Interview: Neil Burger
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Neil Burger, whose earlier films include The Illusionist and Interview with the Assassin, is a talented director to say the least. However, it may be the innovative concept for his latest movie, Limitless, a paranoia-fueled action thriller starring Bradley Cooper and Robert Di Nero, that will really set him apart for audiences. It's a strong story about an unsuccessful writer whose life is transformed by a top-secret "smart drug" that allows him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself, that really shines. His enhanced abilities soon attract shadowy forces that threaten his new life. "I wanted the story to be completely believable, to play it absolutely real," says Burger about this suspenseful and provocative film. "There are drugs like this already," Burger continues. "Provigil and Adderall and others. NZT is like that times a thousand. It's completely turbocharged. But if it's all just tinkering with brain chemistry like a computer hard drive, where does personal responsibility come in? What are the limits of our moral identity?"
Before the transition to feature film, you directed commercials for companies such as Mastercard, IBM and ESPN. Were feature films always a part of the plan or was it just something that you fell into?
Yeah, they were. You know what I fell into? The commercials! You are always trying to make these small movies and I had done these small 1 minute movies for MTV and they were well received - they were promoting reading actually. They were almost like PSA's but they weren't really; they were like music videos for literature and language. Anyways, I got some commercial contracts based on that and I had never been interested in advertising but it was great. It really made me a better director and it gave me a chance to make a living. Then I got to make my first feature, which was Interview with an Assassin.
Your latest film, Limitless, is originally based on the novel, the Dark Fields, by ALAN GLYNN. Were you familiar with the book prior to the project?
No, I was not. I did, however, pick up the book after hearing about it and once I picked it up I could not put it down and became very intrigued. I was totally unaware of the book before the film.
So did reading the book help bring more context?
Oh yeah, it did. The book is great. The book is a little bit different but it's great. What I liked about it is that both of them are New York stories and I live in New York. The movie is about intelligence but both of them are very much about power, and power in New York City. And I am acutely aware of that - from the people who are down and out to the people who are on top of the world in the financial business or whatever - and ultimately it is just this wild ride. It is just this crazy, cartwheeling, fever-dream as this guy goes on this crazy journey.
This movie is very unique. Is that the type of movie you had been looking to do?
I liked this movie for that very reason. It does feel like this wild ride; the wild ride that also is about intelligence and is done in an intelligent way- a rarity these days. I like that it is about intelligence but I like that it is also about power; this guy who feels like he is completely powerless and useless in the world and he becomes this magnetic personality. This guy who is really driving things
Limitless is the first film you have directed that you did not write. Did that bring any challenges for you? Is that something you were looking for?
Yeah, it certainly brings challenges but on the other hand it was nice to just direct because it's liberating. You can just direct. You don't have to worry about coming up with that particular line or looking for that right word all the time and you can just find the best way, the coolest way, the wildest way to show the scene, where sometimes, when you've written it, you kind of get stuck or inflexible about it.
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