Doug Liman: Action Speaks Louder

Jul 10, 2014
Originally published on June 4, 2015 11:06 am

Since his earliest films, director Doug Liman has been a rule breaker. He shot Swingers in increasing order of what scenes were most likely to get him arrested. When he made The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Liman treated the multi-million dollar productions like a film school, figuring out every last detail out on the fly.

And in his latest film, Edge of Tomorrow, Liman stays true to that belief, as he cast Tom Cruise in a role he's never taken on before: an inept, cowardly soldier.

"[Cruise] loved that. He was so courageous to challenge the brand that he's had a whole career on and turn it on its head," Liman told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg about Cruise's response to not playing an action hero. "The only one more excited than me about killing Tom Cruise, was Tom Cruise."

Since Liman has worked with some of the biggest movie stars today, we wanted to see how well he remembered some iconic scenes from blockbusters past. So in an Ask Me Another Challenge titled "Cruise, Damon Or Pitt?" Liman was tasked with identifying lines Cruise, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt uttered in their films, as performed by Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton. How do you like them apples?

This episode originally aired July 10, 2014.

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Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, WNYC's hour of trivia, puzzles and word games. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and joining me is our VIP. Please welcome Doug Liman, everybody.


DOUG LIMAN: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Doug, have you ever been on a game show before?

LIMAN: I once tried to get on "The Price Is Right."


LIMAN: Yeah, right before I made "Swingers."

EISENBERG: Were you trying to win money?

LIMAN: I mean, I was out of work. I mean, that was the connection to "Swingers."

EISENBERG: Right. Yeah - that - right, you were out of work.

LIMAN: And that's sort of what you do when you're in L.A., and you're out of work is, you know...

EISENBERG: ...Try to get on "Price Is Right."

LIMAN: Try to - game shows - yeah.

EISENBERG: And did - you did not get on.

LIMAN: No, but you get the experience of Doug Liman, you're the next contestant on "The Price Is Right." And they go, woo, and you go running down and high-five everybody to the stage. Well, you practice that outside while you're waiting in line. But you do actually jump up in the air and act really excited and high-five everybody. And - to show that, like, you'd be a great contestant 'cause you could get so into it.

EISENBERG: That you're enthusiastic - that's amazing.

LIMAN: And I did that with my editor who edited "Swingers," and he edited "Go." And he was the second editor on "Edge of Tomorrow." And it was one of our bonding experiences was doing "Price Is Right" together - or not doing it 'cause neither of us got on.

EISENBERG: (Laughing) That's all right, almost. Well, you know, and a lot of people obviously know you from your action movies - "Bourne Identity," "Edge Of Tomorrow." But "Swingers" which was your first film and "Go" starring - yep - Sarah Polly, fellow Canadian, who I love. And also you've done some cable television shows that I absolutely love. "Suits" and - these are a lot of different things. Now is it your philosophy to never do things twice, or you don't want to be pigeonholed? Like, how do you pick your projects?

LIMAN: It really is to try to never do something twice. And I don't know why. You know, "Bourne Identity" - I really had, like, legendary fights with the studio 'cause it was my first studio film. And it was a pretty big one as your - to do a little low-budget movie and then suddenly do "Bourne Identity." And the head of the studio used to scream at me and say this isn't your film school.


LIMAN: And I sort of figured - no, it actually is my film school. Like, I don't know how to make this film. I'm figuring it out. I made "Swingers." Do you honestly think I know how to make "Bourne Identity?" Like, seriously - it is a film school. And I - sort of, after that I was, like, you know what? I'm going to sort of enjoy the fact that, like, other people are paying me to go to school and learn how to make these movies. So obviously I didn't know how to make "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." I figured it out while we were making it and...

EISENBERG: Yeah, well, now that - so people know you. Now that you have a proven track record, when you are given a project, is there an expectation that you are going to do something new and different with it?

LIMAN: Yeah, no - there's definitely - even on "Edge," there was a lot of - you know, 'cause it is a Tom Cruise movie. There's a, you know, he's sort of, like, you know, the biggest movie star in the world and thinks about this sort of international perspective. And, you know, and it was a really interesting collaboration, especially 'cause, you know, he's thinking about how scenes will play out, you know, subtitled in Japanese. And I'm literally worried about, like, facing an audience like this and being proud of the film which I am.

EISENBERG: And Tom Cruise plays a different action hero then expected. This is - I mean, I've never seen him play - he's cowardly.

LIMAN: Yeah, it's not just me changing myself, I like to sort of change the people who are in the film. So obviously Matt Damon had never done anything like "Bourne Identity" when I - when we did "Bourne." And Tom Cruise always plays a hero. And I thought, you know, wouldn't it be fun to see him be a coward? Wouldn't it be fun to, you know, have him be such a bad soldier that he gets himself killed within the first 10 minutes of the movie?

EISENBERG: It's amazing.

LIMAN: Because you never - it's so against the brand of Tom Cruise.

EISENBERG: How did he feel about? Did he have to be convinced?

LIMAN: No, he loved that. He was so courageous. It's not just about, like, hanging off the sides of buildings, it's the willingness to sort of try, you know - challenge the brand, you know, that he's had a whole career on and turn it on its head. And he did without, you know, not just no resistance - like, the only one that was more excited about killing Tom Cruise than me was Tom Cruise.

EISENBERG: Right, and he doesn't die once, obviously. He dies a few times. And I'm told that you guys even did a little bit of, like, guerrilla shoot pickups. And you went off to a...

LIMAN: Yeah, I'm not supposed to entirely talk about that 'cause it wasn't entirely legal. I mean, it wasn't - you know, there are a lot of rules governing how films are made. And, you know, but I did start out making independent films. And I - it's still my favorite thing to sort of grab the camera and just sort of break all the rules and just shoot stuff.

Normally how films are organized, you know, they're not - I'm sure you all know, especially in this audience - very sophisticated, NPR sophisticated - that movies aren't shot in the order that they end up on the screen. They're shot sort of - either in terms of actors availabilities, or, like, in terms of budget and the more complicated things first and then you can get rid or crew or vice versa. In "Swingers," we organized the shoot - the things most likely to get us arrested were put at the end. The very riskiest stuff were, like, the very last day. And then, you know, and it worked its way backwards from that so that - 'cause it was likely we'd get arrested. And I sort of - I like sort of combining rule breaking with filmmaking.

EISENBERG: You've sort of an inspired me, quite frankly. People are pumping their fists in the air. You've started a revolution. Now I'm going to foreshadow a little bit about - of what we're about to put you through.

LIMAN: I'm really nervous 'cause there were some really hard questions.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah, yeah, no, no, I know.

LIMAN: I'm just glad to see the guitar's not up here.

EISENBERG: It's all going to be OK. You've worked with Matt Damon, obviously, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise - three of the, you know, top male actors. Which one's of your favorite? Who's your favorite?

LIMAN: I have to actually say Tom Cruise.

EISENBERG: Really? Yeah.

LIMAN: Yeah. I mean, in all honesty, he shows up like it's his first movie, with that level of excitement. There's not this sense - and it's not just movie stars but, in general, actors - there's a sense of, like, everything gets ready on the set, and it's, like, here comes the king. You know, you summon the actor to the set, and everybody gets quiet. And it's not like that, you know?

On "Edge," you know, right on the first morning, we finally were ready to go, and I'm, like, screaming, OK, you know, let's call for Tom. And, like, Tom's like, I'm right here. He was, like, standing. He was, like, I've been waiting. I'm ready. Let's go. And, you know, we're in this culture where sort of there are so many celebrities who are famous for being famous that in a way you sort of - he's so famous, you forget there's - he's actually one of the few that's famous 'cause he actually is talented.

EISENBERG: He did stuff. He actually did some amazing movies. All right, well, we hope you know all of their movies for this next quiz.


EISENBERG: Well, your quiz is titled Cruise, Damon or Pitt? All right? And we are going to read you lines from famous films featuring either Tom Cruise, Matt Damon or Brad Pitt, and all you have to do is tell us which of the actors said those lines.


EISENBERG: Right? And just to be clear, not all of them are from your films. Our house musician, Jonathan Coulton, and our puzzle guru, Art Chung, are going to help me out with this game. You can also, if you feel like, give the movie, but that is an entire bonus point. You don't have to. So here's your first one.

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: (Reading) I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a Sega game featuring you while singing your own song in a new commercial starring you, broadcast during the Super Bowl in a game that you are winning. And I will not sleep until that happens.

LIMAN: I am going to go Matt Damon. No?

ART CHUNG, BYLINE: Do you have another guess?

LIMAN: Tom Cruise?

CHUNG: Yes. That's from Jerry Maguire.

LIMAN: Jerry Maguire, yeah, no. I've seen Jerry McGuire. You could have done, like, show me the money or something. I love black people, I mean, there were some lines that I would have known it was Tom Cruise.

EISENBERG: We're trying to vary it up a little bit. (Reading) I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside.

LIMAN: Matt Damon.

EISENBERG: Doug, this was my big moment.

LIMAN: Oh, sorry.

EISENBERG: No, that's right, Matt Damon. And, clearly, you know the move because you did it - "The Bourne Identity."

COULTON: (Reading) You probably heard we ain't in the prisoner taking business. We in the killing Nazi business, and, cousin, business is a-booming.

LIMAN: Brad Pitt.

CHUNG: Brad Pitt is correct.

LIMAN: "Inglorious Basterds," yeah.

CHUNG: "Inglorious Basterds."

LIMAN: That accent wasn't helping that much.

COULTON: Yeah, I know. I was...

LIMAN: Are you trying to throw me off with it?

COULTON: It was a really bad accent. I'm sorry.

EISENBERG: OK, from now on, you have to figure out who I'm playing. (Reading) Do like apples?

COULTON: (Reading) Yeah.

EISENBERG: (Reading) Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?

LIMAN: It's got to be Vince Vaughn.


EISENBERG: That's not a...

LIMAN: No? Oh, he wasn't in the list.

EISENBERG: No, he wasn't in the list.

LIMAN: OK. I - so woman, pickup - I'm thinking Vince.

EISENBERG: Yeah, I know. That's very funny that you're, like, who do I know that picks up women in movies? Vince Vaughn.

COULTON: I think Ophira needs more of a Boston accident.

LIMAN: Damon?

EISENBERG: Yeah, "Good Will Hunting."

LIMAN: Yeah, "Good Will Hunting." Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yes, there you go. Here is your last question, and the AMA players will take part in this one.

LIMAN: Wait, what does that mean?

EISENBERG: It means all of us.

COULTON: It's the same thing, same thing.

LIMAN: I'm competing against them?

EISENBERG: No, no - we just have lines that we're performing for your pleasure.


EISENBERG: (Reading) Ma'am, the data on your MiG is an inaccurate.

COULTON: (Reading) How's that lieutenant?

EISENBERG: (Reading) Well, I just happened to see a MiG 28 do a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) We, we...

LIMAN: Tom Cruise.

EISENBERG: (Reading) Oh, sorry, Goose...

LIMAN: Am I cutting you off? Top Gun? Tom Cruise?

EISENBERG: Yes, yes and yes. Puzzle guru, Art Chung, how did our VIP, Doug Liman, do in our quiz?

CHUNG: Doug knows his Cruise, Damon and Pitt. He's our winner.


LIMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.