Doug Liman Goes out of his way to tell us about his latest thrilling adventure
In 1996, Doug Liman became the cool cat of the burgeoning indie scene with his slickster romp Swingers. He parlayed that success into a string of highly successful films and soon became one of the most sought after directors of this past decade. His work includes the astute study in urban noir known simply as Go, the first installment of Matt Damon's hugely successful franchise The Bourne Identity, and the film responsible for getting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He has also served as a producer on such acclaimed television shows as The O.C., Arrested Development, and the new Knight Rider remake.
This month, he returns to theater screens with his sci-fi thriller Jumper. This epic adventure revolves around a young man played by Hayden Christensen that discovers he has the exhilarating ability to instantly teleport anywhere in the world he can imagine. The film sees our hero, David Rice, jumping from New York to Tokyo, from the ruins of Rome to the heart of the Saharan Desert. Anywhere is possible for Mr. Rice, who is having the time of his life until he learns that he has become part of an ongoing, global war that threatens the very survival of his rare and extraordinary kind.
We recently got a chance to discuss this unique journey into the sci-fi genre with Doug Liman. Always an interesting talker, he seemed quite poised to explain the nature of his film for what it is. Here is our conversation:
Your past films have been grounded in a recognizable reality. Why did you choose to take on something that has such a fantastical premise this time out?
Doug Liman: I fell in love with the character of David Rice. I fell in love with someone discovering they can teleport, and the first thing they do with it is rob a bank. I loved him for that. In the hands of another filmmaker, that would have been an act that ultimately required some sort of retribution. He is doing unlikable things. In the end, they would have him redeemed. They would turn him into a hero. I actually didn't want him to change. And I loved him for robbing that bank. The same way I loved Vince Vaughn's character in Swingers, for saying those things about women. For me, there is an honesty. It is very human, and I am not going to get ripped apart for being cynical. What message is this giving the youth of America? I didn't want this to be a mirror back into society. I didn't want to tell people this is what you should do. Obviously, Spider-Man is a better message for the youth of America. That you should save the world versus Jumper, which says, "With great power comes whatever you want." There is something very honest and lovable about David Rice. It was one of the reasons why I knew I should make this movie and not someone else. Because I knew if I made this film, I would not feel the compulsion to make him a hero. The generic Hollywood version of this film writes itself. It is screenwriting 101. A selfish hero comes across a destructive villain and then changes in order to save the world. We've seen that a thousand times before. I thought, "What if we had a selfish superhero that doesn't care about anyone else and he wants to save his own ass. He uses his power for himself." And we love that. He only reluctantly does something heroic because he has no other choice. He hasn't really changed. He is still the same guy at the end as he is in the beginning. That, to me, is a much more interesting story. And it keeps in line with the more character driven stories that I have been doing. It is like the movies I have made in the past.
It was cool to see Sam Jackson and Hayden Christensen reteaming on screen. Can you talk about casting two leads that are so well known for acting opposite each other in the Star Wars franchise?
Doug Liman: It never felt like that to me. Maybe its because I only ever watched those films once. Those roles didn't really stick with me. Neither actor had the most memorable roles in the film. I cast Hayden off his performance in Shattered Glass. Just as I had cast Matt Damon for The Bourne Identity off his work in Good Will Hunting. Not the films you would normally turn to in finding your next action hero. But it worked on The Bourne Identity. And this is about taking chances in your career. If it works, it encourages you to take more chances later on. If you ever stop taking changes and start to play it safe, that becomes a very slippery slope. When you never take any chances, you end up becoming a hack.
How deep did you actually delve into the actual study of teleportation?
Doug Liman: I delved into it enough to know what rules of physics I would follow. Hayden Christensen's ability to teleport in this film is about as far fetched as Matt Damon's amnesia is in The Bourne Identity. Which people may not realize. You are more likely to wake up one morning and find that you can teleport than your are likely to wake up and have no idea who your are but have all of your other brain faculties in tact, ala Jason Bourne. There is only one thing in Jumper that science can't support, and I am willing to say, "Sure, okay, but what if that did happen?" I am not going to explain how it happened. Maybe we can't explain it. Maybe Bourne is the one person on the planet that has that type of amnesia, and he got it. Therefore, what if all the other rules about the universe we live in stand? What tends to happen in Hollywood is once you have an artifice like Jason Bourne's amnesia, then you figure that you don't have to follow any rules. Why not give the CIA omniscient satellites to find him wherever he is. And why not make up everything else. Once you make up one thing, why don't you make everything up? Obviously, I have made a career for myself by saying, "I have made some stuff up, but that doesn't mean that I am going to forget all other laws of physics and do whatever I want." In the case of Jumper, super powers don't really exist. But what if you woke up one morning and you had this power? And you had this power in our world? Where a Green Goblin wasn't flying around on some winged machine. I am asking, "What if you had this power in a world that actually still existed? And the laws of physics still existed?" When it came to the visual effects for this movie, I didn't think about the coolest looking jump I could come up with. It was from a physics point of view. If you actually did this, what would it look like? In the end, the film feels really honest in its visual effects. It doesn't feel like any other visual effects movie or superhero film because we didn't shoot it like any of those other movies. With visual effects you can fake it. We really hurled a London bus through the air. You could fake that. A bus is a really easy thing to fake in a computer. It's not like a human being. A bus has no moving parts. We could have generated that. We could have hurled a CG bus at Sam Jackson, but the audiences know it. I don't know how they know it. Maybe it is subliminal. But it makes a huge difference to do this stuff for real. We did every stunt for real in this movie. There are no CG actors or characters. There are no CG objects. We are physically shooting this film the same way I shot The Bourne Identity, except that it has teleportation. Which is a giant except by the way.
What sort of message are you trying to convey by having your villains be religious zealots?
Doug Liman: Here is the thing. I live in New York City, and I am making Hollywood fantasy type movies. What is inevitably going to happen is that the real world is going to creep into these movies. It doesn't overpower it, but The Bourne Identity was all about the Iran Contra. It is nestled just below the surface. But it gives it a level of honesty. Because I am following some real world rules. In the case of Jumper, Sam Jackson's zealotry...Is that a word? His zealotry is reflective of the world we live in right now. Rather than having a villain that is as fictitious as any other super hero film, we wanted someone that would kill in the name of God. There isn't another explanation. Killing in the name of God is inherently irrational. Believing in God can't be rational. It is the opposite of being rational. It is about belief, which is not practical. If you had proof that God existed, you wouldn't need belief. It is an inherently irrational thing. One of the most interesting books that I have read, and that has stuck with me, is John Krakauer's book about Moron fundamentalism, Under the Banner of Heaven. It is about someone that gets a message from God to kill his younger brother's wife. Because she is, in real life, trying to stop him from practicing polygamy. He gets a revelation from God that he should kill her. These brothers deal with killing in the name of God. He kills this woman and goes to court. And it is asked, can you be found not guilty for reasons of insanity? Because God spoke to you and said, "Kill." Does God talking to you mean that you are insane? Then half the planet's insane. I find that particular conversation so fascinating. I am interested in someone that thinks they should kill in the name of God. How do you actually convince that person not to kill?
Okay, I have one last question. What can you tell me about your upcoming Moon project?
Doug Liman: It is about a private expedition to colonize the moon. It is science fact. The technology to go to the moon is so old, it sounds like science fiction. It sounds like the future. But the technology is so old, it should be in a museum. This is about a group of people that actually raid the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and steal the necessary equipment to go to the moon and set up the first lunar colony. Obviously, everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
Jumper opens Valentine's Day, February 14th, 2008.