Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity'

Matt Damon beat out some big names for this one.

Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity'

Twenty years ago, a young actor best known for playing a genius became the hottest action star on the planet. Matt Damon didn't exactly have the cache of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger, but he was hungry. Damon worked overtime to get physically ready for The Bourne Identity, a thriller about a spy uncovering the secret of his own life after suffering from amnesia. 

The Bourne Identity is very much a chase film, but it's made with maximum effort. Damon's performance is as real as it gets and director Doug Liman went to great lengths to give his movie a documentary-type feel. The effort paid off. His handheld cinematography and late cuts would be copied endlessly in action movies for the next decade. He and Damon had created an action classic. Celebrate the movie with us on its 20th anniversary.

1. The Bourne Identity is loosely based on the book of the same name by Robert Ludlum, as are the two sequels that form The Bourne Trilogy - The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. But, really, the movies only use the titles and character names from the books. The Bourne movies are considered original screenplays. 

2. Director Doug Liman told screenwriter Tony Gilroy to not even read The Bourne Identity, the novel. Liman gave Gilroy an outline for what he envisioned and the writer worked from that. Liman wanted to modernize the novel and he wanted the movie to reflect his own beliefs about U.S. foreign policy.

15 Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity' on Its 15th Anniversary

3. Ludlum claimed he came up with the idea for The Bourne Identity after he suffered from temporary amnesia himself. However, ABC News speculated the name "Bourne" is a reference to Ansel Bourne, a 19th century preacher who forgot who he was, started a new life in a new state and, three months later, suddenly remembered his first life and forgot the second. 

4. Brad Pitt was offered the role of Jason Bourne, but turned it down to make Spy Game with Robert Redford. Russell Crowe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone were all considered before Matt Damon was given the role.

5. Damon insisted on doing much of the stunt work himself and underwent intense training to prepare. He spent three months practicing stunts, weapons, boxing, and martial arts. Damon scales a 30 foot wall in the film, something he called, "The most grueling thing I ever had to do."

15 Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity' on Its 15th Anniversary

6. The martial arts seen in the film are largely a combination of Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do and eskrima.

7. Liman wanted The Bourne Identity to have the same feel as the German action classic, Run Lola Run. He uses plenty of handheld cameras and other tricks to give the movie the same veracity. He also cast the star of Run Lola Run, Franka Potente, as the female lead, Marie. She was originally written to be an American.

8. The secret C.I.A. cell Treadstone is inspired by the real life cell The Enterprise, which organised the Iran-Contra affair, something Liman's father investigated. The character of Conklin (Chris Cooper) is based on Oliver North.

9. Brian Cox (Ward Abbott) and Chris Cooper's (Alexander Conklin) characters are never referred to by name until the end credits.

15 Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity' on Its 15th Anniversary

10. The movie was shot in seven European countries, but mostly in Paris and Prague.

11. Liman, who spent two years obtaining the rights to The Bourne Identity, was only given the chance to make the film because he had such a smashing debut. His first film as director? Swingers.

12. At the beginning of the movie, Bourne looks in a mirror and says, "Weet je wie ik ben? Hou dan godverdomme op met dat gezeik en zeg het me." Translated, it means, "Do you know who I am? Then cut the goddamn bullshit and tell me." He is speaking Dutch.

15 Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity' on Its 15th Anniversary
All images courtesy of Universal

13. The Bourne Identity was originally slated to open on September 7, 2001, four days before the World Trade Center was attacked. Luckily, for the movie, it was delayed because of problems with the film's ending. It wasn't released until June 5, 2002.

14. Sadly, Ludlum never got to see the movie. He died while the film was in post-production on March 12, 2001.

15. In the novel, the chief villain is the notorious real-life terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. Carlos committed at least 11 murders in the 1970s and early 1980s, primarily in France, and was still at large when the book came out in 1980. 

15 Things You Never Knew About 'The Bourne Identity' on Its 15th Anniversary

Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.