The Arty Semite

Doug Liman on Action Movies and Shabbat With Dad

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Doug Liman made his reputation directing “Swingers,” a film that helped establish the viability of independent film, not to mention the careers of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. His personal favorite is “Go,” a movie he knows “no one saw.”

But certainly Liman is best known as an action director: “Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and now, “Edge of Tomorrow.”

The movie stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and is already the best reviewed of Liman’s films; it will restore luster to Cruise’s career, tarnished recently by “Oblivion,” “Rock of Ages” and “Knight and Day.”

Liman grew up in Manhattan, the son of Arthur Liman, who led the Iran Contra investigation. Liman spoke to the Forward about the art of making action movies, what Cruise is really like, and how Shabbat dinners with his dad prepared him for Hollywood.

Curt Schleier: Is there a secret to making action films?

Doug Liman: It is not getting lost in the magnitude of the movie and forgetting that the reason we go see movies is for great characters and great stories. Because a movie like “Edge of Tomorrow” is so huge and complex, the spectacle and action is all-consuming, and that on its own is enough of a reason for a lot of people to see it. But if you make movies for adults and you hope people will watch it in 20 years the way people are all watching “Swingers” now, you have to have great characters and great stories. The most cutting edge visual effects movie today is going to look quaint in 20 years.

In “Edge of Tomorrow,” Tom Cruise dies repeatedly only to re-awake and relive the same day and in theory learn from his mistakes. It sounds a lot like “Groundhog Day.” Was that a concern of yours?

If someone can watch a summer blockbuster and what comes to mind is a brilliant comedy, I don’t mind that. When I read the script and my friends asked me what I was working on, I would sum it up myself as, “imagine “Groundhog Day” as an action movie. But I think we took the concept a lot further on a lot of levels. In “Groundhog Day,” the character played by Andie MacDowell had no possibility of understanding the device [of re-living every day]. Here, Rita [Blunt] doesn’t have the power, but understands [what’s going on]. I like strong female characters. We’ve all seen films where the hero has super powers. But here, Rita has no super powers, only her intelligence. She is the actual heroine of the movie, not Tom Cruise.

You’ve been quoted as saying that chaos is good. Why?

We’re in a creative profession. We’re not manufacturing widgets. In manufacturing widgets, order and structure is the name of the game. I don’t believe in making movies that way. I want to create something fresher and newer, and for me part of the process is chaos. Creating something new by definition is finding it and figuring something out. We may come to the set with a plan for the day and we’re likely to throw it out. I’m constantly on the lookout for something better, and if it comes along I’m going to seize it. Whatever plan you have is going to be rooted in the past.

Your sets have been described as turbulent. Looking back, is there anything you’d change?

When you have a lot of people involved, changing direction doesn’t create the smoothest environment. In the case of “Edge of Tomorrow,” Warner Brothers said we want to make an original action movie and we want your signature on it. We know what we’re getting into. With “Bourne,” I was constantly fighting [with the producers]. There was outright chaos; a fire burning out of control. The producers didn’t understand my process. What would I have done differently? I would have hired different producers. Though the film came out magical, maybe because of my fighting with the producers. Maybe some of that ended up on screen; Matt Damon against the system. If I’d hired younger, hipper producers, maybe the film wouldn’t have been as good.

I think, Scientology aside, the general perception is that Tom Cruise is a kind, generous and supportive actor. Here’s your chance. Tell us the truth and don’t spare any details.

The truth is that what you’ve just described is an understatement. I read the press. I went into the movie thinking he can’t really be as good as they say he is. People just say that for the media. He can’t be that hard working, kind and considerate. But that’s what he’s really like. We worked together two years and I spent two years waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never happened. We had a shoot scheduled for 8 a.m. and he showed up at a quarter to eight. Normally you set up a shoot and then you call for the star. That’s one of the trappings of being a star. Everyone gets ready and you wait for the star to amble on the set like a king. I’d say ”let’s call for Tom Cruise” but he’d be there.

Can you talk a little about your upbringing?

I grew up in New York City and went to private schools. My father was a prominent lawyer. I think the values he instilled in me have served me well, particularly in Hollywood. It’s the reason I didn’t end up some spoiled, rotten kid. We had a Shabbat dinner every Friday evening. Dad ran the Iran Contra investigation. He was often off doing big exciting cases. But he was always home Friday nights. Friday night dinner was sacred. I still go to the same synagogue we went to. I still sit in the same seats that I sat in with my parents. On my father’s yartzeit, on the high holidays, I’m in the same seats and everyone else is sitting in the same seats. It’s when I get out of the rat race for the moment and have an opportunity to reflect. The traditions have given me a perspective so I didn’t get lost out there.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tom Cruise, Interviews, Film, Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman, fathers day, shabbat

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen.
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.