LONDON – Can you believe it’s been almost four years since the last James Bond movie hit theaters? Marc Forster's "Quantum of Solace" was released way back in Nov. of 2008, but the delay of Daniel Craig's third installment as 007 had many Bond fans puzzled. Especially after "Quantum" pulled in a sweet $586 million worldwide. The reason for the long break was the unexpected financial issues that plagued distributor MGM beginning in 2010. Eventually, the studio emerged with new ownership last year and production on "Skyfall," the 23rd Bond film, finally began in Nov. of 2011. Last week, the stars of the latest 007 adventure spoke to journalists from around the globe at Pinewood Studios outside of London. And of course, that means Bond himself, Craig was on hand to try and reveal as little as possible about the film.
"Skyfall" is being directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") and features the return of Judi Dench as Bond's boss, M; Javier Bardem as the new villain Silva; Ralph Fiennes as new Mi6 agent Gareth Mallory; Ben Winshaw as Q; Albert Finney in a role that's still unclear; and Naomi Harris and Bérénice Marlohe as new Bond girls Eve and Sévérine, respectively. The story is expected to put M in severe danger and the title refers to a Scottish location, "Skyfall Lodge," which has a explosive role in the picture.
For Craig, who has kept busy with roles in films such as "Cowboys & Aliens" and David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the delay in getting "Skyfall" up and running provided unexpected benefits.
"When the MGM thing [happened], I mean, it really was a silver lining situation where for the first time in my experience we kind of had a lot of time to work on the script and I just was constantly in e-mail communication with Sam talking about [different] scenes."
Longtime 007 producer Barbara Broccoli, also on hand, chimes in, "It helped you. It’s driving us crazy."
"In a way, I had to quietly just get on with it," Craig says. "I mean, we weren’t publicly allowed to sort of really say that we were doing anything, but we were kind of secretly meeting and sort of. But we just came on with the job. We were just sort of discussing it and discussing. Sam kind of came in to the mix. The script was getting into shape and it wasn’t sort of full bore until everything was given the green light. We didn’t give up. We actually just got on with the job and were very optimistic that it would happen ‘cause we kind of knew it would."
"Well, we were also hoping that we’d have a film on the anniversary year because the fans were certainly looking forward to it," Broccoli says. "And it seemed like it would have been very disappointing if we didn’t have one in this year. So, it was very frustrating."
And yes movie fans, if you wonder why Hollywood lifers tell you to ignore publicist denials, now you know. "Skyfall" was secretly being worked on and Mendes was always expected to direct (something EON and MGM denied for months).
Having visited Craig on the Chilean and Austrian sets of "Solace," it's obvious our man Bond is much more enthusiastic about "Skyfall" than its shaggy scripted predecessor. Moreover, it's the talent both in front of and behind the camera that Mendes has brought on board and the filmmaker's passion for the franchise which gives Craig hope Bond 23 will be something special.
"Sam’s a huge Bond fan," Craig reveals. "I mean, when I sat down with him one of the first things we did is just went off. I re-read the books. He re-read the books. We watched the movies. We talked about the Roger Moore movies, the Connery movies, the whole [series] and there’s a sort of tone that’s in all of those movies that you can’t try and recreate. If you do that then it’s [dated] and neither Sam nor I want to make an older movie. Roger Deakins is [shooting] this movie which is like just insane. His stamp on this movie has set a new benchmark."
Visiting the massive 007 soundstage during our Pinewood visit, Deakins' gorgeous lighting was apparent on a massive London Underground station set. The legendary cinematographer for films such as "True Grit," "No Country For Old Men" and "The Shawshank Redemption," among others, is making sure this is the most beautiful Bond adventure yet.
It wouldn't be a 007 film without a Bond girl or two and Craig is impressed with his new co-stars this time around. He notes, "Both Bérénice and Naomie? They’re playing two very different characters, but I have a really good interaction with both of them. And they’re very beautiful and it’s just that they’ve got very, very strong storylines and they kind of…"
Craig stop for a moment, catching himself and then continues, "It’s like throwing great characters that make the story interesting [into the mix] and I just don’t want to give anything away."
He might not want to, but we can tell you that Eve (Harris) is an Mi6 field agent and Sévérine (Marlohe) is connected to 007's adversary Sylvia (and not in a good way).
Oscar winner and critical favorite Bardem has also brought a new energy to the franchise. And Craig thinks their scenes have upped his own performances this time around.
"[When} you play football you play with the best people then your game improves and I kind of feel that with working with Javier," Craig says. "He’s one of the best in the business and I’ve had to raise my game to work with him and that’s just to kind of to be on set. He’s funny, he’s committed, he’s doing just wonderful things with his part and knows what he’s doing. I mean, he knows he’s making a Bond movie and what’s required of him. We have one of the most interesting Bond villains I think we’ve had in a long, long time."
Mendes' background is in stage and screen dramas such as the aforementioned "Beauty," "Revolutionary Road" and "Road to Perdition," where he first worked with Craig. Some 007 fans might be concerned whether Mednes can deliver the sort of iconic action pieces required for "Skyfall." Or, possibly more worrisome, that the filmmaker will spend a bit too much time having Bond "discover his feelings." Craig says you needn't worry.
"It’s not that wildly different. I haven’t changed his character. He’s not in drag," Craig jokes. "He’s not doing anything that’s going to be surprising anybody completely, but we’ve got these great characters and he’s interacting with them and there’s a huge great story. That’s the basic bare bones of it and where it fits into my kind of microscope. But I’m very proud of what we have at the moment."
"Skyfall" opens nationwide on Nov. 9.