Director Sam Mendes has been working on "Skyfall," the 23rd James Bond film, for quite some time ˜ thanks in large part to parent studio MGM's financial woes that halted pre-production for nearly a year. So what did the Oscar-winning director learn during his extended tenure with the franchise?
MGM's bankruptcy issues were a blessing in disguise.
"We had a stroke of luck on this movie, ultimately, which was at the time one of the most frustrating things, which was the temporary bankruptcy of MGM ˜ which for me was a bit of a nightmare because I'd really prepped the movie and was ready to go into full-scale pre-production, and we had to halt everything, if you remember, for something like nine months," Mendes explains. "But in that time we worked on the script. I knew every scene intimately, and we kept working. We had two weeks of rehearsals, which is a relatively new thing for the Bond franchise. We had a read-through of the script, and [series producer] Barbara [Broccoli] said to me, 'It's the first read-through we've ever had of a Bond movie!'"
Referencing classic Bond has to be handled carefully.
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"I felt about the homage elements that you have to earn them. I think if you put them in at the wrong time, they're going to strike a false note," he says. "It's also true that in making a Bond movie, you have to rediscover your 13-year-old self."
Before Daniel Craig, the franchise had made a few wrong turns.
"The thing about Bond for me, watching the old movies, is that there was a point around 'Moonraker' where it lost some of its thriller roots and went into a sort of action-adventure, almost travelogue type of feeling," Mendes admits. "Bond the character became kind of the Sellotape that tied it all together. It was like, 'How can we get Bond from Rio to Venice and from Venice to a cable car? Because these are the big sequences that we have to make work.' He almost from that moment on had no journey at all. I'm being unfair to some of the movies in between, but I felt like in 'Casino Royale,' Bond was back at the center of the movie. He actually had a journey, he had some emotional stake. So to try to find that kind of personal weight in the center of the movie was really important."
He admits Fleming's franchise hasn't always been the best, diversity-wise.
"How can I put this? Times have changed," he says with a grin. "If you read the beginning of 'Live and Let Die,' it's racially not entirely sound, I would say. The movie's also a little bit on the edge, but that's a different thing. I don't know, he was a product of his time."
James Bond will return, but Sam Mendes probably won't.
"It's been a fantastic experience, but it's been completely exhausting," says Mendes, who adds that he completed work on the film on October 9. "Do I want to do another one? I'm a shadow of my former self. (laughs) No, I don't know. I felt like everything I wanted to do with a Bond movie, I put into this film. So I would have to be convinced that I could do something that I loved and cared about as much if I was to do it again. I think the great risk of repeating oneself is that one doesn't have the great store of ideas that you have when you first tackle a subject."