Tony Gilroy on The Bourne Legacy

Telling a story that takes place during The Bourne Ultimatum, shooting the big motorcycle climax and getting the cast back for surprise cameos.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


Tony Gilroy has been the voice of the Bourne movies this whole time. He wrote the script to all four films. With the fourth, he steps into the director’s chair. The Bourne Legacy answers the big question: How can you do a Bourne film without Jason Bourne? Gilroy introduces Aaron Cross, during events that take place before The Bourne Ultimatum ends. Gilroy spoke about the film in a press conference last month.


Tony Gilroy on making a film that takes place within another film

They tried for a long time. A lot of smart people tried to figure out how to go forward after Ultimatum because it was wrapped up so beautifully. It was such a nice package.  And I’m not sure. I never tried. I was never part of that. I’m not sure I could’ve figured out anything to do with that. By the time everybody had left and the party was over and they started the second round, “What do we do post Bourne?” the first conversation was really like a game. It was really like how can we go forward?  What you could do is you could say there was a much larger conspiracy. You could say that that was only a small piece of this thing. That’s a sexy idea. Everybody gets involved in that. Everybody likes that idea and you say, “God, you know what else you could do? You could have Ultimatum play in the background of the first 12-15 minutes of the movie. There could be a phone call from the other movie to our movie.” Everybody got very excited. But it’s not the real deal. There’s no movie. All that’s very sexy. It’s like a beautiful shell, but there’s nothing. I didn’t get really interested even in writing a script on it much less directing it. When the character dropped in the slot, when the character came through and we suddenly realized there’s a character that was as fundamental an issue, as fundamental a problem, as much meat on the bone as there was for Jason Bourne, but with a completely different [personality,] that’s when it got really interesting.


Tony Gilroy on following the Paul Greengrass aesthetic

Robert Elswit shot this film with me. We did two other films together. He’s my other super soul brother hanging out. We spent a lot of time looking at the previous three films.  All three films. We looked atIdentity, too. We really had a lot of conversations about how much we should hew to what had been there before. There’s a real inside baseball way of how they approached a lot of things and how they shot it. I think we felt that we had a pretty legitimate opportunity because we’re saying it’s much larger. We’re blowing open all the doors on this and showing a much wider horizon and that we had a much bigger canvas. We had, I don’t know if it’s a responsibility or a right. We had free reign into having a slightly different visual vocabulary for that part of the film. When you get to the action, it has to have the maximum testosterone and energy it possibly can. There’s a lot of ways to do that. I like knowing where I am in action sequences if I’m supposed to. I’m a big fan of that. A lot of attention went into that. It’s how can we keep the energy up and orient people. All the conversations and all the anxiety, by the third day that we were shooting, the residue of that is what carried us through the next hundred days. We never really spent that much time looking back. It’s something we thought about.


Tony Gilroy on action geography

The secret is writing to a location. The secret is saying: “Here is where we are,” whether it’s a street, whether it’s a set, or whether it’s Monument Valley or wherever it is, and step by step, rigorously writing a script, writing into every moment and not faking anything and not cutting any corners. It’s just attention to detail. It’s stitch after stitch after stitch. There’s no shortcut. It’s the same thing as trying to write behavior. If you want to write characters’ behavior, a lot of times you want to shortcut and say “God, I really want to have him do this. I want to have him do that.” You really have to get inside every single one of them and say “What would I do if I was this person and what are the things I might do next?” If I’ve got a gun, you need to put somebody and they’re hiding here and someone’s over there and someone’s over there. There are certain things that have to happen. If you use the limitations as your friend, it always comes out on top. If something is wrong that’s blocking you, this is a problem, then turn it into an advantage.  It’s pretending for real. It’s the same thing that all these great actors do with every performance that they calibrate a little along the way. It’s the same thing on a macro level with choreography.


Tony Gilroy answers a question about the Aurora shooting

I’ll answer for everybody. It’s way too soon. We’re not spokesmen for anything. I think the only thing that matters is the needs of the people that are directly involved in what happened last night. I think anything else is really presumptuous and silly for us to comment about. Sorry. 


Tony Gilroy on the motorcycle chase climax of The Bourne Legacy

I wish I had the accounting on this because I’ve been asked that 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, who’s the second unit director and the stunt coordinator and much more than all of that, before there was even a script and got together with him and said “Look, here’s what’s coming up and I need you desperately.” We started conversations right then and it goes from the very first preamble conversation to what’s the best motorcycle chase that’s ever been done and why doesn’t anybody do it and 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 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 going “Oh, and then he’s going to go here and that’s going to go there and then he’s going to spin out” and it’s literally six-year-olds playing underneath a Christmas tree all the way to guys with welders and chainsaws in a shop in Manila building the rigs to make it. If you thought about it all at once, you’d never do it. It’s like having kids. If you knew what you were [getting] into, you’d go “Forget it. I can’t handle it.” But you go and all of a sudden you’re pregnant. Then the kid is there and you got to feed him and you got to put clothes on him and it’s just one stupid little step after another. When you get to the end, you go “Wow! What did we do?!” And then, we end up here.


Tony Gilroy on working in the Philippines

We chose it, not just because it narratively fit with what we were doing, but because there really was a real film infrastructure there. There were really people that, when you told them what you wanted to do, knew what it was going to take, as opposed to going someplace where they just say yes, we can do that. What we were asking, the ask was huge. There was a real motivation and appetite to get us to go there so we knew we’d be able to get the kind of access to the things that we needed. I will say, I’ve shot all around the world, as a writer been on location, this is impossible. What we did is impossible any place else I’ve ever been. I mean, even just trying to shoot on the streets of New York for two weeks, just to have people walking around is a nightmare. I can’t imagine doing this any place else. The people in the Philippines are so extraordinarily nice. There’s just such an upbeat, pleasant, positive attitude that the people have while we’re disrupting their lives and camped out in their neighborhood for a month and closing off their roads and blowing things up. It was very, very tough – tough places to work, tough city to get around in, and some really funky places we went – but the people made it possible.


Tony Gilroy on stepping into the director’s chair after writing three films

It’s 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. In that sense, it was no different than any of the other films that I’ve directed. I wrote them. They were mine so I got to direct them the first time sort of working on the script. It happened so incrementally as I said before. We started to play a game and the game got more interesting. Then the character came alive and I had 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 got too old to try to do a big movie and I’d 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 a 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. It was quite surprising to me.


Tony Gilroy on the cameos from other Bourne stars

It was essential to have them come back. Absolutely essential. I mean, if you’ve seen the film, you know how we use them. No, it was absolutely essential to have them come back and we even looked to see if we could, but there was no way to get Julia Stiles back in. It just didn’t work this way. She’s off on the run. Why they came back? I think everyone understands why they came back. They came in for a couple days here and there and had some fun. We couldn’t have done it without them.