Doug Liman Talks IMPULSE S2, Redefining The Superhero Genre, BOURNE, EDGE OF TOMORROW & More - EXCLUSIVE
Ahead of the launch of Impulse season two today, we were granted an exclusive opportunity to sit down with Doug Liman to talk about the upcoming second season, filmmaking, Edge of Tomorrow 2 and more!
In our extensive conversation, we cover a variety of subjects, from why Liman felt he never quite got Jumper right, what he hopes to do differently and achieve with Impulse, why he's never done a sequel, what awaits Henry this coming season, subverting expectations in the superhero genre, and building a hero born out of tragedy.
Liman also touches on Nikolai's mysterious shadow organization, Henry's father, what the season has in store for Jenna and Townes, how his work on The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow helped him evolve as a filmmaker, what interests him most about superpowers, the long-awaited Edge of Tomorrow sequel and a whole lot more.
All ten episodes of Impulse season two are now streaming on YouTube for free.
ROHAN: You’ve typically steered clear of doing sequels or follow-ups to your projects, what was it about the world of Impulse and Henry’s journey that convinced you to return to this universe after your experience on Jumper?
DOUG LIMAN: Jumper's the one that I feel like I never quite got what I wanted out of it - and I’m interested in taking familiar genres and twisting them. Bourne Identity, for it’s time, was such an anomaly for spy movies, Universal didn’t even know what to do with it. They thought it was a disaster. It just didn't look like what a spy movie is supposed to look like.
When I went to do Jumper, it was like “yeah, it’s a superhero thing,” but I want to do something that’s unlike any other superhero thing out there, in particular I was interested in why would people that get superpowers suddenly become heroes as opposed to just whatever your tendencies are being amplified. Good and bad. And I never, never really got to the bottom of that in Jumper, so that’s why I wanted to go back. Otherwise, normally, I haven’t gone back because I felt like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and I wasn’t just going to try to cash in on another one of them.
ROHAN: I really enjoyed the first season. It really blew away all my expectations and I imagine many had a similar experience watching it, because you go in expecting one thing and it delivers something completely different, something that feels fresh and timely.
There’s a big moment about halfway through the season where Henry tells her mom that she wants to stay where they are, with Jenna and Thomas, which is the complete opposite of what David does in Jumper when he almost immediately decides to leave his father after discovering his abilities.
Was that critical decision point something you had been hoping to reach this early in the series? As Henry continues to figure out whether she wants to be a hero or not?
DOUG: That’s sort of where I started, which was the thinking that I had, in 2007, when I was doing Jumper. The reality is, once you go back into it, once you go back into the world - I think it's part of why I never quite got Jumper right was that there was more, deeper material to be mined. For instance, is getting a superpower a gift or a curse?
So, when I started on Impulse, I really was just thinking about that I really want to get to the bottom of it and is it interesting to do it? It would be interesting to do a show where you’re not sure whether you’re following the hero or the villain and this is the origin story of either a superhero or a supervillain and keeping that idea alive and that's what I never got right with Jumper. So, that’s where I started Impulse.
Then, when I was casting and Maddie Hasson came in, It took one look at her and I said I want to - we already had a script I loved - I want to reinvent this because with her I'm seeing a whole other layer, which is “Is having this power a curse or a gift?,” and I think for her, it's going to be a curse.
I just hadn’t seen that before and so, I knew there was more material to be mined, I didn’t fully grasp how much there was to be mined until I really got into it and I just think I've also grown as a filmmaker and as a person since Jumper, and so, I might just be a little bit more evolved as a human being and a filmmaker to tackle the issues I was trying to tackle when I was doing Jumper.
It’s always a challenge to do something really original and also really fun and commercial. That’s where I try to aim my crosshairs. It’s easy to do original and not that commercial - like one of the things you learn when you make the kinds of films I make is where I’m constantly challenging cliches.
When I was doing Bourne Identity, the obvious ending to the movie was one where they didn’t kill them, but the CIA grabbed Jason Bourne’s girlfriend, played by Franka Potente. That's the obvious third act, in fact, in film school, they teach that, it's called the WIJ - the woman in jeopardy - W-I-J, woman in jeopardy. They have an abbreviation for it because it’s in every action movie and this was a while ago, now, they may have MIJ - man in jeopardy - which may be a man in a female-led action movie. So, I set out to do Bourne Identity as my first action movie and I was like I’m not going to have a WIJ.
We’re going to figure out a way to make an ending that doesn't have a WIJ and the one thing you learn, when you avoid the tried and true of previous films and filmmakers, you learn there’s a reason why all those movies end that way is because it works and when you decide you're not going to do the thing that works, you're in for a world of pain until you come up with something original that works. Nothing convinces you more of why they're cliches than trying to not do one.
So, that was my goal with Impulse, was to avoid the obvious. We shot the pilot three years ago, before the Me Too movement, but I really liked the idea of connecting the origin of her superpower to a sexual assault. Just felt honest to me. The path that that set us down is one where Henry, every time she teleports, it’s connected to this really traumatic moment of her life. She's not going to easily forget and when I’m talking about a superpower, whether it’s a gift or a curse, it helps emphasize the curse element that every time she does this amazing, magical thing, it's connected to a really dark moment. The moment when she first teleported.
ROHAN: Yeah, that makes sense. We’ve seen heroes like Spider-Man and Batman both essentially born out of tragedy, and now so is Henry. - Maddie is absolutely incredible on the show.
While we’ve met Nikolai, the villains of Impulse - outside of the Boone family - haven’t been as clearly defined as the Paladins from Jumper. Is there anything you’re allowed to tease about what they have planned for Henry this season? It initially felt like they were out to kill her, but now it seems they might want her for something else entirely?
DOUG: From who I was when I started doing Impulse to where I am now, I feel like I've grown so much as a filmmaker, in terms of how I was thinking about an original wave of superpowers and one of the things that I love that we've done with Impulse is how limited her ability is, and that it mostly allows her to teleport back to her bedroom, which is part of the curse because it's the last place in the world she wants to be.
So, I love building out, but I wouldn’t give away the shadow organization, but it, for sure, operates in a world where the people with this power, the power to teleport, have real limitations on it and I think limitations - I know as a filmmaker I have limitations - and I feel like limitations make characters more interesting, make stories more interesting.
ROHAN: I was a bit surprised when I saw them in the trailer, but the Boone family is still around. I mean, I’m assuming Bill Boone is probably dead after what happened, but both of his sons are still kicking, with Lucas seemingly seeking redemption while Clay seems to be going further toward the dark side.
What kind of trouble should we expect them to give Henry this season?
DOUG: A lot of trouble. I'm really most interested in how this person with this world class power, what her interactions are in this small town and with people with small horizons. That's way more interesting to me than some world class organizations coming and hunting Jumpers. I love the havoc that she's going to wreak on this little town and with the Boone family. Then, there’s the havoc the Boone family is going to wreak on her, having no idea really with what they’re dealing with. Those are my favorite characters, they’re not omnipotence. I love villains who have real limitations on them. I love heroes with limitations on them and I really love villains who have limitations on them.
That was kind of a joke on The Bourne Identity, that I was like “This is not a Tony Scott film. Chris Cooper's not going to have some satellite in the sky that they can use to pick Jason Bourne out from geostationary orbit.” I was like, “That's all bullshit. We're going to do real” - he's got these phonebooks and real low-tech surveillance to find Jason Bourne and really, give him real limitations, real-world limitations and then, Snowden did his leak and revealed the powers the CIA had in 2002 and the NSA had with surveillance towers. Alex Powers. I was like, “Oh shit, actually, Tony Scott, with Spy Game, was - which I thought was so outrageous and not real - was actually in a way more closely, a better portrayal of the real powers of the CIA. It wasn’t as outrageous as I thought it was when we saw Snowden's revelations, but it speaks to the fact that I like giving my characters limitations, both the villains and the heroes.
ROHAN: With Henry now being discovered by Nikolai, will we see much more of her going back to a normal high school life with Jenna and Townes, who have been on their own separate journeys of self-discovery as well, or is that chapter coming to a close?
DOUG: What I love about us having really invested in these being real characters, in the real world, with a whole load of problems before you introduce superpowers is that for Henry, at the most base level in season two, one of the questions in the air is “Does she take the SAT and apply to college? Does she get to have a normal life anymore or not?” That is really poignant.
One thing I'm really interested in is Jenna and what kind of life does Jenna have with a sister who can teleport, like what kind of lives can any of these people have? It's probably, in a way, the superhero version of if your daughters are Venus and Serena Williams, like what kind of life can you have from that point forward?
I’m interested in the impact superpowers have, the impact that Henry’s going to have on her town, on her high school, on her sister, on her mother, on her stepfather more than I’m interested in, “is she going to spy for the Russians?,” That’s the sort of in-depth character work that I feel like I never got to on Jumper, so I love that hanging over season two, for Henry is, does she get to have a normal teenage life and apply to college or does she not? And again, the bigger question also is, “Is Henry going to become the superhero or the supervillain?,” Who is she going to be? Like, she's a 17-year-old girl. She’s still being formed.
ROHAN: Yeah, absolutely. It’s rare that you get to a superhero origin from the perspective of the family of the hero or villain, which makes her interactions with Jenna and Townes even more interesting.
Last season, we were initially led to believe Henry’s father had died, but then later on we learn that he’s probably still alive and in hiding, meaning Nikolai didn’t kill him. Will we learn more about her father this season or is it still too early?
DOUG: You will learn more about her father and where she comes from.
Yeah, but I'm really interested in Jenna. I'm probably more interested in what is it like to have a sister with superpower than what it’s like to have a superpower yourself.
ROHAN: She really does feel like kind of a surrogate for the audience because I assume most watching, myself included, would react similarly if we had a sibling going through a similar superhero experience.
DOUG: That’s why I’ve always been interested in proximity to power. In Live, Die, Repeat; Emily Blunt is really the hero of the movie. She doesn't have the superpower, but for me, it's sort of more interesting that she's the hero trying to save the world, but she's got to do it through this coward who happens to have the superpower. It would be so much easier if Emily Blunt just had the superpower. She has the stuff that heroes are made of and if she had the superpower, the movie would be over in 10 minutes, but unfortunately, she doesn't have the power and he does. I have always been interested in, when it comes to superpowers, what's it like to be the person next to the person with the superpower?
ROHAN: Oh yeah, I love that dynamic between Tom and Emily, just perfect, and I absolutely love Live Die Repeat/Edge of Tomorrow. Covering that movie is probably what got me this job back in 2014.
DOUG: That’s really cool.
ROHAN: Does Impulse take place in the same universe as Jumper? Do David and Millie actually exist in Henry’s world, are they characters that could be introduced later down the line or did you want to just move away from those established characters to let Henry forge her own destiny?
DOUG: No, no, it's its own universe. I really started with a clean, a clean slate, so I’m not, in any way, limited or inhibited by what happened in Jumper and to be honest, I don’t have the rights to Jumper, I have the rights to Impulse.
I haven't really talked about this, but it’s season two, so I guess it’s okay to start talking about it, but Fox has the rights to Jumper and I asked them about doing a TV series and they said no, so I just went to Stephen Gould and optioned the sequel novel of Jumper and sold it to YouTube.
ROHAN: What’s that experience been like working with YouTube because I think you were one of the first big filmmakers to experiment on these different new streaming platforms. You worked with Amazon on The Wall and now, with YouTube on Impulse.
What is it like, as a filmmaker, to release content on these platforms that tend to have considerably different audiences than what you might get in a theater?
DOUG: What I love about YouTube is the comments section because what I miss about television is you don't get the experience you get of having a movie in a movie theater, because with a movie in a movie theater, I can go show up and sit in the back of the theater and watch random audiences watching my movie and I love that, so it stays apart of the process.
With TV, you don't get that, except suddenly, with YouTube, I'm suddenly getting feedback from the audience again in real-time. They don’t know that I’m reading the comments section, but people are commenting continuously and my relationship with the audience is so important to me. It’s not a relationship where I’m like Instagramming every two seconds and trying to build some fanbase. It’s really what the relationship is to my movie, to my TV show.
So, when I'm done, I really want to experience and understand what their experience is watching it, because that’s the last step in my growth. I won't really be done with the experience and adventure that Impulse has been until season two drops and I start to understand how it's playing with my audience.
ROHAN: With Jumper and Impulse, you’ve been able to explore the superhero genre in ways that traditional comic book movies typically don’t get to, but you were also attached to a pair of comic book movies a few years ago with Justice League Dark and also Gambit.
Could you maybe talk about what it was that ultimately led you to walk away from those projects?
DOUG: It's always about the script. Getting a great script is so hard, especially for an action script because - and especially for the movies I want to make - but I want to be completely original and yet still be commercially satisfying and usually the commercially satisfying ideas are things that people have seen before, like if someone already discovered that and that's why it shows up in movie after movie.
So, if you’re trying to be like, “Okay, I'm going to do a superhero thing,” and there's been umpteen movies and TV shows about superpowers and I want to do something that's totally unique with Impulse, you know, a lot of the good ideas are already done and you've got to find your own lane. You don't have to, but for me, that's so important. I'm not interested in doing something that's derivative of someone else's work and so, it makes it particularly hard to develop material that can accomplish that. There's a lot of times you end up with a script that is really original, but it's not all that satisfying or you have something that’s pretty satisfying, but it doesn’t feel original.
ROHAN: Before we go, is there anything you can tell me about Edge of Tomorrow 2, which I believe is titled Live, Die, Repeat and Repeat. Is that something you’re cooking up with Tom Cruise after he finishes up the next two Mission: Impossible movies?
DOUG: I'm hoping. If we’re going to do it, that would be the time.
ROHAN: And the script is done and everything?
DOUG: Yeah, the script is ready.
ROHAN: Thank you so much for your time Doug, I really appreciate it and I’m really looking forward to Impulse season two and hoping to see Edge of Tomorrow 2 (Live Die Repeat and Repeat) as well down the line.
DOUG: Thanks for your support, I appreciate it.
In the upcoming second season of Impulse, “Henry” Coles life suddenly changes when a traumatic event awakens within her a dangerous ability beyond her understanding and control: teleportation. With the help of her friends, Henry struggles to unravel the mystery of her powers. But they aren’t the only ones who have taken an interest in Henry’s situation, and the closer they come to the truth, the more dangerous things become. Can Henry keep her powers a secret, or will unlocking the truth mean endangering the people she loves?
Impulse is now streaming on YouTube
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