Total Film catches up with Bond supremos Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson to hear the thinking behind the most successful reboot in the super-spy’s history… and, yes, to try and prise a few details out of them about Bond 23…
TOTAL FILM : So… Bond is our Reboot Of The Decade.
BARBARA BROCCOLI : Well, that’s wonderful! Thank you very much.
TF: Of course, Bond has been rebooted before, say from the fantastical Moonraker to the more down-to-earth For Your Eyes Only . But with Die Another Day making a small fortune, what prompted the grittier approach?
BB: Well… September 11 happened and it felt inappropriate for the films to continue down that fantastical path.
So we decided to move to a more serious Bond. And we had acquired the rights to Casino Royale in… when was it Michael – 2000?
MICHAEL G WILSON: 1999, I think…
BB: 1999. And of course that’s the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Bond books. You know, the one that Cubby and Harry had wanted to start with and the rights weren’t available.
I mean you know the history… it’s not been made particularly well either time. So we were working on another script and we kind of got stuck and then Michael said, “You know, I really want to do Casino Royale .”
And I said, “That’s a great idea, let’s do it.”
TF: It is, as you say, the Holy Grail of the Bond books. And probably quite a personal project as well, given the history.
Did you feel under particular pressure not to screw it up?
And we were determined to keep the key elements from the book – Barbara told every writer and director we spoke to: Vesper has to die at the end; James has to say ‘the bitch is dead’ and there has to be the torture scene.
And in our films, how do you do that well without undermining the ratings? It was a challenge, but Martin [Campbell, director] came up with it and of course, Daniel was fantastic.
Next: Tackling Fleming's novel [page-break]
TF : With your approach to Casino Royale , how much freedom did you allow yourself from the Bond formula?
MW : We approached it almost as though there hadn’t been a Bond film made before.
We did have the pre-title sequence, but other than that we didn’t have a Moneypenny and we sort of took a newer look at it.
TF : Were you always clear from the start that this would be a reboot of the franchise, a bit of a clearing of the decks?
BB: As Michael said: we just decided that we would make it as if no Bond film had been made before and we were lucky we had the novel.
Of course, it was written in the ’50s so it had to be updated, so we called Rob [Wade] and Neal [Purvis] and they did a great draft.
They invented a lot of the really exciting things, the freestyle running, the house collapsing at the end.
They had a really good script, which excited Martin and then he got in Paul Haggis who did a wonderful polish.
So it wasn’t as if we were just starting all over again.
TF: If you had one overriding aim or priority for the film, what would you say it was?
BB: Well I think it’s about the character. You know, it’s the first time you really get to understand the inner workings of Bond.
Events happen which define him: it’s his journey, it’s his chrysalis; he comes out the other end a completely transformed human being.
It’s a hell of a role, so I guess our priority was about the character, and casting the right person.
Next: The casting shortlist [page-break]
TF : Honestly, how short was the shortlist for the new Bond?
BB: Well, if you read the press it was a long list!
For us, we wanted Daniel, I would say, exclusively. We couldn’t really consider anyone else.
I mean, we met other people, but he just seemed to be right.
We were worried he wasn’t going to agree to do it, so it wasn’t so much about finding our Bond, as it was about persuading him.
TF: It’s true then that, when you approached Daniel, he wasn’t entirely convinced?
Was it seeing the script that helped persuade him?
BB: Yes. There was that and then we sat down and had some lengthy meetings with him about how involved he would be in the process and the ongoing series.
I think he understood the commitment it would be. But after a lot of thought he decided that it was something he was willing to take on.
Next: The anti-Craig backlash [page-break]
TF: There was quite a vocal anti-Craig brigade by the time filming started.
Did that create any difficulties for you? Were you shocked by it?
MW: Yeah, there were a lot of bloggers… and some of the press were pretty negative as well.
They didn’t really give him a chance, or themselves a chance to see him in the role.
But of course, we were seeing the dailies so we knew he was doing an excellent job!
TF: So the chatter didn’t shake your confidence at all in the direction you were taking?
MW: Didn’t bother us, didn’t bother the director.
I think from Daniel’s point of view he battened down the hatches and focused on the role.
He did his best to ignore it, but it has to affect someone at some level. It certainly didn’t affect his performance.
TF It turned out to be one the best-received Bonds in terms of critical reaction. That must have felt good.
BB It was great, particularly because of the Daniel stuff.
We’d gotten so much of that at the very beginning, the critics’ response was very rewarding.
It felt like all of the hard work that he had put into it, and the crew had put into it, had really paid off.
Next: Gambling with the franchise [page-break]
TF : Although it paid off in the end, did you feel at the time that you were taking quite a big gamble with the franchise?
BB: It just felt like the right thing to do.
Michael and I of course were partnered with Sony for the first time and Amy Pascal who’s the head of Columbia Pictures was initially really excited that she was going to get a Bond movie… and then we sat down with her and explained our plans! [Laughs]
“We’re going do another Bond; it’s not going to be Pierce; we’re going back to Casino Royale ; there’s a 20-minute card game in the middle of the movie; he falls in love; she betrays him; she commits suicide; he gets beaten…”
To her credit though, although she had to get her head around it, she was fully behind us; she backed us 100 per cent.
TF: It doesn’t sound like it was an easy sell…
BB: Amy said, “Well, it’s good that we’ll have Q in it.” We said, “No there’s no Q.”
“So we’ve got the Moneypenny scenes.” “No – there’s no Moneypenny either!”
So it took… a leap of faith for her to stand behind us.
We really appreciated it because you don’t always get that.
Next: Quentin Tarantino and Bond [page-break]
TF: Some have suggested that the success of the Bourne films, and their stripped-down style, may have coloured your approach to Bond.
MW: Well, I don’t think we had any big, conscious ideas of doing that. Strictly to update Casino Royale , we just followed the book.
We did put in the free running at the beginning, but I think that was more in a Bond style than Bourne style.
BB: We kind of looked within our own group of films for inspiration and I think we wanted to go back more to a From Russia With Love -style film.
That was part of our template.
TF : Quentin Tarantino was quite vocal in claiming that he helped the film get made by publicly suggesting that he would like to make Casino Royale.
Would you ever have considered a director with his stylistic tendencies for the film?
BB: You know, we are big fans of his work, love his movies but, as we said, Cubby and Harry wanted to make Casino Royale for a long time. [Laughs]
It’s the first; the one that defines the character. We decided to make it then because of what’s going on in the world.
When Harvey Weinstein mentioned Quentin, we had actually already decided we were gonna do it.
I think Quentin was right – it was the right thing to do – but it wasn’t like it hadn’t occurred to us…
Next: The Quantum organisation [page-break]
TF: Casino Royale introduces the Quantum organization.
Is that kind of a modern-day replacement for SPECTRE, a more insidious ‘big bad’ that we might see in future Bond films?
MW: It’s really hard to tell. It was an interesting idea and it fits with the timing of the film.
But what, when and how we might use it again is not clear to us.
TF: OK, what about Bond himself?
Now you’ve reintroduced the character with more layers, is that likely to be a constant thread for the foreseeable future?
BB: I hope so, that’s what we’re aiming for.
I think Daniel’s such a superb actor and I think his portrayal of the character is one where he explores his vulnerabilities.
And I think that part of the excitement is about not just having Bond go through the physical challenges, but the emotional ones as well.
Next: Bond 23... and Bond 3D? [page-break]
TF: Do you yet have any specific priorities with Bond 23 – funnier, lighter, anything?
MW: Well… we’ve hired the writers [Purvis and Wade again, plus Peter Morgan] and we’ve been working with them but it’s just too early to say anything.
You know, often at this stage, I find myself saying, “Oh, we’re gonna do this and that”, then six months from now you’ll say, “That isn’t in the film at all – you told me it was…”
I think we’re at that stage where a lot of ideas are floating around that sound very good, but whether they make the final cut, who knows?
TF : Do you have a timeline for script, filming and release?
MW: Well, our timeline’s a little up in the air what with the situation with MGM [who may be sold, or involved in a merger], so we have to be flexible.
We just don’t know enough about the situation to comment, but we know it’s uncertain.
TF: We’ll soon see the release of James Cameron’s Avatar , which many believe could change the ‘blockbuster’ landscape forever.
Can you foresee a time when Bond might go 3D?
BB: The Avatar trailer looks fantastic and I’m excited to see the movie.
You know what, directors like Cameron, they’re fantastic because they get everybody excited about movies.
We’ve always said that the better the competition, the better for us, because all we hope for is that people keep going to the cinema and that movies keep breaking barriers and becoming more and more exciting.
We couldn’t ask for anything more.
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