Doug Liman interview
Doug Liman is a director for the MTV generation. His first feature film, Swingers - the achingly hip buddy movie inspired by the likes of The Odd Couple, unleashed the talents of Vince Vaughn upon the world. Which was swiftly followed by Go, a Pulp Fiction for disinterested teens, that launched the film careers of both Katie Holmes and Sarah Polley, and then onto recent thriller, The Bourne Identity, a 007 for the naughties. Liman has also dabbled in television, shooting the pilot to the catastrophically successful The O.C. Mr and Mrs Smith, his latest film, sees him unite two off the most famous - and glamorous - people in the world together in a blaze of heavy artillery and cheeky spy gadgets.
Mr and Mrs Smith is released on DVD on the 25th November
LOVEFiLM: What attracted you most to the Mr and Mrs Smith script?
Doug Liman: Well, I loved Simon Kinberg script and I was a huge fan of Brad's. I had just come off shooting The Bourne Identity, a film that I had taken very seriously while I was making it. And then I read Simon's script and suddenly looked at The Bourne Identity in a completely different light, and I thought to myself oh my God I've got it all wrong, I've done it 100% wrong. Here I was taking Bourne Identity all seriously and psyched and proud about all the cool shit that Matt Damon could do and missed the point completely. You know all that stuff is easy in comparison to maintaining a marriage.
The Bourne Identity was one of those movies where I was all about work, but with Mr and Mrs Smith I've grown up a bit and I'm finally getting the big picture. You know its fine what James Bond does for a living, it's a pretty cool job, the same as Jason Bourne but that's not what life's about.
LF: After self financing Swingers and making it independently, to then take on the likes of The Bourne Identity and Mr and Mrs Smith- do you feel a lot of pressure working with these massive budgets?
DL: Money comes with strings. But I feel it's definitely easier to make a film like Swingers into a good movie, then a film like Mr and Mrs Smith because it's all about story telling. I'm mostly ok with the pressure, they are giving me a lot of money and there are a lot of jobs on the line. You do feel responsible for others, my father helped me raise the money for Swingers, and everyday he would phone and tell me you took $250,000 of other people's money and you have to be responsible for that. You need to spend it wisely and do everything in your power to keep their money secure - and now I'm taking much bigger cheques from people but the philosophy's still the same.
LF: Was Mr and Mrs Smith a difficult shoot?
DL: My shoots are never easy, certainly not for me, and this was definitely the longest, most complicated shoot, but this was by far the most ambitious movie I've ever undertaken. So I feel like the shoot was equal to the challenge. If this was a simple little movie and the shoot was long then we would have been doing something wrong. But we were doing a movie that didn't have a model for it. When I made Swingers I was able to look at the The Odd Couple as a reference to figure out how to make the film. For The Bourne Identity there were lot of great films from the 70s I could use and obviously the Bond films. But for Mr and Mrs Smith we were looking at Philadelphia Story as a reference and that movie has as much in common with Mr and Mrs Smith as Terminator does. You know it's just like Philadelphia Story but with Automatic weapons.
LF: You've said before that directing is a very collaborative experience for you. Where you work very closely with the lead actors, was it the same for you this time around?
DL: It was. I start with a very strong point of view, but I've found that throughout the process we work very closely together and do lots of rehearsals before hand. My favourite rehearsals are when you get the actor and the writer together and you work out that character to such an extent that only that actor can play that character.
LF: Before the film started to shoot there were many rumours bandying around about who would play the lead roles and at one point it looked like Nicole Kidman was attached, can you confirm that?
DL: Yeah when I was first sent the script it was Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman set to play Mr and Mrs Smith, and I'm a huge fan of Nicole Kidman and a huge fan of Brad's so it was pretty much a dream cast. But with scheduling conflicts it made it impossible for her to do it, so I was faced with the horrendous task of trying to replace Nicole Kidman. Which at the time seemed impossible and also very limited as I wanted to cast something who had enough clout and power as Brad, so I needed to find a equal sparing partner.
The thing about Angelina Jolie is that she's like Matt Damon, when they play a role they become it so completely that you can't even imagine another actor playing that role, including Nicole Kidman. Everybody says to me now: 'Oh my God you got so lucky cause I could never imagine Nicole Kidman playing that role as well as Angelina did.' And that's because Angelina Jolie made that role completely her own, but if Nicole Kidman had played Mrs. Smith then she would have made it so completely her own.
LF: Throughout your career you've worked with up-and-coming stars; in Swingers you practically launched Vince Vaughn and the same with Sarah Polley in Go, and even Matt Damon to an extent, was it difficult working with two goliaths of Hollywood, as opposed to working with unknowns?
DL: Brad and Angie were committed to the process as much as anyone I've ever worked with has been - so that was really no different as opposed to working with say Vince [Vaughn]. And in a lot of ways I got to do with Angelina what I did with Matt Damon -people had heard of Matt but I basically got to re-launch him to the world. Angelina had obviously done a lot of movies and is one of the most famous people on the planet, but I got to show the world an Angelina Jolie that they'd never seen before. So I got to get to take my cake and eat it really…
LF: There are some fantastic set pieces in the film, out of all of them what was your favourite?
DL: Oh definitely the house shoot-em up scene with Angie and Brad
LF: And your reasons being…
DL: Because I'm sick. You know and watching Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt beating the crap out of each other makes me feel a bit giddy. And from a purely intellectual point of view the fact that I was able to create a scene where husband and wife are wailing at each other and its fun to watch - because it's not normally fun watching a man hit a woman. And the fact that I was able to create a tone for this movie - that scene works because of everything that surrounds it. That scene by itself is incredibly brutal and if you put that scene in a different context without changing anything in a different movie it would be unwatchable. So the fact that scene that works as well as it works - is because the movie around it works.
LF: So what's next for you, do you think there could be a Mr. and Mrs. Smith 2?
DL: I'm not one for necessarily repeating myself, but I would be open to a Mr and Mrs Smith 2 just because I feel like the film was so ambitious there were things that I could have done better. So for me that's the only reason why I would ever go back to revisit a film for a sequel is in order to perfect in. You know in The Bourne Identity I feel like I did it as well as I possibly could do it and I'm not interested in just repeating it and doing it again.
Mr and Mrs Smith was so creatively ambitious and so challenging for me to get my hands on that they're still pretty much plenty for me to learn in this new arena and these particular characters. So you know there's still plenty for me to explore.