For Doug Liman, directing is like navigating a class five river rapid. As you see the rapid in the distance, you have 15 seconds to figure out the best course of action. There’s no time to stop and think about it; you must act on impulse. He has the same experience showing up on the set of one of his film or television shows.

“You chose your plan, do the best job you can do and execute it knowing that there will be things in the rapid you don’t expect,” Mr. Liman said in a telephone interview from his New York office earlier this week. “You’re preparing under serious time pressure and shooting under that pressure; it’s the same emotional experience.”

Mr. Liman, a Chilmark summer resident, is best known for action movies such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Bourne Identity, and now the true story of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame and husband Joe Wilson, in Fair Game. If he’s not on the set, he can be found at his farm in Chilmark or sailing his boat around New York harbor — or river rafting with friends.

“The river rafting lives on in my memory,” he said. “But with the film I end up with something I can share with the world.”

Mr. Liman has been coming to the Vineyard for the past 20 years, and enjoys being unreachable when he’s here. “I’m completely out of touch unless I happen to be in my house when my land line rings and I’m almost never inside the house,” he said. “I have a farm so I deal with the animals or weeds in a particular garden. Then I’ll sail on Squibnocket Pond or motor boat across Menemsha Pond to pick up lobster.”

Two summers ago his farm played host to the writers of Fair Game, brothers Jez and John Butterworth. “They came and lived with me and that’s when the film came together,” Mr. Liman explained. “My hammock in my apple orchard is now my lucky hammock. They literally stayed in my chicken coop-turned guest bedroom, and the other half of the coop was their office. As they generated pages I would sit on the hammock and read them.”

The Butterworths never saw the beach the entire summer, a testament to their commitment to the writing process, Mr. Liman said. Two years later, Fair Game has been nominated for the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, the highest award. “I never let politics influence the movies I direct, but I do let the person who was writing the movie influence me,” Mr. Liman said of the writers who also worked with him on Mr. and Mrs. Smith. “I was dying to read it. They could write about anything and I’d be dying to read it.”

On Monday night Mr. Liman is offering a special dream at the Possible Dreams auction benefiting Martha’s Vineyard Community Services: a chance to meet Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson, and Piper Perabo from his new television show Covert Affairs.

“I’ve bid and won dreams in the past from the auction and I find there’s something special about the event that people who have special access to things are sharing them with the highest bidder,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate that I have a pretty varied film career but this is my first time with Fair Game making a serious movie and a movie involving the kinds of players that I feel are consistent with the Martha’s Vineyard intellectual environment.”

Ms. Plame was a consultant on Covert Affairs, and Mr. Liman thought in keeping with the spy-themed evening he would invite Ms. Perabo. “It feels like that’ll make the evening just a little bit more likely that the unexpected will happen,” he said.

Fair Game is based upon the story of when Mr. Wilson, a former ambassador, was sent by the CIA under the Bush administration to investigate claims that Iraq was buying nuclear-weapon grade uranium in the form of yellowcake from Niger. Mr. Wilson subsequently wrote a column in July 2003 in the New York Times, stating there was no link between Iraq and Niger and questioning the motives of the invasion in Iraq.

Eight days later, Robert Novak, a Washington Post columnist, commented on Mr. Wilson’s investigation, and wrote that two senior administration officials had told him that it was Mr. Wilson’s wife, Ms. Plame, who had suggested Mr. Wilson travel to Niger to investigate the role of the Iraqis. As a result, Mr. Novak revealed Ms. Plame’s identity as a secret CIA operative. Mr. Liman’s Fair Game is based on this story and Ms. Plame’s memoir Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.

Mr. Liman’s fascination with the secret world of spy craft began when his father Arthur Liman, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, ran several government investigations including as Senate chief counsel during the Iran-Contra affair. “I was milking what I could get from him and I became fascinated with the reality of spies in America,” he recalled. “The more you work in this world and the more people you know, the more you learn and it gets more interesting.

“It taps into that primal thing of playing someone other than yourself.”

He returns to the theme of river rafting. “There’s definitely a thrill in producing and directing for me,” he said. “The killer obstacle in the rapid is getting lazy.”

Mr. Liman said he holds himself to a high standard of originality, and would question himself if he used the same technique or same shot in Fair Game as he had in Bourne Identity. “I hope my style has changed,” he said. “If I bear any similarity to Bourne [Identity] I’m horrified with myself. It’s probably because that was 10 years ago and if I’m doing the same thing it means I didn’t evolve and I didn’t grow, or it means I’m being lazy which is the real pitfall.

“In hindsight, when I look at my career I’m constantly amazed that people have constantly taken the chances on me,” he added.

A new chance he has received this year is the opportunity to direct his first play, Childproof Room, which will be performed on Monday night at the Vineyard Playhouse. He said he was drawn to the play because of its characters.

His real interest in action movies is in the development of the characters, harking back to his earlier films like Swingers and Go, which were all character and no action. “As much as I get typecast I’m really fascinated by characters and that’s what determines at the end of the day whether I make something or not,” he said.

And he said it was the characters of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson (played by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn) that compelled him to make Fair Game.

“I was like most people, I paid attention to [Ms. Plame and Mr. Wilson] for 15 minutes and moved on with my life,” Mr. Liman said. “When I read the first draft of the Fair Game script I fell in love with the characters: they’ll stay with me the rest of my life.”

Mr. Liman will return to the Vineyard this weekend for the auction, directly followed by the play.

And there was one last question: If he could direct anyone, living or dead, who would it be? His reply: “Katharine Hepburn, without hesitation.”


Childproof Room plays Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven. For tickets and information call 508-696-6300 or visit