Eighteen years after his “Swingers” debut, “Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” director Doug Liman is back for another inventive action romp with “Edge of Tomorrow,” starring Tom Cruise as a cowardly soldier stuck fighting an alien invasion again and again in a “Groundhog Day”-like loop. We grabbed Liman for a quick chat, where it quickly became clear he has no interest in holding his tongue — even if it means calling out former bosses.
When you’re filming multiple takes of repeated versions of scenes, how do you keep your wits about you?
The irony is that we do this as filmmakers all the time anyhow. Maybe Clint Eastwood stops after take one, but the rest of us mortals probably average seven takes. [Laughs] I’m belittling the challenges of it because I am a perfectionist. I wanted Bill Paxton’s performance, for example, to be identical until the moment where Tom did something different — the exact same performance, not just the same words. The only way to really do that is to film somebody like Bill Paxton with multiple cameras, each one earmarked for a different part of the film. We’re human beings, we can’t actually do the identical performance twice in a row. We can do something really close, but if you’re talking about every mannerism, every gesture, every hair on the top of your head… . I mean, if there’s any actor out there who could do it, it actually would be Tom Cruise. The irony is that he was the one actor for whom that wasn’t required in this movie.
I imagine the press tour experience can have a lot of parallels to this movie.
When you do press for a movie like “Edge of Tomorrow,” people are always asking you, “If you could go back and change any day, what would you change?” You know, lame questions like that. Maybe they’re not lame, but when you hear it over and over again, you start to have a little of the experience Tom’s character is having.
How do you stop yourself from not going nuts in that situation?
Sort of like Tom’s character, I at least change my reaction. They don’t know any better, they’re doomed to ask me those questions, but I have the perspective that Tom’s character has in the movie, so I can at least act differently and send us down a different path. So that’s what I try to do. Literally, if I hear myself giving the same answer in a press junket that I gave to another reporter, I want to kill myself. The simpler way to go through this is probably to just think up some good answers and give the same answers to everybody. But I don’t like repeating myself — in my movies or in life.
This feels refreshingly original for a studio film coming out during the summer.
It’s hard to release original movies, right? You have to educate an audience as to what “Edge of Tomorrow” is. You don’t have to educate them about what “X-Men” is or what “Bourne 5” is. It’s why basically only Warner Bros. is making these kinds of original movies. They have the guts to bet on a filmmaker — to bet on Alfonso Cuaron with “Gravity,” bet on [Christopher] Nolan with “Inception.” It gives me a huge amount of respect for Warner Bros. I’m not the guy who’s normally complimenting a studio, but they were hugely supportive along every step of the way, whereas on “the Bourne Identity,” all Universal was trying to do was make the film into a generic movie that felt like other spy movies they had seen. Warner Bros., they actually want to make original movies. They themselves want to be proud of the movies they make. And I think they’ve figured out a formula to do that and make money. And keep their jobs.
Considering you got your start with “Swingers” and “Go,” how do you think the independent film world has changed since then?
It’s at least weekly that I’m interacting with somebody who’s made an independent movie and trying to sell it. Parts of it really excite me, like the technology to make movies is so much more accessible. I was only able to make “Swingers” because my father had wealthy friends and because I was already in Hollywood and was able to make the connections that allowed me to get all the free services that we got on the movie. At that point you were basically restricting independent film to predominantly wealthy whites. And today, anybody can make a movie. On the flip-side, if you’ve actually made a movie it’s kind of a nightmare today because there are so many movies being made, and then people aren’t going to see them the way they were when I started out. “Swingers” played in regular movie theaters, but today it would only play in art-house theaters. So that’s sad. That’s sort of a convoluted answer, but it’s something I’m wrestling with.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick