During its 37-year residency on movie screens, the Bond series has produced many memorably diabolical men (and some women). Yet for all the Donald Pleasances, Robert Shaws and Gert Froebes, there’re more than a few duff ones treading criminal water in the annals of 007 history. For Bond’s last outing of the millennium, the makers of The World Is Not Enough have taken no chances by casting one of today’s most talented actors as their villain. Eminently believable in whatever guise he adopts, be it London gangster, Sheffield stripper or Highland cop, Robert Carlyle has already proved his nefarious worth as Ravenous’s cannibalistic frontiersman, Cracker’s psychotic Scouse skinhead and, of course, as Trainspotting’s pint glass-chucking thug Begbie; three extraordinary and extraordinarily virulent performances, each offering a unique slant on villainy.
So was playing a Bond baddie a long-time ambition for Carlyle? “I wouldn’t go as far to say ambition,” he says, parked on a sofa in his dressing room at Pinewood Studios, “but once the part was on offer it was a simple decision to say yes, because I had grown up with the films like everyone has. The link between Sean Connery and Bond and Scottish acting is quite fundamental.”
Carlyle plays Renard, a Bosnian terrorist with a bullet in his brain and his sights on both the world’s oil supply and Sophie Marceau’s Elektra. It was Carlyle who made him Bosnian. “I thought that was a very dangerous part of the world at the moment.” To affect the accent, he found a Bosnian actor — “in the Yellow Pages” — spoke to him for a week, and listened to voice tapes. “It’s important to me,” he reveals. “It gets me a history, and I think you have to do it with every character. You know there’s a history between him and Elektra, and you know he’s been fighting with MI6 in the past.”
The biggest pressure was making his villain a memorable one, though Carlyle admits he was helped greatly by the writers having made Renard impervious to pain courtesy of that misplaced bullet. “The twist is, he is already dying,” he explains. “That makes him particularly difficult to kill. Perversely, if he doesn’t fear death, he doesn’t fear anything. He doesn’t feel any pain, the bullet’s killing off the pain cells and he’s slowly dying. That’s the crux. There’re no animals or cats.” And despite Renard’s scarred appearance, Carlyle promises he won’t be hamming him up. “It’s very important when you’re playing villains — particularly this one because I look so grotesque, and everybody tells you he’s evil — that you don’t act evil. So the performance is quite soft really.”
A self-confessed Connery fan, Carlyle says he found working with Brosnan to be the most pleasant aspect of his entire 007 experience. “The first day I came to the set they said you’re going to meet Pierce. I was watching him on the monitor and he had the dickie bow on. He came over and I said: ‘Fuck me, it’s James Bond’ and he laughed at that. Pierce gives you everything. With the schedule he has, every day working so hard, he’ll hang around all day for an eyeline when he doesn’t have to. He’s a really great guy.”
So has Brosnan usurped Connery as his favourite Bond? The short answer is no. “Pierce made a good point. For a lot of people — for his and my generation — Sean Connery was the man. But for a whole new generation he is. It has to be allowed to develop like that. There’s people who loved Roger Moore. For me, brought up in the ‘60s, Sean is the man.”