The spying game
“M is revealed to have been a stripper in Morocco,” Craig jokes about the current project. “We have footage to prove it.”
From the beginning, the Bond films profited from the work of untouchable movie professionals. Ken Adam’s sets have never been bettered. John Barry’s early scores remain untouchable. But the franchise has struggled to attract top-flight directors. Solid British toilers such as Michael Apted and Lewis Gilbert have had a go. The otherwise uncelebrated John Glen directed as many as five (increasingly ho-hum) episodes in the 1980s.
For the first time, the latest film boasts a director with an Oscar to his name. Sam Mendes has never been shy about declaring his passion for the series. It remains, however, an intriguing choice for both director and producer. Lauded for his early theatre productions, Mendes has secured his position in cinema with diverse, seriousminded pictures such as American Beauty, Jarhead and Revolutionary Road.
“He does have a passion for Bond,” Craig confirms. “Not that the rest of us don’t. But he’s a huge Bond fan and he’s spent two years just concentrating on making this the best Bond movie we can. He’s employed the best actors. That’s his forte. He knows the material he is working with. But he also does not shy away from making it a bit camp and a bit funny. He’s become something else while making that film.”
But can he handle the action?
“Oh, there’ll be no action in this. Ha ha! We’ve decided to forgo all that. It’s a tough decision. There is just a lot of sitting around chatting. No, we have the best people in the business doing the action, and he’s part of that.”
Later on, we are lured to a small room in the upper floors of Pinewood to puzzle over items from the James Bond archives. It is akin to entering a sacred reliquary. Here is Oddjob’s deadly hat from Goldfinger. Here is the titular weapon from The Man with the Golden Gun. Aware that they are now dealing with a state institution, the keepers of the icons have travelled the world buying them back from the estates of collectors. The items are a bit frayed and scuffed. But even the most Bond-phobic film enthusiast will, surely, feel slightly awed in the presence of Broccoli’s version of the Crown Jewels.
Such reverence is not necessarily helpful when developing a contemporary film franchise. There has, in Bond pictures, always been a tension between honouring the past and pushing energetically forwards. Do we want to return to the ruder, even more sexist, considerably more racist hero of Fleming’s durable novels? (Not so much.) Do we want to ape the new energies of successors such as Jason Bourne? (Quite a bit.)
The film-makers are under more pressure than ever as they release a film celebrating the franchise’s golden jubilee.
“The things like the cars, the women, the guns: it’s our job to cram those things into the movie,” Craig says. “I don’t think we are aware of the 50th anniversary. We are aware of the fact that this is a rare place to be. The chance to make movies like this is very rare in our business. If you don’t grab that chance with both hands, it’s a bit of a waste of time.”
There’s a physical side to that. Whereas Sean Connery or (God love him) Roger Moore spent as much time drinking champagne in bed as hanging from parapets, Craig finds himself playing a much more physical Bond. If he’s not leaping from bridges, he’s smashing villains’ heads against convenient sharp edges.
“Talking about my regime is boring, but I try to get as fit as possible. It’s all cardiovascular stuff. I have picked up a few injuries, but that is par for the course. I get physio once a week. I broke both legs and a little finger. No, not really – just a few strains.”
As the afternoon fades, we are led through a vast reproduction of a crumbling city – a rare vista of urban decay in London’s greenbelt – towards the armoury where a solid professional introduces us to machine guns, sleek rifles and, yes, a Walther PPK semi-automatic pistol. It is, indeed, the actual item that Connery brandished in the second Bond film. Would we like to pick it up?