Leaps and ‘Bonds’
The Towerlight sat down with “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes about his experience working with the renowned James Bond franchise. “Skyfall” had the biggest opening in Bond history Friday, grossing $87.8 million in its first three days in theaters.
Fifty years after the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” the newest installment in the franchise is out.
“Skyfall” is the 23rd movie in the series, and director Sam Mendes said he was determined to make a film that would take a beloved character in new directions.
“You have to be able to have an actor who can take the character places he’s never been before, and producers willing to let him go new places,” Mendes said in a conference call Wednesday, Nov. 7.
“Luckily, large commercial films can be dark now, they can push the envelope. When I came onto the project, there was no script. So the writers and I pretended we didn’t have to do all the typical Bond things. We could get to the root of the story, and add everything else later.”
Mendes has been better known for middle-budget character dramas such as “American Beauty.”
“Skyfall” is his first Bond movie.
“I was drawn to it because it wasn’t a character drama,” he said. “It was a change. I wanted to get myself out of my old habits and scare myself.”
But Mendes still draws on his character drama roots, even within an action movie.
He said he wanted to create complex, real characters with “Skyfall.”
“I wanted a lead character who would be interesting, whether or not his name was James Bond,” he said.
The same went for his Bond girls.
In the early years of the franchise, a Bond girl usually existed only to show off Bond’s sexual prowess, but Mendes said he had no interest in that.
“I didn’t consciously think about what a Bond girl is,” he said. “I wanted to create multi-dimensional characters. I didn’t want doe-eyed girls, but real people, who had layers and depth and tricks up their sleeve. I wanted women to feel empowered, not pushed around.”
One of the things that Mendes put great care into was balancing old standbys with new ideas. This meant blending old and new cast and crew members as well.
“A director is only as good as his collaborators,” Mendes said. “We had lots of people involved who had never made a Bond film and didn’t feel like they had to follow the old rules. But we also had a lot of experienced Bond people, and it was a good combination. Hopefully, it’s a good mixture.”
Daniel Craig returns as Bond, as does Judi Dench, who plays M.
There are also several new faces such as Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes as M16 agents, and Javier Bardem as the film’s villain, Silva.
“This is the first film I’ve made where everyone I offered a role said yes,” Mendes said.
Of course, a danger in trying to expand and develop a classic character is making a Bond movie that the fans won’t like, Mendes said. It was important to tune out the detractors.
“You’re surrounded by this white noise all the time,” he said. “Everyone’s Bond is different. Some people love the gadgets and some people hate them. Some people want humor and others can’t stand it… The most important thing is to push away that white noise and ask yourself what you would want to see if you were paying to see it. I wanted it to be what both I wanted and what my inner 12 year old wanted.”