If you ask Vincent Cassel to sum up what is the essence of a Bourne movie – and he stars alongside Matt Damon in the latest, eagerly awaited instalment in the franchise, Jason Bourne – it is, he says, reality.
The movies – and Jason Bourne is the fifth – are all high octane, edge of your seat thrillers featuring brilliantly choreographed action sequences but they also manage to tap into issues that feel as though they have been ripped from the headlines.
In the latest, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the former black ops agent, has re-surfaced after years of anonymity to track down CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) who may have been linked to his father’s death.
It’s a cat and mouse chase – Dewey is also hunting Bourne via the ruthless assassin known as ‘The Asset’ played by Cassel – that plays out all over the world; a riot in a Greek city, a deadly confrontation on the crowded streets of London and a spectacular car chase and showdown in Las Vegas and expertly woven into action are themes very relevant in our post Snowdon, WikiLeaks world.
“There is a Jason Bourne touch,” says Cassel. “It looks real, it feels real and it’s totally engaging because it looks like the world we’ve seen through the news these last years. So I guess that’s the idea really – it looks a bit like a very expensive documentary.”
And Paul Greengrass, returning to direct his third film in the franchise with Jason Bourne, is the perfect filmmaker to capture that intoxicating blend that makes fiction that looks and feels, real.
Greengrass started his career as a journalist and filmmaker with the acclaimed British TV documentary series, World In Action. These days, he finds himself at the helm of a huge blockbuster, travelling the world to different locations, that is Bourne, but he has that ability to make it all feel chaotically gritty and in the moment.
Take, for example, a brilliant sequence where Bourne is meeting his former colleague Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who has vital information that will draw him out of his self imposed exile. They meet under cover of a demonstration on the streets of a Greek city that quickly turns into a riot, with Cassel, as ‘The Asset on their trail, determined to track them down and kill them.
As Bourne and Parsons flee on a motorbike, with The Asset in pursuit in a car, they tear through city streets in turmoil with protestors and police violently clashing and it feels, as Cassel notes, almost like we’re watching news footage.
“Paul is a gentleman. He is very precise in what he wants and you can feel that,” says Cassel. “If he is not happy – even if everybody else is happy – if he doesn’t feel that it’s right because of a little detail he will stop, think about it and do it again.
“It has to do with reality. Coming from the documentary world, Paul needs to have that flavour of reality I would say.”
The Asset is relentless in his pursuit of Bourne, a man, he feels, who has betrayed his comrades. His desire to kill Bourne is personal but we won’t spoil the plot here and reveal exactly why.
“Each Bourne movie has an ‘asset’ and I’m the new asset. I think this time Paul (Greengrass) tried to give him a little more depth so we get to understand a bit why he is doing all of that, why he is so angry with Jason Bourne and you know it’s a little more personal than in the last movies.
“You know when you spend your life doing something and believing that it’s the right thing to do and suddenly another soldier decides that it’s not the way to do it and gets free (of it) then your whole world becomes not so real anymore.”
It was, then, a physically demanding role for Cassel who features in a series of spectacular scenes, including the finale, an incredible car chase along the famous Strip in Las Vegas. “It’s very physical of course – we drive, we run, we shoot, we hide. It’s almost like being a mime.
“Some of it was pretty challenging I guess, especially, the fight and then the car stuff, I mean, it’s so dangerous that 99 per cent has to be done by the ‘real’ guys (stunt teams).
“You do stunts that you can do. Stunts are a real art in itself and it’s really tough. So you can do fight stuff but what they do with the cars in the movie, you can’t do as an actor – you can’t. And anyways, the insurance won’t let you do it,” he laughs.
He also has a brutal fight scene with Damon as Bourne – one of the few times they share the same frame – which, he reveals, was changed at the very last minute.
“We had to rehearse the fight scene and it was changed at the last minute – but I guess all that training, all that learning (moves) for the fight and all those movements we learnt for nothing, in a way, weren’t for nothing and I guess that was the training.
“In each and every country we had a room where we could practice the fights with a bunch of stunt guys who were doing the choreography.
“It was fun and it was nice. And it’s true, we only saw each other on camera really so it was wonderful to be in the same room working together. I wish we could have done more.
“You know to do a fight together it’s like dancing when you think about it. It’s very mechanical in a way so in terms of acting it’s a lot of ‘aargh’ and ‘ohh..’” he laughs. “So it’s a certain kind of acting.”
It was, then, a hugely memorable filmmaking experience – long, at times exhausting, but enjoyable, working with a great cast and crew.
“It was long – very long,” he laughs. “And when I say that, it’s not the shooting itself because when you get on set, it’s happening and the core crew is going very fast all day long but there are so many things happening, so many people involved, it’s like you are lost in limbo – that would be Las Vegas for me – and you are there and you wait until they call you and sometimes they call you and say ‘OK, we might need you around 10 at night, maybe 12 or 2..’
“And finally they call you at 3.30am and you have been sleeping and you get back on set and you get into a car and they make it jump from a bridge or something like that.
“So the pace has nothing to do with the actors – that’s what I meant by long – and you have to accept that. But apart from that, that crew is so lovely and very relaxed and I didn’t feel any bullshit going on on set so it was easy.”
Cassel was born in Paris. He has worked extensively in both European cinema and in Hollywood. His films include La Haine, L’Appartement, Irreversible, Jefferson in Paris, Elizabeth, Birthday Girl, Ocean’s Twelve, Eastern Promises, Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct, Adrift, Black Swan, A Dangerous Method, My King, One Wild Moment and It’s Only The End of the World.
Jason Bourne is available on Digital from 14th November and on Blu-ray™ and DVD from 28th November, from Universal Pictures (UK)