The real-life exploits of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may be drawing headlines, but for an equally fascinating Hollywood drama, consider what went on behind the cameras during the long and costly struggle to bring “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” to the screen.
The movie was delayed and rewritten numerous times. Its stars’ entanglements were splashed all over the tabloids. It went so far over budget that the studio demanded producers “stop the monetary hemorrhaging.”
Yet for all that, 20th Century Fox thinks “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” will be a hit when it opens June 10 – another notch in the belt of director Doug Liman, who is notorious for presiding over disastrous productions that somehow emerge triumphant.
“The truth is, Doug is a madman,” says Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning writer of “A Beautiful Mind”), who also produced “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
“[But] I think he has the ability, which is not insignificant, to have a movie coalesce around him. Actors want to work with him and studios want the product that exists with his name on it.”
During a break from last-minute work on the film, Liman winces when he hears that Goldsman has called him a madman.
“I’m an unusual person,” Liman acknowledges. But in every case, he says, “The movie I end up with is the movie I aspired to make.”
Blue-eyed and rumpled, Liman is something of a filmmaking phenomenon. He remains affable √≥ and successful √≥ even as he drives colleagues to distraction and his films run significantly over schedule and over budget.
Some say he suffers from indecision and lack of focus so profound that his films were finished more in spite of him than because of him.
“I stepped into territory I’ve never been in before in 30 years,” says Frank Marshall, who produced Liman’s previous film, “The Bourne Identity.”
“I’ve always had a respect for the line between a producer and a director. And I had to step over that line into something that I feel is the director’s responsibility.”
But even Marshall concedes that Liman has great ideas and that his films all share a fresh, distinctive visual style.
That started with the 1996 indie hit “Swingers,” which introduced Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn to the world. Liman then made “Go,” a small but well-received 1999 picture about the aftermath of a drug deal.
Reports of trouble surfaced on the next film, “The Bourne Identity,” which nonetheless spawned a mighty franchise.
Several individuals who worked on “The Bourne Identity” √≥ which went about $10 million over its $55 million budget √≥ say it went off track in part because Liman constantly changed his mind about what he would do on any given day.
“He never knew what he wanted to do,” says Marshall. “He would reshoot some scenes four or five times because he had a new idea. It was ‘Let me see the footage and I’ll decide whether I like it or not.’ ”
On “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” history seemed to repeat itself. The film √≥ an action comedy about two hired assassins who are married to each other √≥ went over schedule in part, Liman says, because Pitt had to leave in the middle to meet his commitment to appear in “Ocean’s Twelve.” He was gone for three months.
It took nearly two years to get the film made. The picture started shooting in January 2004 and didn’t wrap until this past April.
According to a source involved in the production, the budget √≥ originally set at just over $100 million √≥ swelled to $126 million.
Pitt, who would not comment for this article, was said to have become exasperated with the drawn-out production. According to one story making the rounds, when Liman, at one point, urged Pitt to deliver more emotion in his performance, the actor pointed out that Liman was shooting the back of his head.