Director Sam Mendes Interview For ‘Skyfall’
Daniel Craig is back as James Bond 007 in ’Skyfall,’ the 23rd installment of the longest-running film franchise in history. In ’Skyfall,’ Bond’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past returns to haunt her. 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. When Bond’s latest assignment goes gravely wrong and several undercover agents around the world are exposed, MI6 is attacked, forcing M to relocate the agency. These events cause her authority and position to be challenged by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. With MI6 now compromised from both inside and out, M is left with one ally she can trust: Bond. 007 takes to the shadows – aided only by field agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) – following a trail to the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem), whose lethal and hidden motives have yet to reveal themselves. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition), ’Skyfall’ also stars Bérénice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Albert Finney and Ola Rapace. ‘Skyfall’ will begin its worldwide roll-out in the UK and Ireland on October 26th, with a North American release following on November 9th. My other interviews for ‘Skyfall’ can be found here (more to come): Daniel Craig, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Javier Bardem, Bérénice Marlohe, Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes/Albert Finney.
How did you find the challenge of displaying some of the iconic elements of a Bond movie, while still creating something original, putting your own stamp on ‘Skyfall’?
Sam Mendes: I think we all know what a Bond movie is, but how do you make it in a way that is yours? That was an important question. How do you make it something that is personal, how do you make it personal? So that dialogue between playing on the iconography, the tradition of Bond, then allowing it to breathe and live and have the fun and have the elements that a traditional Bond movie has. But then at the same time you want to make something that is yours, specifically yours. Because I think the most difficult thing of all is keeping ones intuition alive. Because you get to the point on the 97th day of filming, you’re so pleased to have got a good take of action your trying to do that you can often forget to ask yourself, “Well, do you actually like it?” Which is a quite different thing. Yes it works, but is that what you set out to achieve, does it have a point of view, is it lit how you want, is it inflected in the right way, is it your film? I have been given an enormous amount of freedom – and I’ve never felt constrained or hidebound by the genre or the franchise. Part of that is Daniel and Judi Dench, both of whom I already knew well. I’d love the two of them to be in any movie I directed!
What was the process like of putting this great ensemble cast for ‘Skyfall’ together?
Sam Mendes: I don’t think I’ve had a cast where every single person said yes. I think that is probably true, there’s always been at least one or two roles. And with ‘Skyfall,’ everyone said yes. I would be like, “My ideal would be Javier Bardem, he probably won’t say yes.” But he did (laughs). “Well, I’d love a Ralph Fiennes type, why don’t we ask Ralph Fiennes?” (Laughs) It was like that. I felt very, very fortunate with this cast. Very fortunate.
Javier Bardem‘s Silva, for me he strikes a certain balance that‘s key to a great Bond villain….
Sam Menes: He’s magnificent. Obviously I’m biased, but I’ve felt that he’s one of the great actors working in film today. Performance after performance there’s a sense of power and soul and he’s also very mysterious on screen, I think. That mystery is very difficult. But what I think I’m most pleased about in ‘Skyfall’ is that he had fun. In a way he allowed himself to be playful, to be mischievous, to be camp – and yet never losing all those other things his character is, with the danger, mystery, the strangeness, the otherness, you know? I think that was the balance that we had to strike. The performance has to be real enough, but at the same time it has to have the flamboyance of a great Bond villain. And I set myself, when we were thinking about what we wanted to achieve, we tried to find those heightened Bond villains of yesteryears. The great ones – the Dr. Nos’, the Rosa Klebbs’, the Goldfingers’ – the ones that are ever-so-slightly theatrical and yet are all the more frightening because of it. I think Javier’s done something wonderful with Silva.
How did you find directing some of the huge action set pieces?
Sam Mendes: When someone jumps off a 200ft building on a rope, it’s exciting capturing that on film. But then when Daniel Craig is literally on a train travelling at 50mph, across a bridge 300/400ft in the air – and when you’re on it, I can tell you this because I was on it when it was static, not when it was moving (laughs) – you can’t see the bridge so it literally looks like you’re travelling over nothing. And then Daniel’s fighting on that at over 50mph, that is exciting, it’s an adrenaline rush just watching it and knowing you’re capturing it.
And with ‘Skyfall,‘ you’re shooting the vast majority of the action live as opposed to relying on CGI. How important was that for you?
Sam Mendes: We’re incredibly proud to have made the film without compromise. There’s an enormous amount of pressure now of, “Well, why are you doing that live when you can do that in visual effects, you can do it in CGI, green screen, face replacement?” And I pushed ahead a lot with, “No, it’s Bond, we don’t want it to live in a CG world, its got to live in the real world in terms of stunts and action.” And that’s one of the things Daniel does so brilliantly as well, you really feel like he’s there with something at stake. If you’ve got an actor like that, use them in that way. We take a huge degree of pride in that, and I’m really proud of the performances, they all gave their best. If you’re not engaged with the characters, the action is meaningless, however good it is. To me, you have to put the characters in a credible and believable situation – you have to make it almost impossible for them to survive – and then show how they survive. That’s the challenge.
Then besides the action sequences, Daniel Craig has to display as james Bond some of the inner turmoil and emotional side of Bond…?
Sam Mendes: Oh yeah. Bond is actually remarkably difficult part to play, because he says very little, and the moment you make him say too much, it’s not Bond anymore. He operates on instinct a lot of the time. He has his own inner demons and he doesn’t reveal them to other characters, and yet the audience needs to be aware of them, especially in this particular movie. In ‘Skyfall’ the audience has got to see him, in a sense, fall apart and put himself back together again, but none of the other characters see what’s really going on behind the curtain. Daniel’s done that, I think, brilliantly.
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