Director Sam Mendes is a fine choice to bring this new Bond to the big screen and here he talks about taking on the character’s legacy as well as balancing the old and new Bonds.
Huge thanks to Neil Alcock AKA The Incredible Suit for being our man in the thick of it. If you haven’t been keeping up with his epic BlogalongaBond then now is the time to catch up. When it comes to Bond, nobody does it better.
A film like this is an immense undertaking. Did you ever wake up and wonder what you’d let yourself in for?
No, that’s not my way, I don’t get panicked. There were times when I thought, this is no way to make a living, the pressure never seems to let up! Every day there’s some monumental thing you’ve got to try and achieve and there are seven different opinions about the right way to achieve it and you’ve got to decide which is the right one. It’s a wonderful thing to have done but there are definitely moments when you just think, “Wow, this is a tough gig”. You’re always aware of the pressure that surrounds a Bond movie but I was never panicked or overwhelmed by it because the only way to tackle it is one little bit at a time.
So was filming in London a challenge?
Actually London was a dream. I thought closing down Whitehall would be carnage, that there’d be paparazzi everywhere, but there wasn’t. We were so concerned about doing it efficiently that we planned it to within an inch of its life and we started at 5am and were out of there by 11. I was also very aware that on that day I’d asked Daniel to run full pelt down the middle of Whitehall, and he can’t do that very many times, you know? He’s 44 years old, he’s not a professional athlete! So I could get him to do it maybe four or five times and then that’s it, so let’s just organise it and then be out quickly. So actually those were some of my favourite days. The tough stuff was in Turkey on the train. There was a single stretch of track, so we could do one take then we’d have to stop the train and back it up the track, sometimes wait for another train to go by. Two hours could go by between takes and a take would be twenty seconds long. Those were the toughest days.
You brought your long-term collaborator Thomas Newman on board to score Skyfall, despite David Arnold having scored the last five Bond films. Was it difficult to go in there and say “I don’t want David, I’m bringing my own guy”?
It was, because I’m a fan of David and I was very conscious to not throw out the baby with the bathwater, that would have just been churlish and stupid. There were lots of people who I wanted to work with who know Bond, who’ve lived Bond for thirty years – my head of special effects, my head of stunts, my second unit director, editor, they’ve all made Bond movies before – so it wasn’t a general rule, but there were certain people who I wanted to bring with me who I just knew would make MY movie with me. I alone could not bring the kind of personal touch to the film that I wanted to. So cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer Dennis Gassner, my script supervisor Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Tom Newman, those are the people who for me were deal breakers. These are the people who I wanted to make the movie with me. I think Tom did a brilliant job but it was a big ask for Barbara and Michael. They had to trust me, because he’d never written a score like this before.
Have you met David Arnold since?
Yes, I met him and said this is how I’m going to go, and he said he thought that would happen because I’ve worked with Tom on every movie. I don’t think he was that surprised.
How do you balance the introspection of recent Bond films with the massive action that fans expect?
I think there’s a danger when thinking about Bond that it has to be one thing or the other, that the two cannot co-exist, like it’s either action Bond or it’s sit-at-home Bond. But you know, it’s possible for a man to be on a personal journey which involves a huge amount of action at the same time. The truth is, he is on a journey throughout. The movie pushes him to his limit, kills him in a sense, brings him back as a shadow of his former self, then he has to work himself back up to who he is. So he’s testing himself while being on an amazing adventure in an exotic location, and those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Bond movies in the late 1970s lost touch with their thriller roots and became action-adventure movies and travelogues. You can feel them contorting themselves to fit in the locations. Bond wasn’t given a journey, and what Martin Campbell did brilliantly with Casino Royale is that he took out all the pastiche, took out Q and Moneypenny, cast a Bond that you could feel for and believe in and made his emotional journey the centre of the picture, and at the same time did it with these incredible action sequences. That’s the world that this Bond inhabits and you could argue that that’s the Bond that we need and want at the moment and that’s why we’ve ended up with him.
There’s a bit more comedy in this film than previous Bond films. Was that a conscious decision?
Absolutely. Daniel said, “I’m not gonna tell you what to do with this movie but gimme some laughs!” And I said OK, but the danger with that is that laughs become gags, and that you end up writing a scene just to lead to the gag. For me it’s more about a turn of phrase, and I had to try to find that droll streak of humour running throughout the movie.
Michael and Barbara are very protective of their franchise. To what extent do they let you do their own thing? Are they ever hovering over your shoulder or do they step back and let you get on with it?
They’re amazing. If they trust you they let you get on with it. At times they’re very concerned about what Bond as a character would or wouldn’t do, and that tends to happen in the script phase. And they’re almost always right, for obvious reasons. But then after that it’s amazing how much freedom you have. And also they give you space. They spend the whole time keeping everyone off your back. Barbara’s brilliant with the pastoral care and knows everyone’s name and is able to deal with people on a human level, and Michael is dealing with the studio more and is dealing with more of the macro politics of Bond and what lies up ahead. Only he knows the true level of chaos that’s about to ensue when the movie’s finished. So they’ve both got a lot on their plate, they haven’t got time to be sitting around looking over your shoulder, they’ve got jobs to do.
So if they asked you to do another one, would you?
Well, there are two things. One is that I’ve put everything I ever wanted to put into a Bond movie into this movie. It’s three years’ work, it’s a big ask, and if I felt like I wanted to do that again I might do it again. The other thing is, it’s up to the audience. It makes a big difference if the people for whom you’re making it say they want to see another movie from the people who made Skyfall. An audience speaks with their feet, and at the end of the day it’ll be great to see whether they take to it or not, and that’ll be a big part of any decision.