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BEVERLY HILLS - Sam Mendes probably smiled this much in a long time. It's been almost 13 years since he won an Oscar for directing best picture winner "American Beauty" and the years since haven't always been as celebratory. "Road to Perdition," "Jarhead," "Revolutionary Road" and "Away We Go" all have their fans, but none of Mendes' follow ups reached the critical or moviegoer adoration that "Beauty" did. Who knew a 50-year-old franchise would be his ticket back to the top of the mountain?
Surprising some, making perfect sense to others, Mendes reunited with his "Perdition" star Daniel Craig for the latest installment of the James Bond series, "Skyfall." It was a bumpy pre-production thanks to MGM's bankruptcy, but somehow the financial mess resulted in one of the best 007 films since the Sean Connery era. "Skyfall" has earned rave reviews earning an 81 on Metacritic and a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Moreover, with $90 million in ticket sales since Thursday, "Skyfall" is now the top U.S. opener in Bond history. And, just for good measure, the film has already made a staggering $428 million internationally and will be the no. 2 film all-time in the UK by Tuesday. There is buzz about a potential best picture nomination (probably a reach), a nod in the best supporting actor category for previous Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (not so much a reach) and dreams of a best original song nod for the title track sung and co-written by global superstar Adele (fingers crossed it qualifies). Clearly, some franchises age better than others.
Mendes was only available for 20 minutes last week to discuss his latest endeavor and, honestly, I could have peppered him with questions about "Skyfall" for a good hour. In hindsight, I can't remember the last time a filmmaker was so forthcoming about the behind-the-scenes details of a production. You know there is something special about a movie when you can't stop talking about it.
[Note: For spoilers sake, if you have not seen "Skyfall" yet, Mendes asks that you avoid reading the rest of this article until after you've seen the movie.]
Some of the topics Mendes waxed on include:
*How the MGM bankruptcy allowed him to get the script right and to recruit the cast he wanted.
*His inspiration for Silva's introductory scene and how that affected the film's production design.
*Javier Bardem's process for coming up with Silva's look and demeanor.
*Bradem's reaction to shooting Silva's meeting with M (Judi Dench).
*Details on how and when Mendes pushed the sexual innuendo in the first meeting between Silva and Bond.
Here's hoping you can hear Mendes' enthusiasm in the Q&A below.
Q: Let's get something straight for historical purposes. Just how early were you on board as the film's director?
Well, it was very frustrating at the time because I had effectively come aboard but they hadn’t announced me. And then [MGM went bankrupt in 2010]. I really think there was a long while there where [series producers] Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [G. Wilson] thought they may not make it for years. It might just be stuck for a long time. And there was a period when I really thought I’m going to have to do something else. I’m going to have to walk away from it. The thing is that I’d already done quite a lot of work on it and I didn’t want to walk away from what I thought was gonna be a good picture and something that I really had a stake in by that time. And I’d also grown to really like Barbara and Michael, and Daniel and. I’d spent a lot of time with Rob [Wade] and Neal [Purvis] working on the screenplay and I had an idea who I wanted to bring on, which was John Logan. So, I had a whole thing going and then it went into bankruptcy and then we were stalled. And in order for me to carry on working on it they had to give me an official title, which I think was consultant or something like that.
Q: Yes, I remember that.
Which is basically 'director-in-waiting.' But it turned out looking back to be the best thing that happened to us because those nine months, or however long it was whenever we were still really – was when the script came into being. And it gave us space without the pressure of production to just work on the script. And I think that’s everything [good that came] after that came from the script. The level of casting I was able to achieve, the crew I could bring on, the sense that I could make it personal film within the body of a franchise film while still adhering to the principles, the fundamental principles of Bond. Shift some of the inner mechanics of the character so that it felt like you had a stake in him for the first time. A different kind of stake, put it that way. So, everything came from that really. And I think by the time we came out with the bankruptcy thing we knew where we were headed. Six months later a script turned up and everyone was just enthusiastic. And from that moment on it really all came together.
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