HeyUGuys caught with director Doug Liman in a very candid interview where he talks about his latest film, the war drama The Wall, Tom Cruise and the sequel to Live Die Repeat*. The outspoken director also talks about his creative process and his upcoming film starring Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland.
It forced a more minimal approach, I’m somebody whose always found that if you bred drama out of smaller events you can make really exciting films when you’re focusing on smaller details. If you look at The Bourne Identity it’s very much about little details, if you pay attention to those little details you can get a lot of drama and excitement. You know – big Hollywood excitement, you don’t need to blow up the world, you just need to invest the audience in the reality and the details of the action we are creating.
In Live Die Repeat I was interested in those suits of armour and the batteries running out. I’ve always gotten a lot of excitement out of little details. For example, Jason Bourne when he is running around the embassy and having to use the fire escape map to figure a way out whereas people like James Bond just know where to go. It’s more exciting if you deal with the reality of what it would be like to be in that situation.
So in The Wall I wanted to build on the ideology that I had developed during Bourne Identity and make a movie that feels like it has the stakes of the world. But you’re just following two characters and what do they have in their pack and what don’t they have as well. And what they have or don’t have is the difference between life or death. Life or death can come down to do you have a spare athena or don’t you. Once you invest an audience at that level, you can make a really exciting movie without having a villain trying to destroy Gotham City.
One of the things I really appreciate about your films and The Wall is the way in which, your movies are often the perfect merging of strong characterisation amid these high concept situations. How do you go about striking a balance between spectacle and the human story, that the audience has to get emotionally invested in, in order for the big moments to work?
I’ve just always loved dealing with the reality; I’ve always found it’s more exciting. Even the betrayal of the CIA agent in The Bourne Identity, I really thought about how you go about hunting people, and the more I grounded that in the reality of what it takes to hunt somebody, the more exciting it was for me.
The other thing is. I’ve never made a traditional superhero film but I’ve made my version of a superhero film. I mean Jason Bourne is a version of a hero. I’ve always created outrageous situations: Tom cruise reliving the day over and over again in Live Die Repeat, I like putting characters in outrageous situations. And something that occurred to me when I was reading Dwain Worrell’s script for The Wall, is that American soldiers find themselves in these unbelievably outrageous, dangerous, life or death situations on a daily basis.
The Wall is not a pro-military movie but it is pro-soldier movie. It celebrates the sort of strength and the preparedness of the British and American soldiers who are out in the field fighting on our behalf. Between the training they receive and all the gear that they travel with on their back, there a lot like Iron Man, they’re a self-contained fighting force.
I read that the ending of The Wall was originally supposed to be different, and I know you have changed similar things in other films like Swingers and Live, Die, Repeat, while shooting in the past as well. How vital is creative freedom and the ability to improvise on set, to you as a director, and how do you handle a situation where you’re natural artistic urges are restricted, by a studio executive? Or a producer?
I’ve never been restricted by a studio or an executive because I started making Independent movies. So in the beginning when I was raising the money myself I had no-one to answer too, so there was nobody to restrict me. My first film for a studio was Go but it was an independent film bought by a studio. Anytime executives on Go tried to sort of exert their way: they would call my editor behind my back and try to get him to convince me to do what they wanted. He would record those phone calls and he would put them in the end title sequence of the movie when we would next screen the movie for the studio.
I come from a pretty rebellious anti authority background when it comes to working with studios. The other thing is, I really enjoy making independent movies. The power they have over you as a filmmaker is that, there is maybe five studios, so you better do as they say or they wont hire you again. But if you don’t care if they ever hire you again and you’re happy to go back to making independent movies like The Wall which I was thrilled to go and make, they have no power over you. That doesn’t mean I’m a dickhead because I’m a filmmaker that’s as collaborative as they come. I will take ideas from anybody on set and if it is a great idea I’m going to for it.
When you say you are a collaborative filmmaker and are open to taking ideas from wherever they may come from, can you go into detail regarding a few instances where that has occurred?
I screened The Wall almost a year ago now for a group of friends and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and my producer Dave Bartis. I had a friend there who was a book author who saw the film and said to me afterwards, “There is no ending with a happy ending.” Hopefully we will figure out a way to talk about this without spoiling the movie, but he said to me it would be way more interesting if the sniper won, in a very specific way. And I thought Oh My God! That’s a great idea and I said it right then to my producer and he was like don’t listen to him, he’s not in the movie business he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But I’m thinking, no that’s a really good idea.
He’s a guy named John Gill he just had his first novel out, it’s not like I was listening to a banker. Not that I wouldn’t, I mean for the Bourne Identity I had a very fancy screenwriter by the name of Tony Gilroy and I had a big fancy producer but it was my lawyer who helped me come up with the ending of the movie. So I’ll take the ideas from anywhere. Once I decided on the ending for The Wall I knew I wouldn’t have a fight about it, in fact Amazon supported me. I do understand the budget we make a film for has an impact on the creative choices you have. As belligerent as I just described my way of being, the one area where I am not belligerent, is that I recognise that this is a business, that people write me a cheque to go and make a movie and that I have an obligation to do everything in my power to make sure they make their money back.
I really loved Live Die Repeat, and was a bit disheartened that it had a disappointing Box Office return in America. Why do you think that was? And do you think that while traditionally it was movie stars like the great Tom Cruise that would marquee a movie. Now it is the branding of franchise films that has replaced the movie star in that sense. How do you think that shift has affected the kind of cinematic output we are now seeing?
Well I do think it’s harder to make original movies because audiences like franchises. Tom Cruise and I were very cognitive when we got to make Live Die Repeat that what a special opportunity that is because most people don’t get to make an original movie on that scale. And in terms of box office when you make something original it doesn’t always perform in the beginning. Swingers which is my first film really did bad at the box office, I mean awful. And now everybody I know has seen the movie. I meet people today who weren’t even born when I made the movie who’ve seen it. The kind of movies I make stand the test of time and therefore I can’t look at how it does opening weekend, ask me about the film two years later.
More people come up to me and talk about Live Die Repeat than any other movie I’ve made. I get way more enthusiasm from fans for that movie than anything else I’ve done. I like everybody else, like immediate gratification so I wish I’d gotten it opening weekend. Bourne Identity lost to Scooby-Doo the opening weekend, it was never number one ever but it stood the test of time. Tom Cruise is one of the few people out there who can get original movies made; he’s his own one-man marvel. But there’s just not that many Tom Cruises out there but thank god Tom is interested in making original movies.
Tom Cruise is probably my favourite movie star, you guys really seemed to have clicked, Live Die, Repeat, its sequel coming up, American Made of course, and Luna Park to come, I love how you constantly reinvent the perceived Tom Cruise persona in your movies, He is a coward in Live Die Repeat, the anti Maverick in American Made, What other elements of Cruise’s persona would you like to see explored in future Films?
Well in the sequel to Live Die Repeat I really want to see him squirm in a love story. People think of Tom as being fearless because every time you read about him, he is jumping out of an airplane or flying a helicopter, hanging off a side of a skyscraper or a building. But where he is really fearless is his willingness to take chances. When I asked him initially on Live Die Repeat, I said how would you feel about making your character a coward because that wasn’t how it was in the original script. I didn’t know what he was going to say because he could have said, look I have a Tom Cruise brand, I’m this and I’m that and it has worked for 30 years: his career is twice the length of Carey Grant’s. He had every right to go like, I’ve got a brand to protect here but instead he was the opposite. He loved the idea and nobody pushed it harder than Tom.
If you see the outtakes to Live Die Repeat he really went for it. He was just totally fearless in trying to be a coward. In American Made he had to be a scoundrel and I was like how would you feel about mooning the camera because that’s what Barry Seal used to do. I mean Tom Cruise never has a hair out of place and now I want him to play Barry Seal and have him moon the camera. It wasn’t even a debate, he loves pushing himself. He loves pushing the boundaries of what it is to be Tom Cruise in a movie.
I rewatched Swingers in preparation for this Interview, and I loved so much about it, there is a scene in which Trent and Mike are discussing Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs, and then in a very meta type of way, you include two of those directors most iconic sequences, I have two questions really, film fans of this generation are sitting around a table like Mike and Trent did, What do you think is this generations Reservoir Dogs, that has captured cinephiles in a similar way?
I mean its probably not even a movie it’s probably a series on Netflix. I sort of feel like TV is sort of crossing over to the zeitgeist in a way that films aren’t today. But for a filmic moment you know maybe it’s something like Jennifer Lawrence and that bow and arrow, something like that, that has become iconic.
And my second question is, While Quentin Tarantino sometimes borrowed but still undoubtedly retains an original auteur’s eye. Are we now at a point where the next wave of filmmakers are raised on so such an influx of movies, that they now ultimately spend much of there time trying to almost remake the same films, particularly in relation to genre, and are struggling to find their own creative voice? Do you think we are losing originality to imitation a lot more today?
I don’t think so, I think anything on TV today is as original as its every been. I’m pretty bullish on that, I mean there’s a lot of genre stuff that’s very derivative but there’s also a lot of really original and special TV shows being made.
You have a film called Chaos Walking out next year, working with perhaps two of the newest up and coming stars around, Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland. Can you tell me any details about that shoot and what it was like to work with them?
First of all it’s just wrapped and they’re extraordinary. I mean maybe part of the reason of why I am so bullish on cinema today is because I look at two of the biggest up and coming stars who are at the heart of two of the biggest franchises and we are in great shape. They are obviously hugely talented but they’re also so wise beyond their years and so committed to the movies themselves and not just their part in the movie.
They see the bigger picture in a way that Tom Cruise see’s the bigger picture and look how long his career is. Sometimes you feel like there is an actor who is like of the moment and there are ones who have a big long career ahead of them and Daisy and Tom definitely have huge careers ahead of them. Movie stars are movie stars because people go and see their movies. Tom Cruise is a movie star not just because somebody put him in a franchise. He is a movie star because people went and saw his movies and thought, I like him. Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are committed to making sure that Chaos Walking is a huge commercial success that audiences love, not just their characters in the movie but also love the movie itself. And that means the movie will be a hit and that means they will continue to work on projects that are inventive and exciting and audiences will continue to flock to those movies. They will just become bigger and bigger stars.
THE WALL is now available on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD.
*Yes, Edge of Tomorrow is the given title, however Doug Liman refers to it throughout as Live Die Repeat so we went with this.