compared to the entire process of filmmaking, but for me it’s just getting enough sleep, being physically adept enough to be able to perform what I needed to perform. That was it, every day. It was fighting, training, stretching, whatever I had to do to get through the day.
Front Row Features: How long did it take you to shoot the motorcycle chase sequence?
Gilroy: I do not know how many days we shot. I know that even before we had the script finished, I sat down with Dan Bradley, who’d done the other films, and was the second unit director—the stunt coordinator—and I said to him, “Look, here’s what coming up and I need you desperately.” We had a conversation about what’s the best motorcycle chase that’s ever been done, why doesn’t anybody do it, why are they all limited in some way and how can we make it better? It goes from there to a script, to visiting Manila, plotting out the places we’re going to do it, and then it gets down to Dan, and a bunch of people, grown men sitting around a table with Matchbox cars and going (he pretends to move toy cars around on the table), “he’s going to go here, and that’s going to go here, and then he’s going to spin out.” It’s literally like six-year-olds playing underneath the Christmas tree.
Front Row Features: When you were writing the screenplays for the other “Bourne” pictures, did you ever imagine yourself directing one someday?
Gilroy: No. It was not something I ever thought I would do. It was not on my bucket list at all. I never even thought I’d be writing another one, so in that sense it was no different than any of the other films that I directed. It happened so incrementally. We started to play a game, and the game became more interesting. The (Aaron Cross) character came alive. I’d been looking for what to do next, and I was trying to find something in the world of big movies. I wanted to try, before I was too old to try to do a big movie. I’ve been looking for something to do that was interesting enough to spend two years of my life on.
Front Row Features: Is Aaron Cross going to meet Jason Bourne in the next installment?
Renner: 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 he’s going to do next.