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Green Zone – Director Paul Greengrass gets real

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Green Zone - Matt Damon and director/producer Paul Greengrass
Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and director/producer Paul Greengrass on the set © Universal

Inspired by the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Green Zone is set in the chaotic early days of the Iraqi War in 2003, and spotlights a team of Army inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction. The team is led by Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, portrayed by Matt Damon.

This is the third movie director Paul Greengrass has collaborated on with Matt Damon, and at the press junket in New York he spoke about working again with the actor and tackling a new contemporary story.

How did this project come to you?

Green Zone - Director/producer Paul Greengrass
Director/producer Paul Greengrass on the set © Universal

It really began when Brian Helgeland, who wrote the screenplay, and myself were talking about how to make this movie, and it always seemed to us that the whole hunt for weapons of mass destruction was an incredibly interesting world. It was filled with intrigue and conspiracy and paranoia. What was the story there, and how did it really go down?

Also it’s incredible dramatic, because these small teams went across the border in great danger and at huge speed to try to find the weapons and, of course, when they found they weren’t there, that gave us our central character of Chief Miller, who is in charge of one of these units, and when he doesn’t find the weapons it’s like, how come?

That gives you the one guy against the world, he’s trying to find the truth in the face of all the obstacles and all the lying and the deceit and slowly he becomes aware of this mysterious source, who’s been at the heart of the Intelligence Network for Weapons of Mass Destruction and as he hunts him down so the danger starts, and that really creates the premise for the whole action/thriller aspect of it.

You and Matt worked together on the Bourne movies, what do you think the audience will expect from this film?

We set out to make a movie that would appeal to a broad audience, and the audience that had come to see the Bourne movies, and obviously that audience would expect certain things from Matt and I, and I think the things they’d expect were foot-to-the-floor action, adrenaline, a strong moral hero, a great part for Matt, a great story that feels like it’s ripped from the headlines, strong contemporary themes, and if you put that package together hopefully we’ve made a movie that will appeal to that audience.

You have a fantastic cast in this, including using real Iraqi vets.

Green Zone - Greg Kinnear, Matt Damon and Director/producer Paul Greengrass
Defense intelligence agent Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear), Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and Director/producer Paul Greengrass on the set © Universal

Directors always say nice things about their casts, but I truly was lucky enough to have a real company of actors. One of the things a leading actor always knows for sure is that you’re only as good as the other actors around you, supporting you. And there are some fantastic performances in this film, Greg Kinnear as the bad guy, but he really imbues the guy with intelligence and a sinuous idealism in a funny kind of way.

Then there’s Brendan Gleeson as the hard bitten Middle East expert who at first you think is quite a dark figure, but then he’s revealed to be on the right side of the coin.

And the performances of all the vets that took part in the film really gave the film a tremendous authenticity. So all in all it was an incredibly exhilarating film to make and it was hard work, but there was a real family company feeling about it, and every day we worked hard to bring this huge action adventure conspiracy thriller to life and I’m very proud of it.

What do you like most about making these movies?

Green Zone - Director/producer Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon
Director/producer Paul Greengrass and Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) © Universal

It’s just a great privilege to make films that an audience likes, as we were lucky enough to do with the Bourne movies. I think what we’ve tried to do here is find a way of telling a new story, it’s not Jason Bourne obviously, he’s a real guy in a real world, he’s Chief Miller, but it’s myself and Matt and the team that made those movies, and so we’ve tried to imbue it with the same adrenaline attack, and the big action set pieces.

The chase at the end of this movie must be 20 minutes long, it’s certainly the longest, biggest action set piece that I’ve ever directed.

Audiences want movies that excite them because they know what they’re going to get. But they also want to be surprised; they don’t just want the same old thing.

So you’ve got to judge the sort of story that you’re going to tell. It’s got to be a great story, you’ve got to have a lot of action and you’ve got to have a central character, Chief Miller, who can take your audience on that journey and then, by the time it’s done, you want your audience to feel that they’ve had a really worthwhile experience in the theater, which I hope and believe that we’ve given them.