Getting Direct With Directors...
Doug Liman
No.36: Doug Liman

Doug Liman hit the big-time in 1996 with low-budget comedy Swingers. Its surprise success meant he had his pick of projects and yet he stayed low-key with quirky thriller Go (1999). Eventually he did graduate to more commercial fare with The Bourne Identity (2002), but was determined to retain an indie sensibility. There were no such pretensions for action rom-com Mr & Mrs Smith (2005), which famously paired off-screen lovers Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Here, Liman reveals how Mr & Mrs Smith could have been better, explains why The Bourne Supremacy made him want to spit and contradicts himself on whether there's a God or not...

Why did you become a director?

It was a hobby from when I was a little kid. I started making Super 8mm films when I was about six-years-old and just never stopped. It was always just a hobby, but it's one of the few hobbies that can actually become a career. You know what? I think it was my plan from when I was six that this is what I was going to do.

If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be?

An architect.

What other director would you like to see at work?

Tom Twyker [Run Lola Run, 1998] because I think he makes extremely bold moves in his movies and I'm curious about the process behind it.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

What was the last movie that you paid to see?

The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

What was the last movie you walked out of?

The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I just got bored, but then I walked back in eventually.

Did you enjoy it in the end?

I did.

Do you believe in God?


Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?

Bill Clinton.

What's your favourite movie quote?

"Yes." It's from What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and it's when Johnny Depp is asked, "Did you love her?"

Birthday Girl

Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?

Jez Butterworth [Birthday Girl, 2001].

And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?

You know, you really don't won't to piss these people off. I'll just say that there are certain people who continue to be hired in Hollywood and that leaves me truly shocked.

Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?

In a fun way, or not a fun way? Because usually I find pain-in-the-asses fun. I don't know why. It's probably just some sort of deep-seated psychological thing that we'll probably never unravel. I'm just trying to think about the last thing I got really evil about... Um... I can't think... Sorry.

What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?

You know what? I subscribe to the school that there are no dumb questions.

Do you believe in test screenings?

Yes, very much so.

Did you have test screenings for Mr & Mrs Smith?

No, because there was so much, um, attention on the movie that the studio was scared of any negative fall-out that could come from a test screening.

At the time did you feel like you could have benefited from test screenings?

Oh, yeah. And even now. I mean... I understand where the studio is coming from and they're not wrong.

How seriously do you take reviews?

Pretty seriously. I do take things away from reading reviews. I think they keep you honest. You know, I really thank God for the reviews [even though he doesn't believe in God...] because with all the success of Mr & Mrs Smith financially, I still think there are things that I could have done better and the reviewers called me up on that, so they keep you honest.

What are those things you wish you'd done differently?

I could have... Well, it's more just about certain moments within the movie that I could have done a slightly better job on.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

A teacher in film school - who was a writing teacher - told us that when you finish a screenplay, you should put ten vertical lines on the back of it and ten horizontal lines, thereby creating 100 boxes. Then, every time it comes back rejected you put a check in one of those boxes and know that when you've filled all of those boxes, you'll sell it. It's really just a way of looking at rejection as bringing you one step closer to success.

Did you ever hit box 100?

You know what? I probably hit box 1000!

And the worst advice you've been given?

It was my agents telling me after Swingers [1996] to go make a "big, dumb studio movie".

What's your biggest regret?

That I'm not married with kids.

There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?

Go find my girlfriend.

Which performer would you love to work with?

Nicole Kidman.

What film makes you want to spit?

xXx. Actually, change that. I'm saying The Bourne Supremacy.

But you produced the film...

I say it because they took a character I lovingly created in The Bourne Identity, 2002] and changed his back-story.

The Full Monty

What are your three favourite films and why?

Bringing Up Baby [1938], which represents anything with Katharine Hepburn. Midnight Run [1988] because that's a movie I turn to whenever I start making one of my own movies - it's the Holy Bible [even though he doesn't believe in God...]. It's the Holy Bible of love story and character dynamics [between Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin]. The third would be The Full Monty, slash Waking Ned [1997, 1998] just because they're films that capture such a specific point-of-view and teach you how to laugh at life.

What do you think of Norman Wisdom?

Excuse me?

Mr & Mrs Smith is released to buy and rent on DVD and video on 25th November from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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