|When Simon Met Liman|
Seasoned movie director Doug Liman í88 (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) has teamed up with first-time screenwriter Simon Kinberg í95 to create Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a pair of assassins so secret they donít know each otherís identity. The film, which will be released in June, is part action-adventure, part ro≠mance, and part metaphor. During reshoots in March, the writer and director discussed their collaboration, their shared Brown experience, and how they snuck a little semiotic theory into a stylish summer flick.
BAM You graduated several years apart. How did you meet?
Simon Kinberg On this movie.
Doug Liman I didnít even know heíd gone to Brown when I read the script.
Kinberg I knew youíd gone to Brown, actually. We were aware of your many successes.
Liman I read the script right after Bourne Identity.
Kinberg And you passed on it.
Liman I wanted to do television. Then Brad Pitt sent it to me.
Kinberg So when I sent it to you, it wasnít meaningful. When Brad Pitt sent it to you, suddenly the writing really sang.
BAM You two seem to have an easy rapport. Does that have to do with a shared academic background?
Kinberg We definitely had a nice rapport from the first time we met. I donít know how much of it is about going to the same college. Although [he turns to Liman] remember when we were talking about the action sequence with the mannequins? And it became this absurdist, semiotic conversation?
We both studied MCM at Brown, which is Modern Culture and Media [with a semiotics concentration], and in this fun, playful, splashy summer movie, we do smuggle in a little bit of semiotic theory.
BAM From the trailers itís hard to categorize Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Is it an action movie or a romance?
Liman Most people involved donít quite understand the movie, because itís not an action film and itís not a love story, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is an action film and it is a love story. It has a unique tone that is challenging, almost impossible, for a huge team of people to understand. I have the producer who thinks weíre making an action movie. Then I have the producer who thinks weíre making a drama. And between the two, somewhere is the soul of our movie.
BAM What makes collaboration between a writer and director work?
Liman Simon was objective about the movie and not possessive and not jealous. So many people in this business are possessive of their little plot of land: ďThis is my idea, I came up with it, and itís going to be in the movie, goddamn it,Ē even if it doesnít belong. When Simon argued a point it really meant something. Never once did I think, ďOh, heís just saying that because of some emotional or personal or political reason.Ē
Kinberg When I think about you as a director, thatís equally true. Itís not about your being the first and last and sole author of the movie, the way it is for a lot of directors. A lot of directors Iíve met or worked with are afraid of other peopleís opinions because they feel itíll erode their opinion or itíll challenge their authority. And youíre really open to whatever the best idea is. And thatís kind of rare for a director, especially one who directs big movies.
Liman Iíve always been rewarded by being inclusive, because people come up with good ideas.
Kinberg You also figure out whatís really precious to you about the movie and then you are willing to sacrifice anything else. From the first time we ever met, [I felt] what was precious to you about the movie was the same as what was precious to me: the metaphor and the marriage and the relationship.
Liman That may be more why we get along than any other reason. If we actually didnít agree on what movie we were making, weíd be having the arguments from hell.
Joe Dungan is a freelance writer in Valley Village, California.