'Bourne' Producer Talks Matt Damon's Return: We're "On Two Tracks" Now

Bourne Split - H 2014
Mary Cybulski; Universal/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Bourne Split - H 2014

The Jeremy Renner sequel is still "moving forward," says Frank Marshall, but Damon and director Paul Greengrass could reteam for a separate film

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Let's hope Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner don't bump into each other at a restaurant.

In re-engaging with Universal to return to the Jason Bourne franchise with director Paul Greengrass after their contentious exit following 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon has put in jeopardy a planned follow-up to 2012's The Bourne Legacy that is set to star Renner and be directed by Justin Lin for a 2016 release.

Several sources say that if deals and a story idea can be worked out with Damon, 43, and Greengrass, 59 — no small feat considering both bailed over Greengrass' creative issues — Universal will proceed with a Bourne reunion and put the Renner reboot follow-up on the back burner. Greengrass and longtime editor Christopher Rouse are said to have settled on a strong concept that would return Damon to his most lucrative role. But it's unclear if Greengrass will prioritize writing and directing the Bourne project as Fox is deciding whether it will greenlight his planned movie about accused Olympics bomber Richard Jewell, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill.

Universal declined comment on the status of the Bourne franchise, but Frank Marshall, a producer on all the films, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the project starring Renner, 43, isn't dead. "That movie is moving forward," insists Marshall. "It's still in development. We're working to get a script as soon as possible." Marshall adds that because there are no deals with Damon or Greengrass, the strategy is to proceed with both projects simultaneously.

Damon's return for a fourth Bourne likely would be a boost for him and for the franchise. His third outing grossed $442.8 million worldwide and generated strong reviews, while the reboot starring Renner as a new character inhabiting the universe of the Robert Ludlum novels grossed a strong but not spectacular $276.1 million worldwide. Damon's recent films, including the 2013 sci-fi actioner Elysium, have failed to match either of those numbers.

Greengrass, who had a critical and commercial hit with last fall's Captain Phillips, and Damon are said to have mulled a return to Bourne for at least a year, with Greengrass feeling a particular ownership over the direction of the franchise he inherited for two films after Doug Liman's 2002 hit The Bourne Identity. Damon has said that he would only do another Bourne film if Greengrass directs.

But as with everything in Hollywood, studio politics could be in play. Greengrass has been negotiating to direct the Jewell picture, but sources say Fox's Jim Gianopulos has been deciding whether it's ready for a green light. That has lead to speculation that Greengrass' camp could be floating the Bourne return to force Fox's hand — or at least nudge Fox toward a decision. Greengrass also is developing several other projects.  

Adding to the intrigue, Stacey Snider, who is in line to move from DreamWorks CEO to a big role at Fox later this year, has a great relationship with Greengrass (she also made his United 93 when she was at Universal) and presumably would want to have Greengrass' next film after Captain Phillips — if it's still in play when she arrives at the studio. Fox and Snider declined to comment.

The result is uncertainty over whether either project will be ready for the July 2016 release date Universal has staked out for an untitled Bourne movie. From Star Wars to Spider-Man to Universal's own monsters library, studios increasingly are trying to turn their franchises into "universes" that can support multiple standalone movies focusing on different characters. So perhaps a Damon-fronted Bourne movie can co-exist or even benefit from a separate movie starring Renner. Or Universal might choose to sideline its Renner movie to focus on the star and director that have delivered the most success.

Marshall, for one, thinks it's a win-win situation because he'll either have one or two Bourne movies in the pipeline. "We're on two tracks," he says. "And if this one [with Damon and Greengrass] comes together, great, but they're still just talking."

Borys Kit contributed to this report.