Broccoli and Wilson Rejuvenate Bond Franchise
by Paul Fischer
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Following in her legendary father’s footsteps, Barbara Broccoli has produced the last seven Bond films with partner and co-producer Michael G. Wilson, whose latest is the first actual sequel to a Bond film, Quantum of Solace. Broccoli and Wilson teamed up to reenergize the franchise with the first Brosnan film, Goldeneye and are responsible for the franchise’s box office resurgence, culminating in Casino Royale, the one Fleming novel not to have been adapted for the big screen. Whether their success continues with the much darker and critically mixed Solace remains to be seen but they’re certainly not rushing into the next film. They spoke to Paul Fischer.
Please note: Spoilers do exist in this interview, so read with caution.
Paul Fischer: This is the first time in Bond movie history, that we had specifically a sequel, so what was the decision that went into doing that, rather than shifting around, doing a stand-alone?
Barbara Broccoli: I think it just came out of the fact that when we completed Casino Royale, we felt that there was some unfinished business. And that Bond was in a very interesting place. Emotionally, he’d had his heart ripped out, and he’d shut down. Said, “The bitch is dead. It’s over. I’m never gonna feel anything ever again.”
PF: He said, “The bitch is dead?”
BB: Yeah. And there was a big villainous organization out there that had kind of turned the woman he loved. So, you know, we felt it was a really interesting place to start the next movie from.
PF: You know, so people who never saw that first one are coming in here kind of totally hanging loose.
Michael G. Wilson: Well, we tried to write it so that you could stand alone if you hadn’t seen Casino Royale and see it. We had some test screenings where there were people that hadn’t seen Casino Royale, and we got different feedback. But I think if you follow it carefully, the scene with M. at the beginning, you kind of get the whole idea of it, so we hope it stands on its own. Maybe it—I just hope the public would tell us if we got it wrong.
PF: Well, is it the first sequel? Because didn’t after On Her Majesty’s [Secret Service], he go after the people who killed his wife? And wasn’t there the Blofeld Trilogy, with consistent—
BB: There have been, yes. The Blofeld things. But this is a direct continuation. I mean, this happens—you know, minutes after.
MGW: This really is a two-part picture.
PF: This is the shortest Bond film we’ve seen, too. Was it your decision that you wanted to bring this under two hours? Are there things that are missing?
BB: It turned out that way. It just turned out that way. Marc is very unsentimental about his own material. Which is—you know, he’s not an egotist about his own material. He just cut it. He goes for the movie the way it is and he felt this was the perfect length.
MGW: He likes it really fast and taut. And he had plenty of material, but he just didn’t cut anything out. He just compressed it. He and Matt, who is his editor—they take no prisoners, and they really move the picture along.
PF: Is it true that Craig, after the first one, signed for four more Bond movies?
MGW: We don’t like to discuss his business, but he’s gonna do another one with us
PF: At least another one.
BB: At least one more.
PF: Now, you said it’s a two-part—but realistically, the whole Quantum part—we’re gonna still see that in the third film, though, right?
MGW: Maybe. We haven’t really started on the film. But it certainly feels like a contemporary villainous organization.
PF: It’s also very contemporary—you deal with contemporary issues with this. Is it important to you for this Bond film to reflect the politics of today? The CIA in South America, those lines. The whole green thing. The Middle East oil.
BB: We’re happy it turned out that way. You never know, when you sit a year or two ahead of making a movie whether the things that you talk about are going to be prescient. And they are. And I think the film has a lot of resonance, and I think that’s one of the great successes of Marc’s directing this film. Is that you do feel that it has this resonance.
PF: Would you say that because this was a direct sequel that starts minutes later, that this was an easy Bond film to set up?
MGW: No. [laughs] Absolutely no. We had the most-–13 weeks on location, in very difficult locations. And it was a really logistically extremely difficult—
PF: And you kept having accidents.
MGW: Well, yes.
BB: We had one very serious accident.
MGW: We had one very serious one. All the rest are what would happen on any kind of a picture that has this many people.
PF: You mean the car going over the cliff?
MGW: No, that was something else.
BB: No, the car going over the cliff was nothing to do with us or the filmmaking. That was a mechanic who was driving the Aston Martin to a press conference. So he was not—didn’t have anything to do with us. And thank goodness, he was fine. But it was nothing to do with our filming whatsoever. The other accident obviously was very serious. Very, very upsetting. But—our stunt man is doing well.
PF: What happened on that other accident?
MGW: During filming, there was an accident. Car accident. One of the car chases.
PF: And you were just happy it wasn’t when Craig was in the car.
BB: A human being’s a human being. So when anybody gets hurt, it’s pretty serious, and we were very upset. And he’s doing much better now.
PF: What have been the challenges for you to keep Bond a contemporary, relevant character in this age of film?
MGW: I don’t think. It seems like—to me, it’s kind of natural. Just the character, and what’s going on in the world. You know, I think we all wish there were people like James Bond out there. But we do fantasies, but I think that they’re kind of in touch with what’s going on in the world. What we see.
PF: Now, less gadgets. Is that something that you guys really wanted to go after, too? With the exception of the phone and the cool computer—
MGW: That was great. I liked that.
BB: I guess the reality is, everybody today has so many gadgets. [laughs] You know? What are you gonna do to impress them? You know? It’s—this Bond relies more on his own ability and wit. And—you know, occasionally we’ll have a gadget in it. But it’s not driven by the gadgets.
PF: Since Casino Royale turned out so well, do you ever imagine, “Wow. What if we’d tried this with Brosnan or Dalton?” Or even, what if they had started out with Connery doing Casino?
BB: Well, I mean, my dad wanted to get the rights to Casino Royale in 1961 when he did the original deal, but unfortunately, they weren’t available, because they had been done by CBS, later to be done by Columbia as a spoof. So, you know, we always talked about the Casino Royale rights as being the Holy Grail. And we managed to get them in 2000. So the first opportunity we had to make the movie was when we made it. And we needed to obviously cast a new actor, because it was the first story, so everybody had wanted to make it. I mean, you know, Sean would have done well. Any of the actors would have been great starting off doing it. We were just very lucky that we got Daniel.
PF: It must be gratifying that now yours is the Casino Royale everyone remembers. No one remembers that spoof one.
BB: [laughs] It is. I mean, I think it’s very gratifying. We felt it deserved to be made properly, because it’s the thing—it’s the story that explains the Bond character.
PF: Can we talk about what’s lacking in these new Bond films? Are you going to include Q., Moneypenny, and why didn’t we have “My name is Bond, James Bond,” in this?
BB: You know what’s interesting, is everybody’s always saying, “Oh, there’s so much formula. They’re doing everything by the formula.” Then when you change it, everybody’s like, “Well, where’s the”—you know. You can’t win. In Casino Royale, Moneypenny and Q. were not in the book, so we didn’t have them in the film. And the sequel is a continuation. I think we feel that when, story-wise, we need to introduce some of those other characters, we will. And it will be based on the story, as opposed to the formula.
PF: Would you guys ever consider going back and remaking some of the classic Bond films with new actors, or for a whole new generation?
BB: Why? I think, why? I mean, Goldfinger, how can you—
PF: Or For Russia with Love.
MGW: I mean, they’re classics. You know, really. They’re absolutely classics.
BB: Pretty tough to look at classic movies that have been remade and been made better, just in the whole history.
PF: How many women did you look at until you found the Bond girl?
BB: Thousands. Literally, thousands. We had—our casting director, Debbie McWilliams, had casting directors all around the world. And lots and lots were put on tape and then filtered through. And then eventually we ended up screen-testing, I think, about five women.
PF: And what was it—did you know instantly when you saw her?
BB: I think we did. I think—you know, she did the screen test with Daniel, and we just were very, very moved by her performance. And she was able—because it’s very important for this character to have a lot of mystery. I mean, you have to know there’s something going on there, and you’re not quite sure what it is. And when she does eventually reveal everything, you have to see, underneath this very tough exterior, there’s the vulnerability. And she just—she moved us, in the screen test. And that was that.
PF: Was there a sense of satisfaction, that there was such a hubbub about casting Daniel Craig—and now he is as popular, if not more popular, than Sean Connery?
MGW: Well, I think we were seeing the rushes. We knew his work. So in our minds, it was—we knew we had a great actor. Of course, it was very difficult for all of us, including Daniel, to have that press come out. People hadn’t even seen the film, and they were already predicting what he would be like. So—you know, I think you have to be happy that everything’s turned out well, anyway. So—he’s a great actor, a great Bond, and he’s made the part his own. And we haven’t even heard a peep from any of those doubters.
PF: Does the franchise now revert back to MGM after this movie?
MGW: Well, they’ve always had it as the relationship. It’s just that they made a deal with Sony, that Sony could distribute the pictures for them, because they don’t have a distribution company.
PF: They do now, though.
MGW: Well, no. They have Fox doing it. You know, it—you know, some domestic distribution. But internationally, which is where most of our market is, it’s—you know, they don’t have one. So they have to go with somebody. They’ve been going with Fox, but that deal’s coming to an end. So I’m not sure where—you have to ask them, really.
PF: The Blue Rays that are coming out look fantastic. Dr. No just looks unreal. What was involved in bringing those films up to that quality?
BB: A lot of restoration.
MGW: They really have digital restorations and stuff. It’s beautiful.
PF: What are your favorite images from those releases?
MGW: Well, you know, it’s fascinating, some of the things they did. They brought us [The] Man with the Golden Gun, and they said, “In the fight,” where Bond has a fight with some guys in Egypt, a belly-dancer—there’s one shot where if you go frame by frame, you see the mirror gets hit. You see everybody. The director, the camera crew, the operators. They’re all standing there looking—but it’s only one frame. They said, “we can take that out, if you like.” I said, “No, no. We’ve got to leave that in.” [laughs]
PF: That’s not even in the first wave of titles. So, how do you decide, when three releases come out, which ones to go with?
MGW: I think that’s a marketing decision.. They decide what they think they can do.
PF: Do you have any favorites of that era of Bond films? Or least favorite? And don’t say Never Say Never Again, because it’s that last one. [laughs]
BB: Our favorite—well, I think we have a favorite. Well, I have a favorite for each actor. I would say [From] Russia with Love. I loved On Her Majesty’s [Secret] Service. The Spy Who Loved Me, [The] Living Daylights and Goldeneye.
PF: You ever imagine what a third Dalton might have been like?
BB: Well, I mean, I think he was a fantastic Bond. And I think—you know, he would have made a great third film. Unfortunately, we were in this terrible lawsuit with MGM at the time, and so he was sort of deprived of those films, as we were.
PF: What is the process for starting the next one? I mean, how much breathing space do you allow yourselves?
MGW: A little bit. [laughs]
PF: Is it a two-year window?
BB: We’re gonna try and collapse in December. And then—
PF: Has it been two years?
PF: Is it two years for—do you think it’ll be two years, the next one?
MGW: It was pretty hard to do, two years. We’ll have to see.
PF: So it could be three years.
MGW: We were writing the last one during post. Started writing it.
PF: And that’s not the case with this one? You guys haven’t done anything?
MGW: We haven’t done anything.
PF: You had the kernel of where you were gonna go for this one right away. Can you talk a little bit about piracy, since you’re doing this internationally? Does it help to open it as quickly as possible all around the world? Like, you could open it all in one day if you wanted to, I imagine.
MGW: There’s always an issue of piracy. But these have—you know, the reality is that there’s—each territory has individual issues with what days you can open, based on holidays, and what else is playing locally. And so it’s being released pretty much by the 14th. By the time it opens here, it’ll be released almost everywhere except Japan. And I’m not sure what our China date is.
PF: Barbara, your Dad produced other films during the period of doing Bond. I mean, Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang, for example. Do you guys aspire to work on anything else? Or is Bond purely it for you?
BB: Well, you know, I think we’d like to do other things, but not at the expense of Bond, you know? I think we feel like we have a responsibility and a desire to make these films as well as we can. It takes an awful lot of concentration. And I think we’d like to do other films, too, but as I say, not at the expense of Bond.
PF: Was that opening title, where it said, “Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions.” Has that always been there, or was that a tribute to your Dad this time?
BB: It was—Michael came up with it, because we felt when my father died, we felt very, very uncomfortable about taking his name off the movie, because it was always his presentation credit. And Michael came up with the idea of keeping it there, which is really important to us.
PF: There did seem to be not that many girls in this movie. I mean, there were just the two. I was kind of shocked, in a way. Was that always the —
MGW: Well, there were—in Casino, there was only one.
PF: And there was the memory of a third.
BB: Yeah, there was the memory. I mean, you know, you start off with a man who’s mourning the loss of a woman he loved. The love of his life. So it didn’t seem appropriate to have him running around with lots of women.
PF: And he didn’t actually go to bed with the main Bond girl anyway, did he? There wasn’t —
PF: Which was interesting.
BB: Well, they have a very strong emotional connection, he and Camille in the movie. And I think it’s a very—it’s very moving, when they say goodbye. Because you feel as if they’ve both kind of moved on, emotionally. They’ve kind of put some of the ghosts to rest, and they’ve sort of healed each other. And you get a sense that if it had been a different time and place, maybe they would have had more of a relationship. But she says goodbye to him, which I think is very moving.
PF: And what about the Bond Pinewood Sound Stage, one of the largest ones in the world? It had been destroyed by fire.
MGW: I was striking the set on Casino Royale on a Sunday. It went up in flame, yeah. Luckily, no one was in it except the three or four people who were working with torches to cut steel. And they got out. And so the place burned down, total loss. But at least no one was injured. And luckily, you know, we were—we had finished the film.
BB: It was rebuilt. They shot Mamma Mia! on it before we got there.
PF: When did the Goldfinger image come in, with the woman covered in oil? Was that Haggis, or Marc Forster, or you guys?
BB: It was in the screenplay. And I can’t remember which of the writers contributed that. But it stayed in.
MGW: Everybody takes credit.
BB: Everybody takes credit for it, because it didn’t get cut out.
PF: So, Bond has got a huge kill rate. And he gets that speech from M, when Strawberry Fields is found covered dead in oil, and whatever. And I was thinking afterwards that when he gives the oil can to Mathieu Almaric in the desert, that he’s responsible for killing Fields. And then when we hear that the two shots in the back of the neck with oil in the stomach, that somehow the people—
MGW: White has caught up with him again, yeah. Finished him off. Bond says, “They’ll be looking for you.”
PF: So, is Bond in a better emotional place at the end of this movie, now that he’s got the death of another innocent woman on his—you know, on his conscience, basically?
BB: I think it’s part of his evolution, you know. That this experience is a journey towards kind of regaining some humanity.
PF: So you don’t think he’ll be up to his old misogynistic self in the next Bond?
MGW: Who knows? [laughs]
BB: Listen. When men change, maybe Bond will change. [laughs] But let’s wait—I’m not holding my breath.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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