Ahead of its Aug. 10 release, the stars, screenwriter, and director of Universal Pictures' The Bourne Legacy sat down with Spinoff Online and other members of the press to talk about the upcoming fourth film in the franchise based on Robert Ludlum's acclaimed novels.
Part sequel and part expansion of the Bourne universe, The Bourne Legacy is set during the events of the third film, The Bourne Ultimatum, but instead of following Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon) it follows Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another super-enhanced agent created by a secret government program similar to Treadstone. But when orders come from above to burn the program and kill everyone involved, Cross and scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) go on the lam, trying to stay a step ahead the man tasked with shuttering the program, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton).
Speaking to reporters about the training he underwent on the Legacy set, Renner said he actually worked with many of the same crew members he’d collaborated with on Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and The Avengers.
"If anything, it might have been a little easier, even though what was required of me was a lot more," he said of his stunts and fight training.
However, co-star Weisz had a different opinion of the stunt work, especially when it came to the film's big motorcycle chase scene in the Philippines. "Jeremy told me today -- it was really sweet he never told me in Manila -- that was the scariest stunt for him because he was responsible for my life. He didn't tell me then, thank god, because I would have gone, 'If he's scared--!'" she said as Renner and the rest of the cast laughed.
The actress also had a great appreciation for her character, one of the scientists working on the project to create the enhanced spies but in the dark about how every piece of it fits together.
"What I really like about the tone of the Bourne films is that it's really realistic so I'm not playing an action heroine,” Weisz said. “As a scientist she's a pretty normal person, she's not physically gifted in any way. She's pretty terrified, she's really scared, and in the end she gets to kick ass a little bit!"
However, Weisz didn’t rule out the possibility of transforming into a more action-oriented character if there were more Bourne sequels.
"If they wrote it, I'd be up for it!" she said.
"Well, now we'll start toying again!" laughed director and co-screenwriter Tony Gilroy.
"The idea with Rachel was to take somebody who starts off as a victim and ends up being a full collaborator in her own survival,” he said. “That's as interesting to me as any secret agent or spy I've ever been part of a film on.”
Renner said that he and Damon hadn’t talked about the movie, but Renner he was excited to play such a different character than Bourne, describing Cross as a man who ultimately wants to belong.
"I feel connected to that idea of wanting to belong to something, to have a sense of purpose as a man on this planet," he said. "That's what I initially connected to, [Cross is] a guy who really wanted to belong, whether it's to the military or signing up for a program to feel like you're doing some sort of good on the planet."
As to any potential team-ups between Cross and Bourne in the franchise's future, Renner laughed, "The architects and creators behind this whole thing have cleverly left it wide open for fans like myself wondering what the heck will go on next!"
That brought Gilroy to the setting of the fourth film, explaining that the idea to have Legacy unfold during the events of Ultimatum emerged after multiple discussions of what aspect of the Bourne universe the story should explore.
"The first conversation was like a game, it was really like, 'Hey, you could say there was a much larger conspiracy, you could say he's only a small piece of this thing,’" Gilroy said. "So that's a sexy idea, everybody gets involved, everybody likes that idea. Then we said, 'You know what else you could do? You could have Ultimatum in the background of the first 10, 12 minutes of the movie, there could be a phone call from that movie to our movie.' Then everybody got very excited."
The director, who penned he first three Bourne movies, collaborated with his brother Dan Gilroy on the script for Legacy, and the two brothers began ribbing each other as soon as the writing process was mentioned.
"When we realized they only gave you one paycheck for two people we went off on our separate ways!" Dan Gilroy joked as his brother laughed.
"There wasn't one argument, there wasn't one raised voice!" the director added as Dan Gilroy rolled his eyes.
Tony Gilroy said the chance to direct Legacy was a complete surprise to him, but a welcome one.
"It's not something I ever, ever thought I would do -- I never even thought I'd be writing another one," he said. "It happens so incrementally, we were playing a game and then the character came alive -- I was looking for what to do next and I was trying to find something in the world of big movies, and I wanted to try before I got too old to do a big movie."
Turning to the movie itself, Norton explained that he felt questions about the motives of Byer, a man who calls himself a patriot while covering up governmental corruption, were central to the main themes of the film.
"Is he rationalizing corrupt behavior or does he have a point?" he said. "I think that's a question being purposefully posed, and that's what makes Tony's approach to this film more interesting to me than kind of trafficking in villains and heroes, if you would. I think a lot of what we see going on in the world every day that makes us possibly a little uncomfortable with what's being done in our name and under our banner and all that kind of stuff has that question embedded within it, that question of, 'Is our security worth the compromise of our values, and at what level?' I enjoy the idea of those paradoxes and those rationalizations hanging out there for people to sit with and decide how they feel about this guy."
While the subject matter was interesting to Norton, "not getting hurt" was the biggest challenge for Renner -- although the actor joked that looking warm in all the scenes where he was swimming in a natural pool in wintry Alaska was just as hard.
"Cold is cold no matter if you're holding the camera or in front of it!" he said.
"Danny didn't go there!" director Gilroy joked, poking the co-screenwriter sitting next to him.
"[Tony] had batteries in his gloves, he had heated underwear. He had everything that could be powered on! He's not very good in the cold!" Renner laughed, adding, "He did say he'd jump in there with me."
"I didn't mean it!" the director said.
The two Gilroys said the key to shooting their intricate action scenes was planning, planning and more planning.
"Attention to detail is key," Dan Gilroy said, pointing to a shootout scene in an old house that went through multiple drafts before they began to block the action.
"We were sending diagrams of what the house looks like and then we'd redesign the house and say, there's a hole in the floor!" he said.
"It's like having kids -- if you knew what you were into you'd go, 'Forget it, I can't handle it!' You just you go, and then all the sudden you're pregnant!" Tony Gilroy joked.
Renner concluded by telling the audience that, all fight choreography, physical training and stunts aside, the actor knew who Aaron Cross would prefer to go head to head with in a fight, and it isn't Jason Bourne: "I'll take the Hulk!”