With James Bond preparing to take on an old enemy, Jane Crowther opens the enticing file on Spectre...
It’s a Bond year! So we find out what’s keeping the franchise going after 53 years.
It’s the same bloody character. He’s done 23 movies,” says Sam Mendes. “He’s been to most places in the world. He’s had chases in every possible environment. How do you make it fresh?” Holed up in his edit suite in London’s Soho as he tries to get SPECTRE ready for its bow 16 weeks away, Bond’s director is musing over the eternal conundrum that is 007. And the challenge facing any director coming on board an established franchise. “In many cases, it’s using the same elements, but telling them so you feel you’re discovering them again, almost for the first time.”
Given that Mendes’ own personal favourite Bond ( and the first he saw at the cinema) is Live And Let Die it’s hardly surprising that one of those elements in SPECTRE, the scenesetting pre- title sequence, has a knowing nod to LALD’s villain, with Bond wearing a skeletal mask during a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. “You see the skullface and you’re like, ‘ Oh, it’s Baron Samedi!’” nods Mendes enthusiastically. “It’s actually quite different, but of course there are echoes there. But part of the joy of Bond is a riffing on the iconography of it, and teasing you with things — I don’t know who it was who said that the job of the artist is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. That’s part of the game you play with Bond. So I was very aware of all the homages that were being paid.”
Add that cinematic wink to Bond’s firespouting Aston Martin DB10, a key scene atop a snowy mountain in Austria that nods to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a train journey and en- route fight that evokes From Russia With Love and plenty of other homages. And, Mendes promises, Bond might also have a few more quips and a bit more fun than he did in 2012’ s ultra- serious – but ultra- moneyspinning – Skyfall. “Casino Royale removed pastiche entirely from the franchise – pastiche was almost all it had by the time Pierce [ Brosnan] finished. But Casino Royale went right back the other direction,” Mendes says when thinking back to his first attraction to directing Skyfall. “But we all missed and loved the fun of those early mid-’ 70s Bonds, the early Roger Moores, the later Sean Connerys, where there was a sense of tongue- in- cheek. We didn’t have much of that in [ Skyfall]. There’s definitely more mischief at the beginning of this movie. But underpinning it all is still a serious story.”
That serious story then: after the events of Skyfall ( M slain, MI6 destroyed, Bond vengeful), 007 sets off on a rogue mission to uncover the links to sinister criminal organisation SPECTRE ( Special Executive for Counter- intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). During his investigations he meets Dr Madeleine Swann ( Léa Seydoux), widow Lucia Scarria ( Monica Bellucci), hulking henchman Mr Hinx ( Dave Bautista) and the villain of the piece, the mysterious Franz Oberhauser ( Christoph Waltz). As Bond beds and battles his way round Europe, MI5 and MI6 are under threat from head of the Centre for National Security, Max Denbigh ( Andrew Scott), and Moneypenny ( Naomie Harris) must fight to save Bond’s very way of life. That synopsis offers up another glance back at the Bond legacy with the reintroduction of SPECTRE, a staple of Fleming’s books and first referenced on- screen in Dr No, but absent from the franchise for years due to legal wrangling. SPECTRE was co- created by Fleming and Kevin McClory, who retained the rights to the name and concept, which led to the creation of the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again, under McClory’s stewardship.
Producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had wrangled for years to settle the rights with McClory’s estate, and finally succeeded in 2013. “I had [ SPECTRE] in our back pockets,” confides Wilson when we catch up with him and Broccoli on- set at Pinewood. “When we saw this script as it unfolded, we came to the conclusion: maybe we should bring SPECTRE back. That was a nod towards the tradition in a way. Just like we brought back the Bond characters Moneypenny and Q and M.”
But how will this version of SPECTRE wreak havoc on the world when back in the old days they were connected to the Gestapo, the Mafia, Soviet group SMERSH and, on film, were often affiliated with Cold War offensives. “I remember when we were making GoldenEye, everybody was saying, ‘ The Cold War’s over. There’s no villains. The world’s at peace. What are you going to do? There’s no need for Bond anymore’,” recalls Broccoli. “Well, that wasn’t true then, it isn’t true now. Our villains are not political, they don’t have any specific agenda. They’re just good, old- fashioned, nutty bad guys!” So what is SPECTRE’s agenda? “Let’s say it reflects contemporary concerns that are
We all missed and loved the fun of those early mid-’ 70s Bonds
going on to this day, things about how we live, how we’re observed,” dodges Wilson with a smile. “Who’s really in control,” chimes in Broccoli, “that kind of Fleming creation of these characters who are pulling the strings behind the scenes.”
Bringing back SPECTRE opens the way for the organisation’s most famous member and legendary behind- the- scenes string- puller, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. So is Waltz’s Oberhauser ( who shares a name with the man who took in an orphaned James Bond as a boy when his parents were killed) actually Blofeld? Waltz smiles enigmatically at the question, “Of course we know the subject, so we jump at conclusions.” Well- drilled in secret- keeping over the years, Wilson and Broccoli aren’t saying either, while Craig and Mendes protest that audiences prefer to be kept in the dark.
Which is all well and good if secrets can be kept, as they have been on previous Bond films. (“Amazingly, no one really found out that Judi [ Dench] died!” marvels Mendes of the big Skyfall twist.) But the fan speculation on SPECTRE has reached new heights thanks to an entire script and studio notes being leaked as part of last year’s Sony hacking. The documents seemed to indicate squabbles over budget, an unsatisfactory ending and a shocking family link for Bond.
“It was an old script,” dismisses Broccoli, “and the stuff about us having fights about the budget: well, what’s new? We want to put all the money on the screen. We want to deliver the best film we can. We fight for as much money as we can to make the film. And that’s no secret.”
Mendes is similarly unfazed. The script, he explains, had already morphed from the leaked version. “When you’re working on a script you’re going down blind alleys, trying a new character out, trying a sequence out... It’s like building a giant Meccano toy. You build a bit, it topples over, you take it off again, and you put on another bit. If anyone was actually trying to piece it together, they would get nowhere, really, because so much of it changed.”
In fact, for Mendes, the leak was the least of his problems on a gruelling shoot globetrotting from Rome and London to Austria, Mexico and Tangier. “I had one day off in eight months of shooting and nine months of prep. It’s one of
those movies that was really hard until halfway. It was particularly tough, physically gruelling – a lot of injuries, illness. We hit the wall halfway, then broke through it. By the end, we were... I won’t say sprinting exactly, but we weren’t staggering over the line!”
Mendes may be on set every day but most of his cast are not. Apart from one man. “If you’re doing what Daniel’s doing on a film, that is exhausting because you’re in there every day – that’s just as exhausting as doing a play,” comments Craig’s Q co- star, Ben Whishaw. Craig admits the hours can be tough: “Life takes second place, which is terrible. I’m not alone, the crew are in the same boat. We sometimes work terrible hours and the crew don’t see their families for weeks on end. It’s really fucking tough. You have to look after each other and take care of each other and jolly each other along a bit because it sucks.”
That jollying along isn’t just cheerleading either. Craig is instrumental in decisions on Bond, as keen to protect the 007 legacy as Broccoli and Wilson. “I said to Barbara 10 years ago, ‘ I need the confidence to walk on set and pretend to be James Bond because I’m not James Bond’,” he laughs. “‘ I’m a long way off being him. But if you give me the confidence to feel part of what’s going on, and to be able to input into this, what the films are about and what we can collaborate on, then I can give it a go.’ They did. They opened their arms.”
Now on his fourth film, Craig’s input proved invaluable to Mendes and was part of the lure to direct a second time after he said he wouldn’t come back for more. “What’s lovely about it the second time around is you have that shorthand,” says Mendes. “When I came on Skyfall, he knew the part better than I did because he’d done two movies playing this role. On this one, he was absolutely invaluable. He had great instincts and we were more relaxed with each other. We had a lot of laughs and worked incredibly hard and pushed each other.”
what would cubby think
So what has that collaboration created, especially under the extreme audience expectation and studio pressure to beat Skyfall? “As my dad [ Cubby Broccoli] used to say, ‘ fear focuses the mind’,” Broccoli smiles, “and I think we’re all focused very much on delivering a movie that is going to meet – if not surpass – expectations, and that’s part of the fun and the challenge.” SFX wonders what he would have made of where his superspy franchise has ended up...
“He would love Daniel,” says Broccoli, lighting up. “That’s a real sadness from me, that he never got the opportunity to see him because I think he would have loved the way that Daniel portrays the character. He was a great believer from the very beginning that Bond was very sustainable and would go on and on and on, beyond him, beyond all of us. I think it’s a great kind of affirmation of his belief that we’re all still here.”
Speaking of going on beyond, there’s little left of Fleming’s original books to use so thoughts inevitably turn to where Craig might go in his next, and – apparently – final, film. “If you’re a Fleming fan – and if you’re someone who reads them over and over again – you’re always looking for clues, and they’re few and far between,” Craig admits. “We’ve mined as much as we can, and maybe we’ll find some more.” And don’t count on Mendes returning for a hat trick: “If I’d [ thought about doing a second film] with Skyfall, I wouldn’t possibly have envisaged this movie. You only make what you can make. Where he goes next and where it goes next, is for later on. You can only really focus on what you’ve got in front of you,” says Mendes. “I’m surprised I ended up doing two, even now, but I’m really pleased that I did...”
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Monica Bellucci plays a widow that Bond gets close to. Ben Whishaw’s Q: better with technology than jumpers. SPECTRE is the first film of any kind Daniel Craig has made since 2012’ s Skyfall.