Skyfall Set Visit: Sam Mendes Explains His Plan To Regenerate James Bond
Earlier today I brought you the rundown of what I witnessed on the set of the new James Bond adventure Skyfall, plus some tidbits of what I learned in the interviews. Now we're getting more in depth, with how director Sam Mendes is "regenerating" the Bond character, and how his work with the actors has made it even easier for them to dig into their characters. Take a look below.
Sam Mendes became attached to Skyfall so long ago, back when it was called Bond 23, that you might have been forgiven for thinking he would never actually get to make it. But while MGM sorted out its money troubles and Skyfall found its way back on its feet, Mendes and star Daniel Craig were busy planning-- even if they weren't supposed to be.
"We were in continued conversations once Sam agreed to do it," Craig admitted at the press conference at the Ciaragan Palace in Istanbul on Sunday. "We weren't supposed to be talking about it, but we did. It snowballed, really."
Craig wasn't the only one who was helping Mendes shape the film while we all thought it was simply lying dormant. Mendes contacted Javier Bardem early on to ask him to play the villain, Silva, but Mendes says he knew that a standard Bond villain wouldn't be good enough to entice the Oscar-winning actor:
I think it's fair to say that without the extra time, we wouldn't have written such a good baddie, and I don't think we would have gotten Javier to play him. One of the things I thought when I rewatched the films is it's been a while since there was what I would call a classic Bond villain. It's not that these guys weren't great-- I thought Mads was particularly great in Casino Royale-- but I wanted somebody perhaps a bit more flamboyant, a bit more frightening, and we needed a great actor to achieve that. We were able to really work on that role so it had something different and special about it. And then it changed again when Javier said "I'm interested, let's talk about the role," and it began to develop from there. His ideas, I had time to factor in before he said yes. It was like "We're probably going to be doing this, but we've got time to discuss how it might be." It gave us time to receive his ideas and let them percolate a bit, and after a while he trusted it was something he could make his own. That's a good example of how [a delay] changes the literal reality of a movie-- you've got time to listen."
Of course, Mendes also took advantage of the delay to boost his directing chops, revisiting the previous Bond films and also developing his own language for directing action, which he'd only done briefly in his previous films. Though it looks exciting to see him standing on set directing Daniel Craig to shoot a gun or to flip over a car-- which you can read more about here, Mendes promises that's not where the fun comes in:
I've directed bits of action, and I knew enough to know it's long and it's very detailed and editing action is a good deal more exciting than shooting action. Shooting action is very, very meticulous, in increments and tiny little pieces. The challenge is to create parallel action so you're not locked into a linear chase, which is something that Chris Nolan for example does very, very well. It's never just A following B, there's something else going on simultaneously, and they overlap. Again that's something we were able to do in the script. We didn't get locked into something we couldn't get out of. It's just detail, the detail and business of moviemaking in a much more complex and time-consuming way."
Mendes also acknowledged the slight insanity of spending weeks and weeks of production on the Istanbul chase sequence, which he estimates will take up 4 minutes of screentime in the film: "There are movies that cost less than one car chase." But he also admits, "That's part of the pleasure of doing it, you're pushing yourself fin new directions, and that's the pleasure of this particular journey."
For the actors, Mendes's bona fides with smaller, character-focused films like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road make the experience of a giant Bond movie less intimidating. Even Craig, in the middle of his third film of the franchise, appreciates the difference: "It's a great relief to work with someone like Sam on this, because there's an awful lot of pressure from the outside world on a movie like this, but we just cracked on with making the best movie we can, and that's a joy to do." Harris, no stranger to big movies thanks to her Pirates of the Caribbean role, also admitted to nerves that were calmed by Mendes's working style: "On my first day I remember feeling absolutely petrified, [but] Sam makes it feel like you're doing a little independent movie. What is most important for him is character and relationships. He pulls everything down to just the truth of that."
When presented with a "geek question" about the George Lazenby Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Mendes perks up-- "That's why I'm doing this movie, so I can answer geek questions! This is my first geek question!" He goes on to talk about the little-loved Bond movie in such detail that it's abundantly clear he's done his research, but also put a lot of his own thought into how Bond works as a character both of the past and the present. As Craig puts it, "Sam has felt very strongly that by making the best Bond movie we can, we're going to look back a little. But this has an individual look to it, something i don't think we've seen in any other Bond movie."
But when Mendes talks about Bond himself, he doesn't focus on the martini-drinking, or even the sharp wit that everyone insists will be a much bigger part of the character this time around. Taking his cues from two other modern blockbuster, Mendes sees Bond as a suave and capable agent, but also a lone man who doesn't quite belong in our world.
He's a doer, not a thinker, and I think you have to understand that. I also think he does't walk amongst us. He's not Bourne, he doesn't walk the streets. He's a lone wolf, you have to keep him separate for most of the movie. There's a reason why the most interesting, to my mind, franchises are The Dark Knight and Bourne, because there are characters at the center who are to some degree in conflict about what they do, and are pushed right to the edge."
Having made his names with films like American Beauty, Revolutionary Road and Road to Perdition, Mendes is stepping into uncharted waters with Skyfall-- but it's that in-depth thought process he's taken from small-scale dramas that has the potential to make Skyfall genuinely spectacular. As Mendes himself says, it's that combination of action and thoughtful character work that makes a lot of the best modern blockbusters worthwhile: "Audiences embrace these movies that go darker and more personal. Having said that, they've also got the thrills and spills you expect. It's about a balance. "
I've still got one more set of interviews from my time in Istanbul to bring you, plus photos of what we saw on the Skyfall set, so keep checking back for more!
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