James Bond dominated the cover of Starlog in December 2006 - the first time since Timothy Dalton became Bond in 1987 (see Starlog issue #122)
A Beautiful Killing Machine
By JOE NAZZARO
Veteran 007 producer Michael Wilson takes a big gamble on a new James Bond & a more realistic Casino Royale.
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling—a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension—becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.
James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him to avoid staleness and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes.
That was the opening of Ian Fleming's 1953 novel Casino Royale, featuring a then-unknown spy named James Bond. Half a century later, that book is providing the basis for what promises to be a brand new series of big-screen adventures starring Daniel Craig as the eponymous hero. And according to longtime 007 movie series producer Michael Wilson, this Bond is very much in keeping with Fleming’s original concept of the iconic character.
“That’s the idea,” he affirms. “I think Bond is described in the book as ‘a beautiful killing machine,’ and that’s the way he starts out. If you read Casino Royale, Bond seems like he knows everything and has it all worked out, so he’s pretty confident. But then he goes through this torture and a love experience that ends up in betrayal, and becomes out of it a different man. I guess he grows up or matures emotionally. He’s certainly emotionally uninvolved with women when he starts out, and then he totally falls in love, which gives him a completely different way of looking at things—and, in a way, that ends up undermining him.”
Casino Royale marks one of the most significant makeovers in the popular film franchise’s 45-year history. Gone are the outlandish gadgets, bizarre villains and over-the-top situations that have increasingly become a major part of the Bond world. But this wasn’t a change that was made without some reservations. After all, the previous film, 2002’s Die Another Day, grossed more than $400 million worldwide, so it was difficult to ignore the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought in favor of pushing the cinematic reset button.
Photos: NUMBER 007. Casino Royale is actually the first Bond book written by Ian Fleming. / DOSSIER FOR M. Judi Dench is the only actor from Die Another Day to return. / THE SECRET AGENT. Daniel Craig takes aim as the sixth James Bond in Casino Royale.
“There was certainly that feeling,” admits Wilson, stepson of the franchise’s late co-founder, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who currently produces the series with his half-sister Barbara Broccoli, “but we finally decided to make a change while we were at the top. Creatively, it was difficult figuring out where to take the series. We decided to approach it as if there had never been a James Bond movie made before, so how would you go about it if you were starting with the initial Bond book? We only got the rights to Casino Royale in 2000, so this was really our first opportunity to film that book. And since this is Bond’s ‘first’ mission—and the first novel describes him on his first mission—it seemed like a good fit.”
But this isn’t the only time that Casino Royale has been adapted—either for the big or small screen. The first version was a 1954 episode of the all-but-forgotten TV series Climax, which pitted Barry Nelson as “Jimmy Bond” (making him the first actor to play the character; see STARLOG #75) against Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. That episode was to serve as the pilot for a possible ongoing series, which never came to fruition. And, of course, there’s the infamous 1967 action spoof with David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress and an ensemble cast of familiar faces and famous actors (including Orson Welles as Le Chiffre!), which was helmed by no less than five different directors.
In the new film, Bond’s mission to investigate a terrorist cell leads him to the Bahamas, where he encounters Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for some of the world’s leading terrorist organizations. After Secret Service intelligence reveals that Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game, MI6 dispatches Bond to play him, knowing that if Le Chiffre loses, it will help bankrupt his organization. When Bond is placed under the watchful eye of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the duo faces increasing danger and even torture as the stakes are raised far beyond mere money.
Considering that Fleming’s novel was published more than 50 years ago, a number of alterations had to be made in order to bring the story into the 21st century—such as updating the game from baccarat to Texas Hold ’Em poker. Says Wilson, “Also, in the book, Le Chiffre is working for the Russian Communists and setting up the French Communist party. He takes the money that he’s supposed to spend on interfering with the labor unions and organizations and diverts it to houses of prostitution, which the French then close down, so he loses all the money. [But we had to change that set-up because] it’s a little dated. We use the same thematic ideas, but we’ve updated them so that Le Chiffre is now a money launderer for terrorist organizations, and he uses their money to play the stock market. But comes a cropper, and he has to win the money back immediately through this poker tournament that he sets up.”
The problem with rebooting an entire franchise from square one was the big question of who would play Bond. With four adventures under his belt, Pierce Brosnan was still the incumbent 007, but the producers decided that a new start required a new leading man. As Wilson explains, “After four films, it would have been hard to make Bond’s first mission with Pierce. It just did not seem possible, and that was emotionally difficult for us and traumatic for him.
“When we started working on the script for Bond 22, it was going to be in the vein of Pierce continuing on from Die Another Day. But we were having creative trouble finding our way as far as where to go with that. Moonraker took place in outer space, and with this last one, we had gotten ourselves into ice palaces, invisible cars and all of that. We began to think, ‘What are we going to do now?’ We had this whole world set up, and we couldn’t tear it down, so we had to follow what we had done before. But we didn’t feel good about that, so after almost a year, we decided to try Casino Royale and go in that direction. Unfortunately, that necessitated recasting. Pierce was a good Bond, and we certainly enjoyed working with him, but we had just stalled.”
With the producers looking for a new Bond, the rumor mill kicked into high gear with numerous high-profile names getting attention, including Hugh Jackman, Orlando Bloom, Colin Farrell and Clive Owen, to name a few. “There were plenty of false rumors,” says Wilson. “Some of it came from certain agents who wanted to publicize their clients, but most of it was made up by the press or people who like to start rumors. There was one television station here in London that I watched the news on, and every single time this guy had something to say about Bond, he was totally wrong.”
Like it or not, the endless rumors and speculation are all part of the process of casting a new Bond. “It’s always difficult, and we look at everybody possible, especially since the studio wants to be certain that we haven’t missed anyone,” Wilson notes. “We tested lots of people, but Barbara was very focused on Daniel, and I thought he was the one, too, but Daniel was a little hesitant. He wanted to see what we were going to do with the character and the script, and the studio wanted to make sure that we did not miss anyone, so it was a long process that took extra time.”
Craig has a reputation for playing edgy characters in mostly independent projects, but he gained a higher profile through such films as Tomb Raider, Layer Cake and Munich. “From a British point-of-view, he’s an actor of his generation, but he has been careful to build up a career that is well-respected among actors and directors, and he’s also extremely dedicated,” says Wilson. “Daniel spent two months preparing himself physically for the part, because he felt it was necessary to look as though he could do the job.
Photos: MOMENT OF TRUTH. It wasn’t an easy decision, but producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli believed that the series needed a different direction and a brand new Bond. / MY DEAR BOY. M has her hands full keeping Bond in line on his first mission. She’s tough enough to handle him. / THE NATURE OF EVIL. Giancarlo Giannini (as French agent Rene Mathis) understands evil from his Hannibal experience. / L’ENNEMI ECOUTE. Mads Mikkelsen essays Le Chiffre, the very dangerous target of Bond s gambling assignment. / VESPER, Kingdom of Heaven's Eva Green is Vesper Lynd, the brunette beauty appointed to assist Bond.
“He trained for several hours every single day, and then he worked on shooting techniques and all that stuff to become familiar with it. Even during production, Daniel would get up early, do a full day of filming, then go out and spend an hour and a half at the gym, eat a measured amount of food that was given to him by his trainer and go to sleep. He was totally dedicated and focused on the job, and very interested in making the script and the character work. He was fantastic that way, and I think that shows in the movie.”
Maybe so, but the initial reaction to Craig’s casting was less than ecstatic. Websites began springing up decrying everything from the actor’s height and hair color to his supposed inability to drive Bond’s trademark Aston Martin. “All of those things are a reflection of the great interest that the public has in Bond and who plays Bond, and that’s fantastic,” Wilson observes. “If we didn’t have that interest, we would have trouble marketing the films and getting the budgets together that we need to make them good. Another thing it reflects is how much they enjoyed Pierce. He was a good Bond, and people were sorry to see him go. And so they said, ‘You’re not going to get someone as good as Pierce!’ ”
Photos: TIDE OF PASSION. Casino Royale may be a fresh take, but no 007 film is complete without Bond babes and fast cars. / A CRAG-LIKE FACE. In Craig, Wilson thinks they’ve cast an actor who really looks like he could “do the job” of 007. / A WHISPER OF LOVE. Never a one-woman man, 007 has two knockouts to choose from in Vesper and Solange (Caterina Murino, pictured). / ROUGE ET NOIR. Black and red are the colors worn by nasty Steven Obanno (Isaach De Bankole), who has plans for Valenka (Ivana Milicevic). / THE HASTENING SALOON. Before Bond can head off to the bar for a martini, he needs to beat Le Chiffre at the poker table.
With Craig in place, the producers began assembling a top-notch international cast that includes Mikkelsen, Green and Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as M (the only actor from the previous films to return). “We got our first choices, which is always nice on these things,” Wilson remarks. “Mads has done lots of movies in Denmark, and he has an international following because of King Arthur and films like that. He’s certainly one of the top actors in his country.
“And Eva is one of the top leading ladies in her country [France]. She, too, has done big international pictures like Kingdom of Heaven. What I like about both of them is that they’re excellent actors, but they’re also unknown quantities—at least to Americans and audiences outside their native countries. So people aren’t quite sure what to expect from their performances. There’s a freshness to Mads and Eva that allows people to wonder what’s going to happen next.”
Behind the scenes, Wilson and Broccoli enlisted veteran action director Martin Campbell, who had previously helped reignite the franchise with Goldeneye a decade earlier. “Martin is an excellent director for anything, but especially for Bond,” Wilson declares. “He understands [this franchise] and did a great job of introducing Pierce in GoldenEye, so this was a challenge that he relished taking up again. It was a good comfort level for us, and I believe it’s one of his best films so far. And I think he’s very happy with it, too. We also had Phil Meheux shooting the picture. He was the director of photography on GoldenEye, and he works with Martin on many of his movies.
Casino Royale is a little more on the gritty side than, say, Martin’s Zorro films. It’s sort of like Goldeneye, but not quite. This one has more of an authentic feel about it.”
One of the biggest decisions the production had to make was moving their longtime base from England’s Pinewood Studios to the more economically friendly Prague, following the lead of many big-budget studio films in recent years. “It was a matter of cost,” Wilson explains. “There was some question about ill what the British government was going to offer as incentives, and London is the most expensive city in the world right now for visitors. So we had to make a calculation based on what was the best place—both artistically and financially—to shoot this film.
“We had a chance to go to Prague, and we realized that many of the locations around the Czech Republic could be adapted for the movie, so that seemed to be the way to go. As we usually do on these films, we went to many different places. Besides Prague and the Czech Republic, we shot in the Bahamas and around London. Now, under the new [British government] regime, it’s a more favorable [deal] than what we got on Casino Royale, so that’s something to consider next time.”
While it remains to be seen what the worldwide reaction will be to Casino Royale (which premieres in the U.S. November 17), the producers are already looking ahead to Bond’s next adventure. “We just met with [Casino Royale writers] Neal Purvis and Robert Wade today,” Wilson discloses. “We’ve been talking to them for months, trying to come up with the story for the next film.”
But in the meantime, Wilson believes that moviegoers will enjoy the newest Casino Royale incarnation. “It’s difficult to be objective right now, but there’s a real balance between the story, romance and character development. And it’s punctuated by some intriguing action.
“So many people worked on this film— the designers, special effects people, stunt arrangers, wardrobe department and set decorators,” Michael Wilson notes. “And when all of those elements start to come alive and you see things turning out better than you imagined when you were writing it, that’s when you know that the movie is singing. And I’m always pleased to see that!”
[Source: Starlog #351, December 2006, P.1, 68-72, 90. Copyright © 2006 O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Starlog is a registered trademark of O'Quinn Studios, Inc. Cover Photo-Illustration: By & Copyright 2006 Richie Fahey. Design & Layout: Heiner Feil. All Casino Royale Photos: Jay Maidment/Copyright 2006 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation. All Rights Reserved. All Photo Captions: Chapter Titles from Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, Copyright 1953 Glidrose Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.]