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Limitless: Talking fetus scene explained by director Marc Webb, EP Craig Sweeny

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SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the series premiere of Limitless.

Around two-thirds of the way through the pilot, Limitless suddenly turns into Cosmos, with its talking fetus and mesmerizing statements about what NZT, the designer drug at the center of the show, can do. (If you’ve seen the premiere, you know what we’re talking about.) Instead of Neil DeGrasse Tyson (or Carl Sagan), though, it’s Bradley Cooper as a CGI fetus — again, that’s Bradley Cooper as a CGI fetus — who delivers the most memorable sound bite: “Can you remember what it’s like to be inside your mother’s womb? I can. I go there when I want to relax.” 

It’s a shot that comes of nowhere, so naturally, when showrunner Craig Sweeny and the pilot’s director Marc Webb talked to EW for this year’s Fall TV Preview piece, they were asked about how the strange scene was, well, conceived. Sweeny began to laugh when it was mentioned. “Ah, gosh,” he said, before sharing this story:

“Well, after I was officially on board to do the project, I flew out to New York and met with Neil Burger who did the movie, and met with Bradley [Cooper] who was doing The Elephant Man on Broadway at the time. So we sat in the lobby of a hotel there, and we talked about what his scene would be, and Bradley said the line, ‘Can you remember what it was like to be in your mother’s womb?’ And I started laughing and I followed up with, ‘Yeah, I can, I go there when I want to relax.’ And he was like, ‘I love that, I love that,’ so it was just like that patch of the scene was written at that stage. They knew I was going to work that line of dialogue in there.

And then when I got to it in the script, I knew that line was going to be in there, so I thought, ‘Why not show him as a fetus?’ You know, why not? It seemed like the show is a little bit irreverent toward the genre that it lives in, towards the procedural, so it just seems funny, and I’m quite happy with the way it worked out.”

Webb had more to add about the technical choices behind the shot, explaining that the imagery of a baby, coupled with the close-up on Cooper’s face, aimed to draw viewers in. “He’s sort of seducing us in a way,” he said. “I was trying to create a sense of hypnosis.”

But again: Why the baby? Even though Sweeny said it was just a “why not” moment while writing the script, Webb said the image of a fetus in a womb was an “iconic” image that would resonate with the audience. “It’s something we’re very familiar with, that carries a lot of sensations,” Webb said. “And I liked that there was a sort of symmetry between the fetus and the act of aging [in another special effect in the scene, when wrinkles appear on Cooper’s face], and you’re just salting this scene with really big ideas without hitting the audience over the head with them.” And if anything, the talking fetus helped surprise those watching at home. As Webb put it: “You want to provoke people.”

Fall TV preview 

Want more? EW’s Fall TV Preview mega-issue has the scoop on 115 shows! Pick up your copy on newsstands now, or buy it here.

Limitless airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.