It’s been fourteen years since audiences were introduced to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), and in that time, he’s become one of the world’s most famous super spies. Well, technically most famous CIA assassin, but that’s neither here nor there. The brainchild of author Robert Ludlum, Bourne single-handedly redefined action cinema in the 2000s, revitalizing the genre and staking off the inevitable takeover of the superhero in the following decade. Through creative storytelling and practical movie magic, The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) have risen to the ranks of modern classics.
Despite this continued exposure and an archival cameo in the 2012 “sidequel” The Bourne Legacy, much remains hidden about the titular hero. Bourne’s infamous amnesia has certainly played a part in this secrecy, but even disregarding that, there’s plenty this former operative keeps under wraps. As a result, with the upcoming release of Jason Bourne, now’s a terrific time to whip out the Bourne dossier and dig up the stuff you might not have known about.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Jason Bourne.
15. He speaks multiple languages
Starting with the obvious, Jason Bourne knows his way around an international hurdle. Often seen conversing in various dialects, the lethal weapon has proven fluent in English, French, Russian, Dutch, German, Swedish, and Spanish. Tony Gilroy, the trilogy’s chief screenwriter, articulated this skill further than Ludlum’s novels, which noted Bourne’s talent for French and “Eastern dialects” instead of particular languages. The globe-trotting fugitive is even seen speaking Nederlands in the opener of The Bourne Identity, a derivative of Dutch that’s rarely used properly (or at all) in Hollywood productions.
Granted, Matt Damon didn’t learn each language prior to shooting, but his commitment to authenticity sold the illusion. The actor worked with dialect coaches to repress his American accent, thus furthering the idea that Bourne could be any man, from anywhere. Plus, while the series never explicitly proves it, Bourne is also able to speak Portuguese, as evidenced by his Brazilian passport. This allows the former assassin to be blend a bit better than say, James Bond.
14. He has multiple identities
Aliases are vital to any self-respecting operative, and Bourne’s repeated ability to slip through security undetected is proof. This is established early on in Identity, as a safety deposit box with a passport convinces the amnesiac his name is Jason Bourne. The irony, of course, is that Bourne is his core alias and serves only to alert the agency that he’s gone AWOL. In the midst of his continued search, Bourne happens upon multiple personas, whether it be John Michael Kane, Mr. Cruet, or Gilberto de Piento. It may not be the greatest situation for an amnesiac, but this identity collection allows Bourne to come and go as he pleases.
In the book series, which spans 12 stories (9 of which were written by Eric Van Lustbader), Bourne’s pool of aliases is even larger. Over the course of his missions, the former agent is referred to as Charles Briggs, Delta One, Paul Kay, Adam Stone, and George P. Washburn. But as the films have continued to show over the years, plenty changes and little remains, leaving these tidbits mainly for novel fans.
13. He is named after Ansel Bourne, real life amnesiac
When searching for a proper character name, Robert Ludlum stumbled across the bizarre case of Ansel Bourne. A preacher in Rhode Island during the 1880s, Bourne woke up one day unsure of who he was, and departed the city in haste. Setting up shop in Pennsylvania under the name Brown, Ansel Bourne awoke three months later with regained memory and utter confusion as to why he was now a convenience store owner. Bourne became a study subject for the Harvard Society of Psychological Research, and is now referred to as the first example of dissociative fugue– amnesia for personal identity.
Bourne was hypnotized during his tenure with Harvard and revealed he could assume the identity of Brown or Bourne at varying points. Much to the surprise of scientists, however, was that neither personality had awareness of the other and simply co-existed within his mind. Needless to say, Ludlum was enraptured by the case, and applied the surname to his own struggling hero.
12. He is trained in Kali and Jeet Kune Do
Jason Bourne’s combat ability is legendary. The man can (and has) turned everyday items like pens, magazines, and towels into deadly weapons, much to the chagrin of his opponents. In doing so, the operative confirms the proficiency of two core fighting styles: Kali and Jeet Kune Do. The former, also referred to as “Arnis de Manó (“harness of the hand”), is a Filipino Martial Art that emphasizes simplicity and power. Unconcerned with intricate movement and flashy gestures, it’s the perfect method for a CIA threat to cut off dogged pursuit.
Jeet Kune Do, a style developed by martial arts icon Bruce Lee, focuses upon the importance of adaptation. Lee’s method allowed room to use different “tools” for different situations, and this particular trait has gone on to become a franchise staple. To convincingly convey these skills, Damon trained with Kai expert Jeff Imada and Jeet Kune Do practitioners Damon Caro and Jonathan Eusebio. It’s no wonder he always wins.
11. He has killed 22 people onscreen
Though billed as the hero, it’s obvious that Jason Bourne is no boy scout. The man is a well-tuned killing machine, adept at the most efficient disposal methods imaginable. Luckily for fans, the franchise has spared no expense is showing this ability, with each gritty kill proving more impressive than the next. Bourne only claims a handful victims of in The Bourne Identity, but his techniques include a shotgun sendoff to operative The Professor (Clive Owen) and a few acrobatic dismissals in a hotel staircase.
Over the next two films, however, Bourne ups both his kill count and his inventive execution. From flashbacks of former missions to barreling over field agents in his car, Bourne ensures the men who go after him don’t live to fight another day. Most memorably, in the case of Supremacy’s Kirill (Karl Urban) and Ultimatum’s Desh (Joey Ansah), two operatives who provoke some of the most skilled dismantling ever shown on film. Let’s not forget, of course, the dozens of guys he’s left in traction or severely crippled. Only time will tell whether Bourne can up the ante again in his upcoming installment.
10. He is the last surviving member of Treadstone
Originally conceived as a black ops program for unsanctioned hits, Treadstone was considered a necessary evil to ensure America’s safety. It used behavior modifications to break down their subject’s mind, only to re-mold them with advanced training and minimal emotions. Jason Bourne was one such subject, and his resulting amnesia cost Treadstone greatly in terms of exposure and government inquiry. Key players Alex Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) tried to smooth things over, but with Bourne hell-bent on bringing them down, it was only a matter of time.
Bourne’s murder of peers like The Professor, Castel (Nicky Naude), and Jarda (Marton Csokas) are only superseded by the dirt he digs up on the legal side of the spectrum. Aided by the ironclad determination of Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Bourne successfully dismantles the operation altogether. Blackbriar, the successor to Treadstone in The Bourne Ultimatum, is also put to a succinct end due to the double team of Landy and Bourne Now, heading into his fifth installment, Bourne is all that remains of the program that made him.
9. He was born on September 13, 1970
In the final act of The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne and Landy share a phone call eerily reminiscent of the one they had in Supremacy. At first it’s a bit jarring, until Landy drops the bit about his birthday being on April 15, 1971– an intentional slip up to alert Bourne and deter the wiretap of Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). What Vosen fails to comprehend was that this wasn’t Bourne’s real birthdate, but the encoded address (4/15/71) to Bourne’s training facility. Vosen should’ve done his homework.
Bourne, real name David Webb, was actually born on September 13, 1970. Granted, it’s implicitly said in the second film, but it’s important not to get mixed up in all the code talk and underlying trickery. Bourne is also Catholic, as can be attested to by his dog tags, and bears type O blood. Arriving through a rush of memories and the looming baritone of trainer Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), it’s the most information fans have been given thus far, and further humanizes Bourne as a man who’ll never fully understand his past.
8. He served in the U.S. Special Forces
In Ludlum’s novels, Bourne’s backstory was understandably more complex and lengthy. Identity director Doug Liman, despite being a huge Ludlum fan, felt bogged down by the detailed source material and decided to start from scratch. He instructed screenwriter Tony Gilroy to not even read the books, and instead base Bourne’s origin around one key source: the director’s father, Arthur L. Liman. The inner workings of the film’s plot came from the elder Liman’s experience as an NSA operative for Ronald Reagan– particularly with regards to the Iran-Contra affair.
As a result, the humble beginnings of Bourne were whittled down to enlisting in the U.S. Special Forces. Once there, the Wisconsin native showed a predisposition towards the Treadstone mold and willingly agreed to join in the belief he would be serving his country. Glimpses of this crash course training can be seen in the flashbacks of Ultimatum, though hopefully more will come to light with Jason Bourne.
7. Bourne is much older in the novels
When Damon was first approached to play Jason Bourne, the 31 year old actor was sufficiently confused. He assumed, and rightfully so, that Liman would pursue an older actor to play the part, as the novels imply Bourne to be closer to his 50s. In fact, harkening back to the backstory that Liman axed, David Webb was a career foreign service officer specializing in Eastern relations. He had a wife and two children, but the Vietnam War inadvertently led to their deaths, and a disillusioned Webb saw fit to enlist in a Special Forces unit called Medusa. This black ops group eventually dovetailed into his tenure as Jason Bourne.
Obviously, this harrowing string of events suggests Webb is an older guy, especially since years pass between Medusa and the formation of Treadstone. Liman wasn’t digging it, and envisioned Bourne as a young man with no wife, no kids, and no tenure as a linguistics expert (The Bourne Legacy) or a professor (The Bourne Supremacy). Suffice to say, the gamble paid off, and awarded Damon a part that will forever be his signature.
6. He was originally played by Richard Chamberlain
The Bourne Identity was originally adapted into a mini-series in 1988, long before Damon and Liman entered the picture. Sticking closer to Ludlum’s source material, the show finds Bourne as a forty-something who believes he is the famed Venezuelan terrorist Carlos The Jackal, a subplot that’s completely nixed in the 2002 version. Richard Chamberlain, a Californian actor best known for the title role in Dr. Kildare (1961-66), plays Bourne as less disturbed and far more dapper than Damon, who reeks of unease at every turn. Landing closer to the James Bond mold, Chamberlain’s graying hero was a solid, if average, first attempt at the character.
The series still retains its Cold War fun, but its main source of intrigue now is how it differs from Doug Liman’s remake. Marie (Franka Potente), for example, is completely absent, replaced by a woman named Marie St. Jacques (Jaclyn Smith). Kidnapped by Bourne instead of politely asked to accompany him, St. Jacques actually spends most of the show’s first half trying to escape. It’s authentic to the novel, but truth be told, it lacks the sweetness of Liman’s adjusted love interest.
5. His archenemy in the novel in Carlos The Jackal
Barring Bourne’s backstory, the biggest movie change was the exclusion of archenemy Carlos The Jackal. Born Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan native was the world’s most deadly terrorist in the 1970s, subject to celebrity and global scorn. It came as no surprise that Ludlum would take advantage of this real life icon and have him be the cause of Jason Bourne’s very creation. Originally, Treadstone pegged Bourne with the codename Cain, meant to instill a mythic status that directly opposed Carlos.
Over the course of Ludlum’s literary trilogy, Carlos The Jackal would prove a formidable foe, eventually deciding to make the murder of Bourne his final act of showmanship. Played out in the 1990 novel Ultimatum, both men butt heads despite being aged and out of their prime. The Carlos/Bourne rivalry was the crux of Ludlum’s series, yet it went completely ignored in the big screen adaptation. Ironically, actor Édgar Ramírez appears in Ultimatum as CIA agent Paz. The Venezuelan actor, who lets Bourne get away, would go on to play Carlos The Jackal in the acclaimed mini-series Carlos (2010).
4. He suffers from retrograde amnesia
Having amnesia sucks. We’ve seen it played out a myriad of different ways, from comedic (50 First Dates) and tragic (Memento) to strangely romantic (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Jason Bourne, on the other hand, falls under the a type that’s particularly convenient for the action genre: retrograde amnesia. Defined as “a loss of memory-access to events that occurred before an injury,” it enables Bourne to form new memories and to gradually recall his past. Directly opposing short-term memory loss, often called anterograde amnesia, it also allows him to put the pieces together without having to scramble for time– or tattoo his body with clues.
As for his rare skill set, that can be chalked up to a healthy addition of procedural amnesia. This is when the motor skills and functions of a person prior to the accident remain, even when memories and personal identity do not. In short, Ludlum saddled Bourne with just the right blend of amnesias to elicit maximum fun.
3. He only smiles when he is with Marie
Marie was a beacon of light for Jason Bourne in the first film. Serendipitously meeting while he was on the run, the pair found a kinship that eventually blossomed into romance. As a result, any smiling on the part of Bourne can be directly chalked up to Marie’s charming innocence. Damon even spoke to the importance of her presence in a recent interview:
“In the first movie, the Marie Kreutz character is still alive, so Bourne has a good sounding board and he’s more confused about who he is and a lot more chatty. Once she dies in the first act of the second movie, it’s really a very lonely character.”
Not only does Bourne get to say a lot less in the next two films, but the sporadic smile in Identity is gone altogether. In fact, the only time the operative is seen without a scowl, is in a picture of him and Marie. The poor guy already had enough on his mind, even before the death of the woman he loved.
2. He was almost played by Brad Pitt
Doug Liman needed a Jason Bourne who could convey wildly different emotions. On one hand, he needed to be a callous emotional shell, perfectly at ease snapping necks and knocking out government agents. On the other, a man who maintained a common decency and won the hearts of viewers even when heinous acts were being performed. Age appropriate actors like Russell Crowe and Sylvester Stallone were suggested by the studio, but Liman still wanted a younger lead. Superstar Brad Pitt, fresh off a box office hit with Ocean’s Eleven (2001), was exactly the kind of actor Liman had in mind.
Pitt was offered the role outright and news reports quickly began linking him to the Bourne project. Despite this promising match, the laid-back Pitt eventually opted out, instead choosing to star in Tony Scott’s Spy Game (2001). Dabbling in the same kind of CIA espionage, it was a move that proved disheartening to both Liman and the production. Luckily, Damon was cast soon after, and the resulting success proved that everything turned out for the best.
1. He was created after Robert Ludlum experienced temporary amnesia
Upon discussing his inspiration for The Bourne Identity in 1984, Robert Ludlum shared a rather bizarre story. As he told it, the author was so joyful about getting his first novel, The Scarlatti Inheritance, published in 1971, that he inexplicably blacked out. When he finally came to, he was unable to remember where he had been or what he had done for the past twelve hours. It was a crucial experience in Ludlum’s life, as the notion of being completely in the dark led him to create the character of Jason Bourne.
Drawing upon this personal sense of confusion, he envisioned Bourne as the most capable man on the planet, yet unable to recall the most simple details about his own identity. Readers clearly responded to the concept, and Identity became a sensation in 1980, along with the acclaimed sequels that followed it. “What a man can’t remember doesn’t exist for him,” Ludlum wrote, but he managed to turn his own forgotten spell into a defining slice of spy fiction.
Bonus: He could beat Batman in a fight!
We may never know for sure, but Matt Damon– Jason Bourne himself– has gone on record to say he would beat Batman in a fight. You heard it right, folks, Bourne isn’t intimidated by the Dark Knight in the slightest, and offered these choice words on the matter: “Jason Bourne would kick the s–t out of Batman – absolutely! Batman’s gotta take on Superman first. If he could beat him then maybe he could take on Jason Bourne.”
Strong words for a typically stoic fugitive, but he clearly feels confident in his chances. Batman (Ben Affleck), on the other hand, didn’t take too kindly to the call out, and fired back with some haymakers of his own: “Matt is going around saying this all over the place but not to my face. But Matt can’t even beat me up, never mind Batman.”
The camaraderie is sky high, and the notion of the batmobile throttling up against whatever piece-of-crap car Bourne is currently driving would make for a scenario of epic proportions. It’s a tough call, but with Batman being on the bulkier side and Bourne coming at him with a rolled up issue of Gotham Weekly, the former assassin may just uphold his mantle of supremacy. Bourne v Batman: Dawn of Toughness? Whoever wins, that’s a movie worth seeing.
Jason Bourne arrives in U.S. theaters Friday, July 29, 2016.