It’s been four long years since James Bond was last on our screens in 2008’s Quantum Of Solace .
MGM’s well-documented financial troubles meant that production was suspended back in 2010, with a question mark over whether the film would get made at all. MGM eventually managed to haul itself out of bankruptcy, but the film’s 2012 release date was much later than had initially been envisaged.
However, director Sam Mendes feels that the delay has actually worked to Skyfall ’s advantage.
“It’s fair to say that there’s no screenplay that wouldn’t be improved by having a year more to work on it,” said Mendes in an interview with Collider .
“I think it’s fair to say that without the extra time we wouldn’t have written such a good baddie, and I don’t think we would have gotten Javier [ Bardem ] to play him.”
Indeed, Bond films tend to live and die by their villains ( Quantum Of Solace was particularly hamstrung by uninspiring eco-baddie, Dominic Green), and in Bardem, Mendes is convinced he has found the right man for the job ...
Javier Bardem is Silva
“There’s been a while since there was what I would call a classic Bond villain,” muses Mendes. “ I thought Mads [ Mikkelsen ] was particularly good in Casino Royale . But I wanted somebody perhaps a bit more flamboyant, perhaps a bit more frightening, and so I felt like we needed a great actor to achieve that.”
Anyone who has seen Bardem’s performance in No Country For Old Men can vouch for the Spanish actor’s capacity to menace, but details concerning his character, Silva, remain frustratingly scarce.
“I don't know if he's a good villain," said Bardem, to MTV .
"At least when we were doing it, we felt that it was fun to do and also kind of intense. I think the character is really complex; he's not an easy guy. He's not only a villain; it's more than that, hopefully. I'm giving James Bond a hard time — that's my job, that's my duty”
Bardem, could hardly believe his luck at being cast. “It’s like a gift,” he said, with charming self-deprecation.
“I’m 43 years old, so I remember going to see the Bond movies with my father and mother!”
Daniel Craig is Bond
Daniel Craig is keen to stress that while his Bond has been following something of a character arc over the last few films, he will still be the same old badass we’ve come to know and love.
“I haven’t changed his character,” he told us when we visited Pinewood earlier in the year. “He’s not in drag, he’s not doing anything that’s going to surprise people completely... but he has a great story.”
Craig has spoken about how the strength of the script is of paramount importance to his third Bond outing, revealing that the writer’s strike very nearly turned Quantum Of Solace into a total flop.
“On Quantum , we were fucked,” he told Time Out last year. “We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.”
However, this time out, he’s feeling far more confident. “Through a lot of hard work I think we’ve kind of got together a script that has a really strong bed rock of a story and something for all the characters – of which there are a lot in this movie – to sort of experience. There are very personal stories in it and hopefully the audience will get affected by them and moved by them.”
Mendes was Craigs choice to direct
Having endured the slightly shambolic creative process that went into Quantum Of Solace , Craig was keen to have more input in MGM’s general strategy for the franchise, and had a significant hand in ensuring Sam Mendes was picked to direct.
“He’s English, he’s Cambridge-educated, he’s smart,” said Craig of why Mendes was perfect for the job. “He’s lived with Bond all his life, he grew up with Bond the way I did. We grew up at exactly the same time, and I said to him, ‘We have to do this together, we have exactly the same reference points, we both like the same Bond movies and we both like the same bits in the same Bond movies we like.’”
“We sat down and we just rabbited for hours about Live And Let Di e or From Russia With Love , and talked about little scenes that we knew from them. That’s how we started talking about it. That’s what we tried to instil in the script. He’s been working his arse off to tie all these things together so they make sense – in a Bond way.”
“I didn’t just say yes to doing a Bond movie, I said yes to doing a Bond movie with Daniel Craig,” says Mendes, returning the compliment. “I think that what’s interesting is you have an actor who is capable of playing the consequences of his actions as well as fulfilling those actions with great elan and cool. That’s always more interesting.”
The script is funny
Craig’s incarnation of Bond has occasionally been accused of being a little too straight-faced, a man handier with his fists than he is with a witty quip. Whether or not you subscribe to that opinion (and for the record, we don’t), Craig is quick to reassure fans that humour plays an important role in the script for Skyfall .
“You have to have a script that has the bones of comedy,” says Craig. “Comedy in Bond films, for me, comes out of the situations people get into. They're exciting, and hopefully heart-stopping, and the comedy comes out of one-liners and things. When Sam [ Mendes ] came in, it was key for all of us that there's a lightness of touch in the writing that's not been as evident in the past two.”
“It's got those situations where you think, 'You could only see this in a Bond movie,'” adds producer Barbara Broccoli. “That's where the wit comes into it.”
The story hinges on M's past
Mendes and co. have been keeping plot details extremely close to their chests, although what we do know is that M’s past will come into play in a big way. “In Skyfall ,” reads the official synopsis, “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”
Rumour has it that M is forced to step down at some point in the film, her position at the helm of MI6 swiftly becoming untenable. Could it even be a bullet from a silenced pistol that brings her reign to an abrupt end? Daniel Craig will only confirm that the plot is indeed M-centric, revealing that Skyfall will finally see Dench’s character out in the field.
“They’re very close, and they kind of basically go on an adventure together,” he says of the relationship between Bond and M. “She gets out in the field. Judi, she’ll tell you, she usually films most of her stuff in the studio like this while we’re all off in sort of some wonderful location, and she gets to go with us this time.”
Mendes has included plenty of action
When Sam Mendes was first announced as the director of Skyfall , everybody was falling over themselves to suggest that the Britsh auteur would rein in the OTT action in favour of a more dialogue-heavy approach. However, one look at the new trailer would seem to refute that suggestion, what with its car chases, leaping motorbikes and an explosively derailed tube train.
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Craig told us about Mendes’ stewardship. “Sam is a boy and he likes blowing shit up – but we’re stylishly blowing shit up.”
Indeed, while it may not be something Mendes is overly familiar with, it sounds as though he enjoyed getting his hands dirty with Skyfall ’s action.
“I’ve made movies that cost less than one car chase,” says the director, “but that’s part of the pleasure of doing it. To me, the challenge is to create parallel action so you’re never locked into a linear chase, which I think is something that Chris Nolan, for example, does very, very well. It’s never just A following B, there’s something else going on simultaneously and you’re following these things and often they overlap.”
Naomie Harris is Eve
Naomie Harris will follow in the illustrious footsteps of Eva Green and Gemma Arteton by playing Bond girl Eve, an ally of 007, who she insists is not an incarnation of Moneypenny. “I don’t know really where the Moneypenny rumors started from,” says Harris, “but basically my character is Eve, and Eve is totally different. I’m a field agent, definitely, not a secretary.”
“She’s not there to wear slinky frocks and be sexy,” she continues. “She’s a capable woman out in the field. She’s not necessarily a match for Bond, as such, but her ambition is to be as skilled as him in the field.”
To get to that level, Harris herself has had to undergo a hell of a lot of training, putting in some serious hours in the gym to hold her end up alongside Daniel Craig.
“I’ve been training so far for eight months,” she says. “They gave me a trainer eight months ago and I’ve been working with her three times a week and sometimes five times a week as well.
“We moved onto kickboxing and stunt training generally, so some falls, some fighting, also learning to drive vehicles. I can drive, obviously, but doing it at speed and doing 360 turns and all those kind of things. Alongside that, a lot of weapons training. A lot of learning to fire rifles and Walther PPK handguns, Glocks, that kind of thing. Pretty intense. The most intense amount of training I’ve ever done for any movie.”
Brnice Marlohe is Sverine
More likely to be wearing slinky frocks and looking sexy is the stunning Bérénice Marlohe, who plays secondary Bond girl, Séverine. And while Eve’s allegiances clearly sit with MI6, Séverine is an altogether harder character to pin down.
“I really wanted to create her so that she would not be too obvious as a ‘bad Bond girl’ or a ‘good Bond girl’, as Daniel did for James Bond,” says Marlohe.
“He put in some vulnerability but also he’s very strong and tough. This is what’s interesting because then you have something charismatic to see on screen. I really wanted to play in different colours while creating her so that the audience will have something interesting to see. You can’t put Séverine in an obvious [ box ].”
As for her inspiration? Well, apparently her favourite Bond girl is the sexual predator Xenia Onatopp. “I really love Famke Janssen in GoldenEye ,” she says. “ I admire actors who are bold and try to go forward over the cliché and propose something original to the audience. And she was killing people and having orgasms!”
Ola Rapace is Patrice
Swedish actor Ola Rapace (husband of Noomi) is another supporting player shrouded in mystery, although from what we can glean, his character Patrice is another slippery customer. As with most of his fellow cast-members, he’s been very cagey about what he reveals, although he has confirmed that he rides a motorbike in the film, which suggests he takes part in the bike chase featured in the trailer.
“He’s lethal,” says Rapace. “He’s one of those characters that he’s not afraid of anything. He would go wherever and do whatever and he loves it.” As for the actor himself, his reaction to getting to play in 007’s universe was similarly gleeful.
“It’s a kid’s dream,” he says, “because you get to use big guns and ride fast bikes and drive fast cars. You play, you know? It’s like a huge playground.”
Ben Whishaw is Q
Q, Bond’s reliable source of ludicrously inventive gadgetry, was one of the trappings of the “old Bond” that was swept away for Casino Royale , along with the cocked eyebrows and double entendres.
However, the character has been revived for Skyfall , with Ben Whishaw playing a younger incarnation of the character made famous by Desmond Llewellyn, and latterly, John Cleese.
If Q’s inclusion seems to point towards a return to the light-hearted fun of the early Bond movies, however, think again.
Mendes claims he has used Ian Fleming’s vision as a reference point throughout, so the dark tone of the last two movies will still be present and correct.
“You always go back to the Fleming because the character Fleming created over a number of novels was incredibly complex," says Mendes. “Some people sometimes forget in the cliché of Bond, which is the international playboy, and someone who's always untroubled, and almost never breaks a sweat, that actually what [ Fleming ] created was a very conflicted character.”
Ralph Fiennes is Gareth Mallory
Ralph Fiennes character appears to be the wild card in Skyfall ’s deck. Details on the character pre-release were scarce to non-existent, save for the fact that he’s involved with MI6 on what must be a relatively senior level. “I’m afraid that all I can tell you is that I’m a government agent,” said Fiennes frustratingly, when we asked him about his character at the beginning of the year.
What we really wanted to know pre-release is whether he represents friend or foe to Bond and M.
His appearance in the teaser trailer is ambiguous to say the least, giving M an inscrutable look as the pair of them run the rule over 007. Does he not trust Bond? Does he have one eye on M’s position? Or is he actually one of the good guys?
Get yourself to your local cinema tonight, and find out.
The film has a very British feel
Much of Skyfall has been filmed in London, and the film as a whole seems to have a very British feel, not least because Sam Mendes is the first Brit to direct Daniel Craig in a Bond film.
The very first scene of the teaser trailer shows Bond staring out over London’s skyline, looking down upon his city in a similarly protective fashion as Batman does over Gotham.
Another striking image from the trailer is the shot of a row of coffins draped under Union Jack flags.
Are we to assume that these are MI6 agents killed in action by Silva or his associates? Could this be what the official synopsis was referring to by saying, “no matter how personal the cost”. Is it in fact Bond who has brought about their deaths? So many questions...
Bond will swap Martinis for lager
Fans have been up in arms about one change to Bond’s character for Skyfall : as a result of a product placement deal with Heineken, 007 will be seen swigging a glass of lager rather than his usual Martini. However, Craig has brushed off such complaints in typical matter-of-fact style.
"We have relationships with a number of companies so that we can make this movie," he said. "The simple fact is that, without them, we couldn't do it. It's unfortunate but that's how it is. This movie costs a lot of money to make, it costs nearly as much again if not more to promote, so we go where we can.”
“The great thing is that Bond is a drinker, he always has been, it's part of who he is, rightly or wrongly. You can make your own judgement about it. Having a beer is no bad thing, in the movie it just happens to be Heineken.”
No potential unhappiness over whether his drink arrives shaken or stirred then. Let’s just hope Bond doesn’t object to a continental head.
The film opens today
As is traditional, we Brits will get to see Her Majesty’s finest in action ahead of those in the States, with Skyfall opening today, Friday 26 October 2012.
If you still haven't decided to see it, give the trailer another watch above.
Revealing just enough to pique the interest without giving the game away, the teaser shows Bond undergoing what appears to be a psychological evaluation, playing a word association game that eventually leads to the codename, “Skyfall”. Bond steels himself, “snaps out a terse “done” and stalks out of the room. Goosebumps...
And if that still hasn't swayed you, have a read of our review.