The creative partnership at the heart of the new, eagerly awaited James Bond movie, Skyfall, was forged, fittingly, over a drink and a cigar. The late Ian Fleming, bon vivant and author of the 12 Bond novels and two collections of short stories, would doubtless have approved.
Daniel Craig was chatting to Sam Mendes at a party when the idea came to him that his old friend and colleague — they had first worked together on Road To Perdition in 2002 — would be perfect to direct the 23rd movie in the hugely successful James Bond franchise.
‘Do you want to direct the next Bond?’
“I just saw massive potential in Sam. He’d won a hatful of Oscars for his first movie and I just thought that the timing was right for Sam and Bond. I was at a party and I’d had a few drinks and Sam was there and we were talking about tradition and filmmaking and we sat out on the balcony smoking a cigar and I said, ‘Do you want to direct the next Bond?’ It just kind of came out of my mouth,” he laughs.
“But as soon as it came out of my mouth I knew it was the right thing and I felt confident about saying it. It’s not my position to offer people jobs — that’s up to (producers) Michael (G. Wilson) and Barbara (Broccoli) — but I felt that it was a great idea and fortunately Michael and Barbara agreed with me whole heartedly.
“I knew Sam would be perfect and it’s about the fact that he is about my age and he grew up watching Bond movies the way I started watching Bond movies and I knew that he was passionate about them and felt as strongly about them as I do.”
Mendes’s first film, American Beauty (1999) had indeed won a “hatful” of Academy Awards — five to be exact — including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (for Kevin Spacey). Craig and Mendes have remained close since working together and they share the same approach to filmmaking.
“It was all about collaboration,” says Craig. “Sam’s background is in the theatre and theatre is, on the whole, much more collaborative than movie-making. Make no mistake, he is the boss — he is the guy that has to lead and he is at ease with that but he allows the talent around him to get on with their jobs.
“And when you have people like Roger (Deakins, cinematographer) and the amazing Chris Corbould (special effects superviser), all the talent we had on set, including the actors, were allowed to get on with their jobs.
“And that’s not as easy as it sounds especially if you are supposed to be in charge and it can make you a very paranoid person and people deal with that kind of pressure in different ways. Sam deals with it with ease.”
Craig is returning for his third film as James Bond, following Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). And whilst he is keen not to give too many details of the story away that might spoil surprises for the audience, he does reveal that the tone of Skyfall will be different than the previous two films and that this time there will be a little more humour in amongst the action.
Casino Royale was based on the very first Bond novel and was an ‘origins’ story, establishing a new James Bond for the modern era with Craig excelling in the role and winning universal critical acclaim.
At the end of the film the woman that Bond had fallen in love with, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) had been murdered and Quantum of Solace saw a haunted Bond hellbent on avenging her death.
“With Casino Royale and Quantum there was a story to tell,” he says. “And also the great thing is, when I was given the job on Casino, it is the first Bond book and so the conceit was that we went back to the beginning.”
‘we really got screwed by the Austin Powers thing’
Skyfall is a stand-alone story where Bond has to come to the aid of his boss, M (played by Dame Judi Dench) as her past comes back to haunt her and the very existence of MI6 is threatened.
His trilogy of Bond films has evolved, says Craig, and Skyfall features much-loved Bond signatures that were hallmarks in many of the movies, which is fitting in the year when the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary. The first Bond movie, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as 007, appeared in 1962.
“You know, we really got screwed by the Austin Powers thing — the gags and the jokes, the light-heartedness — because they exploded all of those gags,” he says. “And so I had to approach it in kind of a way that I knew, which was to make it as truthful as possible.
“But — and this may sound arrogant but I promise you it’s true — I always had this idea in my head that I had to start it in a particular way and I wanted it to evolve back into what I think we’ve achieved with Skyfall.
“We have the old characters again, like Q is back in this, and we’re allowed to have certain things, like the bad guy’s lair — and I’m not giving too much away in saying that.
“The stuff that everybody used to get so excited about in Bond movies we can allow back in now because there’s been enough time between Austin Powers and Skyfall and enough time between Casino Royale and Skyfall and we had a great script which has funny lines in it.
“All of those things have evolved. I felt it evolving and I don’t know what it’s going to look like but I feel it’s changed and changed for the better.”
So is Craig’s Bond older and wiser in Skyfall? “Oh no, he’s far from wiser,” he laughs. “It’s not a progression like that. The key element for this film, and always was, was that we if we got the script right we would attract good actors to do it. You’ve got to give good actors something to play around with and that’s what happened here.”
“The fact that Javier is involved, Judi is still involved and Ralph is involved — this great cast of people — as an actor I’m playing off their stories as well as my story. But older and wiser? I mean, I’m getting older but I really don’t know how wise I’m getting,” he laughs.
‘Would you be in the next Bond movie?’
As well as recruiting Sam Mendes to the cause, Craig reveals that he also first planted the idea of Bardem appearing in Skyfall when their paths crossed a few years ago.
“I met Javier two-and-a-half years ago now at some fundraising function in Los Angeles and I just went, ‘Would you be in the next Bond movie?’ He said, ‘Yes’ and that was it! No one told me that’s not how it’s meant to happen, so I just thought, ‘Don’t we just ask him? Isn’t that the way you do these things,” he laughs.
“Javier is a wonderful, wonderful actor and he has a wonderful sense of fun and understands what we’re trying to achieve with Skyfall. He’s an incredibly precious actor but he’s not precious about his acting. He threw himself into what he was doing and I smiled everytime he was on set.”
‘It’s an incredibly physical thing to do these movies’
Playing Bond demands that Craig is in peak physical condition. He likes to do as much of his own stunt work as possible because, he says, it’s important for the audience to see him in action — as opposed to a stunt double — wherever possible. There are, of course, times when he has to leave it to the experts and he’s quick to praise the team, led by stunt co-ordinator Gary Powell, on Skyfall.
“We have to find ways of making the audience believe it’s me and so I do as much as I can and I’ve got great, amazing stunt guys around me — they are the best there are out there.
“And they can do amazing things. Like the driving — I like to drive but I’m not a racing driver so we have a great guy who comes in and does the driving and makes the car do incredible things and I do the bits that are easier and that’s what movie making is about.
“It’s an incredibly physical thing to do these movies. a scene that may look very simple, like running up a set of stairs, I may have to do 10 times. And it’s always on the ninth take where you run down the stairs and twist your ankle. And the fitter I am the less chance of that happening.”
The role is, then, all consuming. “When you are in the middle of filming, it’s not that you bring home your character, it’s just that there is a lot to think about,” he says.
“Everyday I’m not only on set for the acting, I’m rehearsing stunts, I’m talking about stunt sequences, I’m talking about the scenes that are coming up, so there is so much going on that it’s inevitable that you bring that home. It’s like anybody doing a stressful job or is working particularly hard on something with a deadline, you know, you kind of bring it home with you.”
But it’s also extremely rewarding. “Oh I loved it,” he says of making Skyfall. “We had a fantastic director, a brilliant cast and a totally committed crew. It was an absolute pleasure to be back.”
In this 50th anniversary year Craig pays tribute to the very first screen Bond, Sean Connery, his favourite 007 from the past. Original Bond producers Albert R (Cubby) Broccoli and Harry Saltzman cast the then largely unknown Connery in Dr. No a brave choice, says Craig, which paid off handsomely.
“It’s interesting because when Sean was cast he wasn’t everybody’s favourite — he’s Scottish and people were talking about David Niven and other quintessentially British actors.
“Cubby Broccoli was American and Harry Saltzman was Canadian but they lived in this country a long time and they were Anglophiles and both kind of British in their ways.
“They saw Sean Connery and saw something that probably a British producer wouldn’t have seen. They saw potential and Sean changed the way we view action heroes.
“He changed the face of it. And Sean’s performance is one of the reasons — and obviously there are a lot of other reasons too — that Bond has lasted for so long.”