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After 12 weeks of filming in the New York area, the production of the upcoming action sequel ‘The Bourne Legacy’ decamped and left the city for an environment where the Bourne series had never before ventured: the untamed wilderness. For two weeks in December 2011, the cast and crew filmed in Kananaskis Country, a system of parks renowned for its spectacular scenery, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains west of Calgary. The dramatic Canadian landscape filled in for the Alaskan Yukon, where Cross finds himself as the story begins.
“We did a lot of scouting by helicopter,” recalls production designer Kevin Thompson, whose locations included remote mountaintops, a frozen lake and a riverbank beside which his crew could build a log cabin, a heavily wooded area and a waterfall. “We looked all over Canada and found most everything within a 30-minute radius of Kananaskis.”
One element of the Canadian shoot remained a wild card: snow. “Our location manager, who’s done a million movies there, said, ‘I can’t guarantee you that there’s going to be any snow,’” producer Patrick Crowley recalls. “So we had snow machines standing by, and we were ready to make our own.” But the Bourne crew enjoyed some luck: Plenty of snow arrived just in time for the shoot. “The day after we left, there was a warm wind called a Chinook that came through and melted all the snow,” he adds. “We didn’t hear about it until about a month afterward…and I’m kind of glad we didn’t hear about it until then.”
‘The Bourne Legacy’ opens with an echo of the image that introduced Jason Bourne to filmgoers in ‘The Bourne Identity’: seen from below, a man floats motionless in water. However, unlike Bourne, who had been left to drown in the Mediterranean Sea in the first film, Aaron Cross is uninjured. After a brief moment of stillness, Cross reveals his incredible stamina: He has deliberately submerged himself in frigid waters in order to retrieve a canister left for him at the base of a freezing waterfall.
To shoot this scene, the filmmakers did everything they could to keep their lead actor, Jeremy Renner, safe in the cold water. “We were concerned from the very first time that we saw the location,” says Crowley. “Even for just going in to his waist, we had a helicopter bring a hot tub there. We had a dry room that was heated. We had an ambulance standing by, and we had three or four people on the set whose specialty was hypothermia.”
The initial plan was to shoot only part of the scene in Canada, with Renner in a full wet suit and in the cold water only up to his waist. However, just before rolling, Renner removed the wet suit’s top. “He said, ‘Are you guys really ready?’” remembers Crowley. “And we said ‘Yup,’ and he said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’” As cameras rolled in below-freezing temperatures, a bare-chested Renner dunked himself into the icy water for a shot of Cross emerging. Fortunately, Gilroy and his DP got the shot in one take.
Renner was game for the challenge. He recalls: “Cold is cold. If it’s 39 or 29, it doesn’t matter.” He was more unnerved that there was no way to acclimate himself to the experience without simply going through it. “That’s why I was so stressed about it. How do you prepare? I can prepare for a jump or a stunt. I can work out or do whatever stretch. But with this, you just go get cold. That’s it. You have to mentally go there.” Turns out that the water’s bark was worse than its bite. “Actually it wasn’t so bad; it was so bad up to the moment.”
That scene in the frigid river was also of special concern to costume designer Shay Cunliffe, who returns to the Bourne series after having designed ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’. “Shooting in this kind of extremely cold climate becomes a double job for the costume department,” she says. “The costumers who took care of the actors on the set were responsible for their well-being, quite apart from the costume being maintained.”
In freezing temperatures throughout the entire Alberta shoot, Cunliffe’s team had its work cut out. “They were carrying huge dive coats along with them, and because of the snowy locations, the costumers were actually dragging them in on sleds—extra blankets, extra coats,” she shares.