'Bourne' series starts new chapter

Jeremy Renner in 'The Bourne Legacy'. (Handout)

Jeremy Renner in 'The Bourne Legacy'. (Handout)

Kevin Williamson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:54 PM ET

Five years ago, Matt Damon was brainstorming an idea for the next inevitable Jason Bourne sequel. The pitch? The amnesiac assassin, having finally recovered his memory after three films and countless corpses, loses his keys.

“That kind of illustrates how out of story we are,” Damon admitted with a laugh during interviews for 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum.

Not so shockingly, the Bourne-misplaces-his-keys concept never came together.

Much more shockingly? When the series returns on Friday it will be without Damon – or, for that matter, the Bourne character. After all, when a franchise has grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide – as 2002’s The Bourne Identity, 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy and 2007’s Ultimatum collectively have – studios tend to bulldoze through such obstacles as a lack of story to tell. And, in fact, for a time in 2009, it did appear that Damon and director Paul Greengrass – who helmed Supremacy and Ultimatum – would reunite for a fourth outing. Those plans, though, were ultimately scuttled.

Enter – or re-enter – Tony Gilroy, who penned drafts of all three films before stepping behind the camera for his 2007 directorial debut, Michael Clayton.

“A lot of people spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to continue Jason Bourne – friends of mine were going on (script) meetings. I was never part of that. Then they all walked away,” Gilroy tells QMI.

“There was a lot of desperation. There were a lot of desperate ideas floating around.”

Among them: A prequel that would recast the titular role.

“There’s a big appetite when there’s that much money sitting on the table. But there’s never been anything cynical about this franchise. No one ever did it for the money. It’s kind of sweet and true that way. Matt made that a ground rule and it’s been a ground rule for me along the way. It never winks at the audience. I don’t think you could replace him or do a prequel.”

Eventually the estate of author Robert Ludlum – who created the character – reached out to Gilroy. “They were like, ‘What do we do?’ “ Gilroy’s response? A spin-off that expands the Bourne mythos without either recasting Bourne -- or killing him off.

“I casually called them back and said, you could say that the other three films were just one room in a much larger house. And people liked that as a starting point.”

Thus The Bourne Legacy which -- while unfolding concurrently to events in Ultimatum -- focuses on a fresh protagonist: Aaron Cross, portrayed by 41-year-old Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers). Predictably -- considering what the Bourne franchise meant to Damon’s career -- the gig was hotly contested around Hollywood with such actors as Shia LaBeouf and Jake Gyllenhaal reportedly under consideration.

“There were all kinds of people,” Gilroy says without naming names. “We looked all over the place. We needed an absolute rock star actor because the part is really demanding. It’s a high degree of difficulty.” But Gilroy and the producers also weren’t seeking a star.

“We wanted someone who wasn’t completely formed in the audience’s mind. There were some people who we thought, 'We can rebrand them.’ But our dream was to have someone who wasn’t completely formed. I met with actors ages 19 to 45. Jeremy plays a lot younger than he is. He hit the sweet spot.”

Furthermore while such Bourne supporting players as Joan Allen and Albert Finney reprise their roles, Legacy also adds such new cast members as Edward Norton as a manipulative spymaster and Rachel Weisz as a neuroscientist who goes on the run with Cross after they’re both targeted for termination in the wake of the highly public Bourne debacle.

For the studio and the Ludlum estate, The Bourne Legacy is low-risk, high-reward. If it goes through the roof, Renner’s Cross can return for further sequels. If it flops, it still leaves the door open for Damon to return.

A speculated-about cross-over with Bourne and Cross together, however, seems unlikely. For one thing, Gilroy and Greengrass clashed during the making of Supremacy. In fact, until he started working on Legacy, Gilroy hadn’t even seen Ultimatum. And for another, Damon generated headlines late last year when he criticized Gilroy in a magazine interview -- before then apologizing for the remarks.

“I haven’t talked to those guys in years,” Gilroy says of Damon and Greengrass.

“Paul and I had a very different way of working -- a legitimately different creative way of working. There are great films made when you shoot the hell out of it and find it later on. That’s a completely legitimate way to make a movie. It’s not how I like to work. It was a complete culture clash, so we never had much to talk about and he and Matt were bonded up, as tight as could be. It was a pretty clean (break).”

As for where he might take a Cross-led sequel, Gilroy insists he has no blueprint for further episodes.

“People will be shocked. We have no plan. There’s no even half-assed plan about what we’d do moving forward. I know a lot more about Edward Norton’s organization. There was a lot of work done laying the groundwork for organizationally how this works. But there’s no specific plan. I’ve seen a few movies in the last couple of years where you really feel like they’re trying to sell you a ticket on the way out the door and I really hate that feeling.”

 

The Bourne File

Created by: Best-selling author Robert Ludlum in 1980s. The Bourne Identity which -- despite sharing the premise of a CIA assassin who has no memory of who or what he is -- bears only the most basic resemblance to the film adaptation that followed two decades later. The novel, for example, is steeped in the Cold War culture of the time and Bourne’s chief antagonist is the notorious assassin known as Carlos the Jackal.

Sequels: Ludlum wrote Supremacy and Ultimatum. After his death in 2001, the author’s estate drafted author Eric Van Lustbader to continue the character.

So far, Lustbader has penned seven Bourne books, the first of which was entitled The Bourne Legacy, although it is not the basis for the new film.

Previously portrayed by: Richard Chamberlain in a 1988 TV mini-series that co-starred Charlie’s Angels’ Jaclyn Smith.

Almost portrayed by: Brad Pitt. But ultimately he opted for a different espionage thriller: Spy Game with Robert Redford.

Other Ludlum adaptations in the works: The success of the Bourne series understandably has several camps in Hollywood eager for their own Ludlum-inspired franchise. Among those “in development” are The Janson Directive; The Parsifal Mosiac (with Ron Howard possibly directing); The Osterman Weekend (already made once in 1983); and The Matarese Circle, which at one point looked like it might happen with David Cronenberg directing Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise.

 


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