Director Doug Liman on Film – The Hollywood Reporter

Doug Liman was so committed to getting an adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity made for the big screen, he crashed a wedding and later piloted a prop plane to make it happen.

“I spent years hitting brick walls,” says Liman, who broke out directing indie stunner Swingers in 1996 but had yet to make a major studio play. “I even crashed a wedding to accost Warner Bros. president Terry Semel because Warners had the rights at the time,” Liman tells THR. “It got to the point that if I mentioned Bourne Identity to my agent, he would groan and roll his eyes.”

Eventually, the rights reverted to Ludlum, so Liman went to Montana to meet with him. The director flew solo in a tiny propeller plane to get there. “I had just gotten a license to fly,” Liman recalls. “My arrival was so dramatic that Ludlum nicknamed me ‘Hollywood,’ even though I had flown from [New York].” Liman got the green light from the author and, with Universal on board to distribute, set about finding his Jason Bourne — the amnesiac CIA officer searching for clues about his past. The role went to a yet-untested action star: Matt Damon.

Up until then, Damon was best known for dramatic awards fare like Good Will Hunting and Saving Private Ryan. “In Matt’s hands, I could give Bourne a really dark past and you would still root for him,” says Liman.

Filming began October 2000 but was set back by rewrites and reshoots, pushing the film’s release from September 2001 to June 2002. When it finally hit theaters, Bourne Identity grossed $214 million ($343.9 million today) at the global box office and garnered praise from critics.

THR‘s review said the movie captured “the pulp verve of those 1960s Cold War thrillers directed by the likes of Guy Hamilton and Terence Young.”

Liman went on to direct Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Edge of Tomorrow, and served as a producer on three of the four Bourne films that followed. The spy franchise also spawned the short-lived TV series Treadstone. But, as Liman points out, “It’s a miracle that Bourne Identity happened at all.”

This story first appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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