IAR Exclusive: Neil Burger Talks 'Limitless' on Blu-ray and DVD

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 11:34 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR Exclusive: Neil Burger Talks 'Limitless' on Blu-ray and DVD

Many directors, if not most, find themselves working within a narrow spectrum of genres or tones, working more or less exclusively as purveyors of horror, science fiction, or comedy.  With his first three films as writer-director, though, Neil Burger has impressively handled wildly different material each time, effectively transitioning between the likes of a dramatic, period-era thriller and an earnest yet funny dramedy about Iraq War veterans.  He kicked off his feature career with Interview with the Assassin, a docudrama that employed the mockumentary style in an insightful rather than comedic manner.  He followed that up The Illusionist, in which Edward Norton played a magician with more up his sleeve than you'd expect.  From there, he moved on to The Lucky Ones, with Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Pena as veterans who embark on an unlikely roadtrip.

This spring, he scored his biggest hit with Relativity Media's Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper stars as a schlub who superpowers his intellect with NZT, a drug that unlocks the full potential of the human mind.  The film was a huge success with critics and audiences, combining elements from science fiction, drama, thriller, and stylized action.  Limitless is hitting Blu-ray and DVD today, July 19th, and Neil Burger was kind enough to talk to IAR about the film, as well as his next project, the anticipated video game adaptation Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

Both thematically and visually, your films so far have been widely varied.  What do you think the unifying through line has been and where does Limitless fit into that?

Burger: Well, there's a a number of different things for me.  There's often a question in the movie, but for me the main thing is for the characters.  They're characters who feel like they have no power and then do something radical to empower themselves.  In Limitless, he takes this pill.  You know, he's this down and out writer and he takes this pill to have success and become rich and powerful.  And in The Illusionist, he's this magician who is successful but can't have the woman he loves because of class distinctions, so he creates this whole sort of magic and maybe a con to get her back in the only way possible.  Same with The Lucky Ones.  It's about these soldiers who feel like they're strangers in their own land and that they're nobodies.  They kind of band together to sort of feed off each other and be strong in that way.

You were recently announced as the director Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

Burger: Yes!

And you'll be writing that one, as well, correct?

Burger: That's right, yes I will be.

How will that film fit into your resume so far and the themes of your past films?

Burger: Well, I think there's something similar about it.  If you know the game, you know that Nathan Drake has this sense oft his legacy and this relationship to Francis Drake, but when we first meet him, he's not doing that well.  He's sort of living by his wits in South America sort of waiting for that one moment, that one thing, that one clue that's going to help him get what he feels like is his birthright.  It's a real struggle and people don't necessarily take him seriously.  They don't necessarily believe the Drake story, they're skeptical of him, but sort of sticks to his guns, as it were, and pushes on with it.  And gets his break and keeps on fighting to move forward and find this treasure.

Can you say anything about the potential casting of Drake?

Burger: I'm literally just closing the deal right now and just jumping into the writing and we're writing it from scratch.  So until there's a script, you never know where people are in the world or their careers and things like that.  So once we have it, then we'll start going out to actors because you never know how things change in the time it takes to write the script.

Back to Limitless, in your interview with Charlie Rose, you said that directing from someone else's screenplay for the first time was "liberating"  [The film is written by Leslie Dixon from a novel by Alan Glynn].  Was that a surprise to you and do you intend to do it again anytime soon?

Burger: Well, I'm certainly always up for it.  As I've said, being a director is an interpretive role and it's liberating because you can just not worry about the original idea and you can just look at the page as, "what is the best way to show this scene?"  And that can be really great sometimes.  When you've written it yourself, that's great also, because you're sort of the authority on it.  So I like both roles.

Were there any ways in which interpreting from someone else's screenplay was a challenge, as well?

Burger: It's a challenge because you have other people's voices involved in it, you know, their opinions and things like that.  The screenwriter has more of a voice and the producers who've been working on it for years and you've just come into it recently, they all have their opinions.  And that's often fine and sometimes a lot of good things can come out of it but sometimes it can also get sort of murky and muddy and people are holding on to things for the wrong reasons, in your mind.  So then it becomes more of a debate about things.  It can be difficult.  Not always though.

The visual representations of NZT (I think this is the first movie I've ever seen that makes writing a novel look exciting), how much of that was in the script and how much was your invention?

Burger: Well, none of it's really in the screenplay and for me the challenge and the fun of directing the movie, during preproduction and way before preproduction, was coming up with those images, those visual motifs to show how he saw the world, what it was like to be in his head, how he processed information, how he found inspiration and all the rest of it.  That was a long but fun process, coming up with images that fit into his head and worked with the screenplay and that weren't too digital, that felt organic and really connected to him and his character.

The Blu-ray release contains an unrated, extended cut of the film.  As the director, what was the extent of your involvement with that cut?

Burger: Oh, that was me, I edited that.  That's kind of like a director's cut.

There's also an alternate ending.  Was that the original ending?

Burger: It was the ending that we shot when we were in production, but we had such a rushed schedule, we were working so hard, we never felt like we had the ending right, and that we'd even had the right scene to end it with.  We were working on it the whole time, but because we were just jamming through it, it kind of felt like we never quite got it.  And then it was good to sit with the movie, while we were editing it, and then figure out really, what was the best ending for the movie.  So we went out and shot it after we were almost finished editing.

Bradley Cooper has described a specific moment in the film as the one in which, while reading the screenplay, that he was hooked and knew he had to do it.  Did you have a similar moment with the material?

Burger: I was interested in when he first took the drug and coming on to it.  What it was like to go through that transformation and become that new character.  How he gets empowered and how I would show that.  Those ideas were really interesting to me and those visuals.  I liked the idea of a character that was down and out and on the verge of giving up and then found a bizarre to have a second chance.

There are moments in the film that are great to see with an audience because they're so audacious and unexpected  Were you worried that any of those moments might cross a line with people?

Burger: The whole movie is like that, I think.  The whole movie walks this very fine line between, 'Whoa, is he doing the wrong thing?  Yet he's such a winning character that I'm with him.'  So you're withhim even though you're writhing and you can't bear it.

I imagine there were probably a lot of people who wanted to play Eddie Morra.  What specifically about Bradley Cooper that captured your attention and made him the man for the job?

Burger: Bradley's obviously known for comedy and things like that, but he's a really great actor with a huge range of abilities.  I think he's such a good comedic actor because he has great timing, and having great timing is a huge asset for whatever kind of acting you're doing, whether it be dramatic or tragic or whatever.  So, he's just a really good actor and he was able to play the vulnerable side of Eddie Morra, the down and out writer, as well as the guy who was just striding through life without a care in the world and all-powerful.  That's not always easy to find, somebody that can play both sides of that.  He really can.

Limitless is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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