By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman
Netflix on Saturday added the action-packed Bourne trilogy (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) starring Matt Damon as an intelligence agent who seeks vengeance on his former government handlers for a myriad of misdeeds. (Netflix did not add the fourth Bourne film with Damon in the lead, 2016’s Jason Bourne, or the fourth installment with Jeremy Renner starring.)
Damon seems perfect for the role. The actor, who can somehow manage to be both soft-spoken and explosive, personifies the very attributes that made the shadowy character so compelling.
But Damon actually was not the first choice to play the ex-CIA agent. Director Doug Liman, who directed the first in the series, The Bourne Identity, wanted another actor known for being a silent tough guy.
His name? Brad Pitt.
Variety reported in 2000 that Pitt was anxious to team with Liman who was Hollywood’s flavor of the month after directing indie hits Swingers and Go.
The movie poster could have looked like this.
“Pitt is being heavily wooed by Universal to star in Bourne Identity as Jason Bourne, who wakes up one day to discover he’s been shot and left for dead and has no memory of why he was attacked or who he is,” the trade publication wrote. “Universal bought three books based on the character in hopes of spawning a franchise, something that has eluded Pitt. The actor’s considering the offer and is keen to work with Liman, helmer of Swingers and Go.”
At the time, Pitt was the bigger star and in hot demand for numerous films. But the actor turned down Bourne to appear instead in Spy Game with Robert Redford. It seemed like the right choice. The Redford-Pitt pairing – blonde bookends of different eras — would be box office gold. Right? (The Bourne Identity actually grossed $70 million more worldwide than Spy Game, and the series has generated around $1 billion in global sales.)
Universal and Liman then discussed the part with several other big-name actors known for their physicality, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. But either they said no, or Liman came to his senses.
Finally, he went to Damon who was best known then for playing a skinny kid in 1997’s Good Will Hunting. Matt took the role, and took it seriously. He lived in the gym for several months to bulk up and hone his boxing and martial arts skills. When he showed up to begin filming The Bourne Identity, he had magically transformed.
And the rest is history.
You can now see the first three Bourne films on Netflix.
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— Phillip Swann