Steve Daly
May 30, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

How’s this for small-world coincidence? For his 1994 feature-directing debut, the med-school comedy Getting In, Doug Liman cast a then-unknown Jennifer Aniston as the female lead. The backers nixed her, he recalls, for Kristy Swanson, who was hot off Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie). ”The next year, Jennifer got Friends,” says Liman. ”I was like, You guys were idiots not to let me cast the person I wanted.” Liman’s luck improved after that. To wit:

SWINGERS (1996) According to Liman, he formed a mini production company and financed this odd-couple paean to wannabe L.A. hipsters (starring Jon Favreau, who wrote the script, and Vince Vaughn) for $250,000, with his father, lawyer Arthur Liman, basically acting as his producer. When Miramax offered $750,000 for the finished movie, Liman senior said to take it. But junior held out for more, against Dad’s wishes — and won big. ”I sent a fax to my parents saying, ‘Miramax. $5.5 million. Doug.’ A very good feeling.”

GO (1999) After Swingers, Liman found ”I was the flavor of the month in Hollywood.” He prepped a medium-budget studio comedy called The Breakers with Alicia Silverstone — but switched to this low-budget Tarantino-esque fresco of teens on a wild, drug-deal- fueled ride through L.A. and Vegas (written by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s John August). The flick didn’t gross much — $17 million — but gave a boost to stars Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, and Taye Diggs.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) Liman courted Brad Pitt to play amnesiac killing machine Jason Bourne, but Pitt chose to make Tony Scott’s Spy Game instead. Matt Damon stepped in as Bourne, with Franka Potente as his romantic interest, and became an action star, while costars Chris Cooper and Brian Cox, as CIA baddies, landed mainly on the cutting-room floor after their scenes bombed with test audiences. ”Nobody cared,” says Liman of the villains. ”The audience just wanted to follow Matt and Franka.”

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