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The Bourne Legacy Interview with Edward Norton

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Published on Jul 24, 2012

Shawn Edwards talks with Edward Norton about becoming a part of the Bourne Legacy.

To play the role of ret. Col. Ric Byer, the ruthless head of NRAG—the organization behind the secret program of agents that began with Treadstone, evolved into Blackbriar, and now operates several others—the filmmakers cast Oscar® nominee Edward Norton. When Outcome is in danger of being exposed to public scrutiny, Byer cuts his losses by deciding to shut it down and move on.
Fox explains how the Byer character illustrates Gilroy's nuanced approach to characterization: "Tony explores how individuals within organizations give themselves license to behave in unscrupulous ways: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, both Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti in Duplicity, and now Edward Norton and his team in Legacy. They're powerful antagonists because they hold their conviction and rationale about the greater good they believe to be serving. The familiar movie trope of the individual against the machine is made much more complicated, messy and real because he dramatizes the reality behind individual motivations."
Gilroy expands upon why the selection of this antagonist was so important: "We were casting the mastermind of the entire franchise. We knew we'd be saying to the audience that this is the guy that's been sitting beside you in the theater for the last 12 years watching the CIA screw everything up for him. We needed a world-class actor; we needed weight. We needed someone with the kind of intelligence that's in the room before the scene starts, and above all I needed an actor I could collaborate with to make sure that Ric Byer's worldview wasn't painted entirely black. He believes he's one of the very few people who can bear the moral weight of the darkness necessary to keep his country safe."
Norton describes his interest in joining a film with a story rooted inside the chambers of government- funded intelligence: "I see a theme running through all of Tony's films that I think is timely and smart. He's been digging into the way that corporations have permeated our culture and threaten to compromise us from different angles. I liked that in this film he was exploring the way that power is exercised in the nexus between corporations and government...questioning who's working for who."
The performer appreciated that Gilroy colored his characters in moral gradations. Though Byer is hell- bent on erasing Outcome, his motives (in his mind) are sound ones. Shares Norton: "All of the characters in this film are painted in shades of gray. Tony hasn't woven a web of heroes and villains. Everybody's made certain compromises and certain rationalizations in and around what they do...my character certainly, but Rachel's too and even Jeremy's. He's digging into how people have their best ideals and impulses co-opted by a system in many different ways. I like that kind of complexity."
Marshall was impressed by Norton's ability to straddle the line between a man of his country and a cold- blooded executioner who sees the emergence of Bourne as an infection that must be contained. The producer commends: "Edward kills it. He's just a spectacular actor and is terrific at playing the 'villain' in the piece. But Byer is not simply a villain. He's just the guy who's after Aaron Cross. Though we've had several of these types along the way, Edward is a particularly tough one."

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