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Paul Greengrass ‘intensely surprised’ to end up directing blockbusters

Showbiz | Published:

The award-winning director talks about the Bourne franchise and film-making.

Matt Damon (left) and Paul Greengrass during a photocall to promote their new film Green Zone at Claridges in London.

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.

Paul Greengrass arrives at a photocall for film Captain Phillips at the Mayfair Hotel, London
Paul Greengrass arrives at a photocall for film Captain Phillips (PA)

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.

Paul Greengrass on Desert Island Discs (BBC)
Paul Greengrass on Desert Island Discs (BBC)

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.

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Paul Greengrass
United 93 director Paul Greengrass with The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction received at the 2007 Orange British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) (PA)

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.

A scene from the Jason Bourne film
A scene from the Jason Bourne film (PA Photo/Universal)

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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.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence attending The Pride of Britain Awards 2016
Baroness Doreen Lawrence attending The Pride of Britain Awards 2016 (PA)

“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’.

Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass
Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass arriving at the 57th BFI London Film Festival Opening Night Gala European premiere of Captain Phillips (PA)

“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

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