There is a scene midway through “Limitless” in which Abbie Cornish’s character is running through a park, attempting to escape a guy intent on gutting her like a fish. Unsure how to get away, she swallows a black-market drug called NZT — a little pill allowing her to access 100 percent of her mind — and scans the park for possible weapons: a pair of gardening sheers or a baseball bat, perhaps?
Then she sees a little girl on ice skates off in the distance. Bingo! She races toward the rink as the evil dude gives chase, then picks up the girl and uses her ice skates to slice her enemy’s face. It’s a wackily kinetic scene in a thriller filled with such moments. The only problem for director Neil Burger was casting the girl to take part in the madness.
“Luckily, the stunt people were completely game to offer up their child to be thrown through the air!” Burger laughed in a recent conversation with MTV News.
And that, it turns out, is how Piper Brown, daughter of Jill Brown (whose stunt credits include “The Green Hornet” and “I Am Legend”), made her big-screen debut. “It was our first day of shooting, which is an insane way to begin,” Burger said. We had to do it in one day with 200 extras on the ice, plus the crew, and we’re just powering through everyone with cameras and cranes.”
That’s just one of the untold stories behind the production of “Limitless” we picked up during a recent conversation with Burger. Before checking out the film, which hit theaters Friday (March 18), check out four more “Limitless” secrets revealed:
Why Is NZT a Clear Pill?
In creating a fictional drug for the big screen, Burger and his team could have gone in any direction. NZT could have been something you swallow or smoke or, heck, even something used as a suppository reminiscent of a troubling scene in “Trainspotting.” But following the book on which the movie is based, they stuck with a pill. What, however, would the pill that Bradley Cooper’s character gets hooked on look like?
“Right up to the end, we were thinking about what this pill would be,” Burger explained. “Sometimes we thought it’d have these beveled edges or a different colored center, but it started to look like a hundred other things you’ve seen, from a Lifesaver to Skittles. Then we stumbled onto one that was clear, and I knew it was just perfect. It sums up exactly what it does for him.”
What Exactly Does NZT Do?
Though the story is based on a novel by Alan Glynn, it was up to Burger to “invent the rules of the drug,” as he put it. How does it affect Cooper’s Eddie Morra? What would happen if Eddie suddenly couldn’t get his fix?
“I worked on it on my own, because I had to become an authority on it with the actors and crew,” he added. “It became that you don’t get high or wired or stoned. You were just clear and knew what to do and how to get it done.”
Along those lines, Burger didn’t refer to any existing drugs, because there’s nothing on Earth like NZT. “I didn’t do research. I just decided what I wanted the drug to be. I wanted Eddie to become the perfect version of himself. I wanted him to remember everything he’s ever seen. It’s not that it makes him into Superman. It makes him fearless, and he’s able to access information instantaneously.”
How Did They Pull Off Those Ultra-Long Zooming Shots?
Often when Eddie is on NZT, the camera pushes through the cityscape in a long, seemingly continuous shot, pushing forward for miles without stop. It’s a very cool visual effect, one unlike we’ve ever seen. How the heck did they pull off what Burger calls “infinity zooms”?
“I started looking at fractals,” he told us. “I liked the idea that each part they’re made up of is a mirror of the whole. And I looked at fractal zooms, where you push into the fractal, going from shape to shape, an Escher-like movement. That was how Eddie’s mind worked: these microcosms that mirrored a larger sense of the world. I wanted to bring that idea into the city and have it be like a fractal zoom. It was a great way to show how he perceived space and time.
“So I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to do it, and nobody could figure out how to do it,” he explained. “I found a visual-effects company that finally figured it out — and it’s a bit of a secret, because it’s a new thing. We were able to move the camera through the city and then visually stitch it all together, but you can’t see where the seams are.”
Why Did They Change Eddie’s Job From Copywriter to Novelist?
In Glynn’s book, Eddie is a struggling copywriter. In the book, he’s a struggling novelist. Why was it important to change his job?
“It was important to make him an artist with aspirations toward greatness, and it just wasn’t happening. A copywriter just wasn’t going to communicate that,” Burger said. “He had to have the big dream. We all want to be a rock star or a pro basketball player or Warren Buffet, but then when push comes to shove, we aren’t those things — we can’t be those things. He was just one more guy who had this big dream, and he couldn’t achieve it, even though he wanted to. NZT could let him achieve that dream, and then a whole lot more.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Limitless.”
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