Paul Greengrass ‘intensely surprised’ to end up directing blockbusters
The award-winning director talks about the Bourne franchise and film-making.
British film-maker Paul Greengrass has said he did not expect to end up becoming a “blockbuster director”.
The 62-year-old has directed three of the five films in the Jason Bourne spy franchise, which are based on the novels by Robert Ludlum.
His other well-known projects include The Murder Of Stephen Lawrence, 2002’s Bloody Sunday and United 93, which earned him a best director Oscar nomination.
He also directed Hollywood A-lister Tom Hanks in 2013’s Captain Phillips, which was based on the real-life 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somalian pirates.
“It was never what I thought I would end up doing and it came along and I thought ‘Oh yeah, I know what to do with this (Bourne)’,” he told BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs.
“I wouldn’t want to only do that (direct blockbusters) and I haven’t, but that character spoke to me for sure. I loved the fact that Jason Bourne was a sort of oppositional character, he was opposed to the system, he knew they were lying to him and he wanted to find out why.”
The award-winning director said he thought the Bourne films resonated with a young audience because they “told the truth of that time”.
He told Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young: “You know I think if you want to understand something of what happened in America, in Britain and in the West in the early years of the 2000s, the fear, the paranoia, I think the Bourne movies give you a pretty good sense of that in a popcorn, commercial way.
“But I think that young people particularly responded because of that and the sense it told the truth of that time.”
Greengrass directed Hollywood star Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), having taken over from Doug Liman, who was at the helm of the first film, 2002’s The Bourne Identity.
He did not direct The Bourne Legacy in 2012, but returned to the franchise for the fifth film, Jason Bourne, which also saw the return of Damon in the title role.
Damon starred as the amnesiac assassin in the first three movies, but stepped down after 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum and said he would not reprise the role unless Greengrass returned to direct.
Despite a few blockbusters under his belt, his 1999 TV film about the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence is still regarded as one of his most acclaimed projects.
He told Young about the “enormous responsibility” attached to projects like that when you are a director.
“I remember showing Doreen Lawrence that film and I remember telling her ‘It’s going to be quite difficult, because there is a scene where… well, we had discussed in advance, you are going to see a character called Stephen in a desperate situation and I hope that’s OK’.
“She fixed me with the most steely look and said: ‘There’s nothing you can show that will be the remotest bit like what I experienced, so you don’t be sensitive on my account. It’s people out there that have to understand the truth’.
“And you see that time and time again, it’s us that don’t want to see the truth, it’s us for whom these stories are too soon, it’s us who don’t want to be confronted with the details.
“Now that’s not to say sensitivity and discretion isn’t part of it, but we should never forget that this is part of our world and those who are the victims demand to be heard, always.”
Among the songs he chose were Bruce Springsteen’s If I Should Fall Behind, Bob Dylan’s Forever Young and the soundtrack to 1962’s Lawrence Of Arabia.
He chose a guitar as his luxury item and for his book, 100 Years Of Crystal Palace Football Club by Nigel Sands.
Desert Island Discs is on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11:15am