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SKYFALL
(Sam Mendes . 2011)

 

“Take the bloody shot!”

SKYFALL

Sam Mendes . 2011

Happy birthday, Commander Bond.Or is it Alec Leamas now… There was a hint of a tired, over the hill, unfitness about Bond when he came infrom the LeCarreancold of… death. However,the big anniversary film - opening 50 years after Dr No in 1962 -wonthe best reviews and box-office figuresof the series. Helped, of course, by thegreatest publicity coup in history -Daniel Craig co-starring with Queen Elizabeth II in a segment of Danny Boyle’s 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony extravaganza: Isles of Wonder. “The Queen was complicit,” said Craig. “I spent an hour with her. She was actually very relaxed. It was very surreal.”

All thisfrom the unlikeliest of Bond-makers, the award-winning stage and screendirector Sam Mendes., a 1998 Oscar-winner for American Beauty.And it was Craig who piped him aboard.They were both as a 2009 New York party for the birthday of Craig’s Broadwayco-star, Hugh Jackman.

“Sam turned up late,” Craigtold aHollywood reporter Stephen Galloway,“I hadn't seen him for a long time [they made Road to Perdition007 years before]. He apologised for saying I wouldn't be a good Bond! He was also complimentary about Casino Royale. And, very selfishly, I started picking his brains. Sam’s ideas started coming out.” Craig had had a few too many drinks and completely overstepped the line. “Why don’t you do it?” he askedSam.And Sam said: Why not?”

Craig took it up with the Broccoli clanproducers - Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson.They hadscript troubles and no director in mind.Having rebooted Bond twice (for Brosnan and Craig), Martin Campbell wasn’t interested and obviouslyQuantum of Solace’s Marc Foster was a non-starter.So, they loved the idea and a deal was set.

Craig knew the third Bond would be make-or-break time for him after the poorly received Quantum of Solace. So, Craig andMendeswatched all the films again, read all the books again, “just to find what makes a great Bond movie. And I think we've managed to put in all the wit we love about the series…This time around, in my grand plan, Bond can start having fun.”

Mendes, a fan since Live and Let Die (his favourite is From Russia With Love), felt it wastime “to see whether I can do something that's outside of my comfort zone.”He laid out his thoughts for Cubby Broccoli’s successors.“I was very hones about Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and where I thought it might be possible to take this movie… Michael did say:Why would an auteur or somebody who has a career in serious pictures want to do a Bond movie? I said:Bond is a serious movie. And I stuck to that throughout. It’s not pure action, you know? It's roots are in thriller. And I always felt - even now - that the roots of Bond movies, rather than the novels, is not Fleming but Hitchcock. It was North by Northwest.”

Plus he wanted to know if they’d consider killing M and bringing back Q and Moneypenny? And did they want - as I did - a more flamboyant, old-style villain, the sort that emerged in the Sean Connery movies? And the answer to all those things was yes. And that was in many ways our starting point for working out what the story would be.”

They still didn’thave a title...Bond 23 was going toA Killing Moon, Once Upon a Spy orSilver Bullet - don’t these people understand a hit song has tobe written andnot just a song, a title song!. No truth, by the way, about Carte Blanche and Red Sky at Night. Much less, using Fleming’s Risico, The Property of a Lady or The Hildebrand Rarity- sing that one, Shirley!

Eventually, Adele’s Oscar-winning song began:“This is the end.”

And it very nearly was.

 

Skyfall is not a reboot of a reboot.

It is a resurrection.

 

When Bond 23 was all set for the off, the franchise owner, MGM, filed for bankruptcy.Result: James Bond died on April 19, 2010.That is when a “gutted” Barbara and Michaelhad littlealternative but to announce very bad tidings: “Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development of Bond 23 indefinitely. We do not know when development will resume.”

“It was a horrible thing to do,” said Barbara. “We had the 747 loaded up and ready to go down the runway… We thought: Here we go again.” The last time had caused the six years delay in Bond films between Timothy Dalton’s finale, Licence to Kill, and Pierce Brosnan’s debut, GoldenEye.

During the lengthyresuscitation period, Craig acted on Broadway and opposite Harrison Ford in Cowboys and Aliens.And a British fridge repair company- 007 Refrigeration, with the motto “licence to chill”- was forced to change name after legal threats from the down but not out MGM.

Raoul Silva . Kevin Spacey wasMendes’ first thoughtfor the villain. They had made American Beauty together (Spacey's character complains about missing a James Bond marathon on TV). Spacey’s running of the Old Vic Theatre in London, meant he had to stay put.No time for excursions to such amazing locales asthe tiny, derelict Hashima Island,off the South West coast of Japan,

Since winninghis 2006 support Oscar for the remorseless assassin in  No Country For Old Men, everyone was chasing the Spanish star Javier Bardem.Ron Howard headed the queue with a possible trilogy based on Stephen King's The Dark Tower. Oliver Stone was next in line with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Neither script had the magic word: Bond.

“I’m a huge fan of the James Bond saga,” Bardem told the Los Angeles Times.“When I was little, I went watching Mr Connery doing James Bond with my father. Moonraker as my first Bond film… Who in the world would think I’d be in one of those movies?” Jaws was his favorite villain was Jawsuntil Silvacame along “He’s an angel of death - a very cleanshaven person who happens to be rotten on the inside.

 

"He's not trying to destroy the world,

he’s seeking revenge.

 

"He’sa man suffering, a man full of pain and frustration, who simply wants to fix the situation. Within that journey, there was room to be funny or aggressive.”Menes said thanks to Bardem - “the one person who didn't say yes straight away ”- Silva was canny, witty “and flirtatious in a disturbing way that even I didn't expect.”

Sévérine  . Almost a walk-on…as the real Bond Womanthis timearound was Judi Dench in her 007th and farewell performance as M. “We wanted to really mine the relationship between Bond and M,”said Barbara, “because it is the most significant relationship he has in his life. M is the only person who represents authority to him. You have two extraordinary actors, and we just thought - let’s go all the way. It’s worked extremely well. It's a very emotional story."

Well,there’s nothing like a Dame! It is maybe thanks to Judi thatthe Bond Girls were finally listed in the publicity screedsas Bond Women.Only took 50 years.

In the mix (probably before the character received such a Gallic name) were the Turkish delight Ebru Akel, South African-born Elize du Toit,the Russian-born New York actress (and gymnast) Margarita Levieva, Greek model-actress Tonia Sotiropoulou and Ana Ventura.Trevor Eve’s daughter Alice Eve (the Bowie-eyed heterochromiac, her eyes are different colours)was .chosen instead by Hollywood forMen In Black 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness.The sumptuous, Jodie Fosterish Israeli blonde Est Ginzburg came in search of a second movie - when she got it, it was the execrable Movie 43, known as The Citizen Kaneof Awful.

Casting Director Debbie McWilliams alwaystried to find the hopefuls some other role be it ever so humble.Hence,Elize becameM’s assistant, Vanessa, and Tonia was kept on board withthe mute role of Bond’s Lover.

The clue to any winner was the name. You do not find many Sévérines near Pinewood. She had to be French. Hence, Parisian Bérénice Mariohe Bérénice - daughter of a French  mother and Cambodian-Chinese father - became the sixth French actress to haveBond to herself, after…Claudine Auger,Carole Bouquet, Corinne Clery, Eva Greenand Sophie Marceau(Bérénice’s co-star in Un bonheur n'arrive jamais seul). Bérénice, who once appeared on a TV show in ared wig and nothing else,said she was channelingFamke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye.

Eve . What did the Bond team haveagainst the deliciousthe ex-model fromMumbai, Freida Pinto?Little Miss Slumdog Millionaire had been in contention forCamille in Quantum of Solace, and lost out to Olga Kurylenko. Idem, here. Also losing out were Emilia Fox,Edward Fox’s daughter, James Fox’s niece andstar ofBBC’s Silent Witness, 2004-2013 (opposite Trevor Eve, father of the Sévérine hopeful, Alice Eve)…and Olivia Wilde, from Cowboys & Alienswith Craig.Doubtless he had no wish to be reminded of that (surprise) disaster(No problem: Olivia madeno less than eight other 2012 films .

Oh yes and the missus,Rachel Weisz…Perhaps wisely, Mrs Craigopted for the new Bourne (and new he was: Jeremy Renner).There’s no tension,” she said. “ I guess there’s a B, an O and an N but they're very different. Bourne is American and I'll be playing American. It’s Americana. And Bond is very, very English. I think it's culturally, tonally, very different.”No tension between Craig and Mendes either; Sam was a previous lover of Rachel.

At age 34, Naomie Harris was one of the oldest Bond er Women (Honor Blackman was 37 during Goldfinger). Her Eve was first described as a field agent, and indeed there she as, accidentally shooting 007 apparently dead in the pre-credits action!The big secret being, of course, that by the end she preferred the office to the field and became the new Moneypenny to the new, fourth M: Ralph Fiennes. (The new Q, for the first time younger than Bond, is Ben Whishaw... Ironically, in his cracking BBC series, The Hour, he had called his TV news magazine producer and pal - Moneypenny!)

 

Patrice . Rhys Ifans, who stalked Craig in Enduring Love, 2004, was first choice according tothe decidedly non-tabloid Daily Telegraph.Patrice is on-screen for the longest ever pre-credits sequence ce - and doesn’t say a word during the 15 minutes. Perfect, therefore, for Swedish actor Ole Rapace, ex-husbandofNoomi Rapace, the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Craig made the Hollywood re-make).

Kincade . Albert Finney's tough old crofter in the Scottish climax was written for a certain Mr Connery. Barbara and Michael wanted Seanto un-retire for a surprisecameo.“There was a definite discussion… way, way early on,” Mendes confirmed. “But it would take you out of the movie. Connery is Bond and he’s not going to come back as another character. So, it was a very brief flirtation… but it was never going to happen, because I thought it would distract.

The criticswent wild- “Smart, savvy and incredibly satisfying,” (Variety), “one of the best Bonds” (Hollywood Reporter”),“a triumphant return to classic Bond” (The Times) and even, this once, the Vatican's daily L'Osservatore Romano was quite delirious in its praise… of everything including the“extremely beautiful Bond girls.”

"To celebrate 50 years of the world's most famous secret agent - which even the Queen paid homage to at the Olympics - we needed a film that rose to the occasion," said the paper in one of five articles devoted to Bond. “Skyfall does not disappoint. The 23rd Bond film is one of the best in the longest cinematic story of all time…(it) does not lack any of the classic ingredients which have made James Bond a legend - the title credits song, adrenalin pumping action, amazing hyper-realistic chases, exotic locations, extremely beautiful Bond girls, the usual super villain and the essential vodka martini.” Bond, himself, was viewed as less clichéd, “less attracted to the pleasures of life, darker and more introspective, less invulnerable physically and psychologically and because of this more human, even able to be moved and to cry -in a word, more real…

 

"Nothing will ever be the same again

on the big screen for James Bond.”

 

Unlike Sam Mendes who had to get on with all he’d put on hold while waiting for MGM to recover and Skyfall to start,Craig has since signed on for two moreBonds…

“I’ve got no desire to escape the role. I love playing Bond - it’s fantastic,” he told The Guardian.“I get paid a lot of money to do something I love to do, and I feel if you’re getting paid you should put the work in. I want millions of people to watch the movie. So why not make it good?"

Next,he confided to Vanity Fair: “What I’m doing is not what Pierce was doing, and Pierce wasn’t doing what Roger Moore was doing, or what Sean was doing, or what Timothy was doing. Things have changed. It’s just kind of the ride of it. Pierce used to say that it’s like being responsible for a small country. It’s like you have to look after it diplomatically. I kinda get that, but I can’t really say that’s my deal. I’m not going to be the poster boy for this. Although I am the poster boy.”

 

Footnote: This  Skyfall essay owes much to the excellent reportage of The Hollywood

Reporter’s Stephen Galloway - How the Bond Franchise Almost Died, August 11, 2012.

Thanks, Stephen!





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