Skyfall Filmmakers Talk James Bond Aboard the New Train


It’s been nearly six months since Skyfall‘s world premiere, and in that time it’s raked in well over a billion dollars at the box office, received widespread critical acclaim, and racked up a slew of nominations and awards. All in, it’s been a rather impressive 50th Anniversary outing for the world’s favorite superspy. And one that was far from certain at the outset.

To mark the movie’s release on Blu-ray, was invited to the UK to join the writers and producers of the film, as well as star Naomi Harris, aboard the new Skyfall train on a trip from London to Edinburgh to discuss the acclaim the film has received, and how that success was far from certain at the outset.

“I do think there was an element of the story being about mid-life crisis,” explains screenwriter Neal Purvis, “not Bond’s, but it was about pulling it out of the fire again. We didn’t have a book. ‘Quantum of Solace’ was meant to be ‘Casino Royale’ part two – a continuation. It didn’t quite work out like that, but there were no more novels, so it was [a case of], could Rob and I actually…”

“Do it again?” interjects Purvis’ writing partner, Robert Wade. The pair have been writing Bond films for the last 14 years, beginning their tenure with The World is Not Enough. “In a way I think it is no coincidence that it’s about someone having to prove themselves.”

After the success of Casino Royale, the pair met with a lukewarm reaction to Quantum of Solace, certainly giving them something to prove, but also leaving them with a difficult balancing act: the tone of Daniel Craig’s portrayal has been much more gritty and down to Earth than previous incarnations. As Purvis puts it, “he’s not as good as the other guy, but he’s relentless and doesn’t stop”. And while Craig’s take on Bond remained popular with fans, it was clear that the ultra-serious, bare-bones approach to the franchise seen in “Casino” and “Quantum” wasn’t the way forward, as producer Michael G Williams explains:

“People have said, ‘we miss these characters,’ we wanted to go with ‘Casino Royale,’ have an absolutely clean slate and start over, and introduce them as necessary. The thought was to bring them back, but in a more up to date way.”

And that sentiment wasn’t just from fans, “I think he wanted to lighten it up a bit,” Wade says of Craig, “we wanted it to lighten up, Sam wanted it lighter than ‘Quantum of Solace,’ which is a revenge story… [so we took] the opportunity to take Daniel’s version and fluff it up a bit.”

But lighten the tone too far, and the movie was likely to become a pastiche, filled with ludicrous scenarios and impossible gadgets. It had happened before, first with Moonraker, and more recently with Die Another Day. As Wilson’s producing partner, Barbara Broccoli puts it, “We set out to make a good movie each time, some are better than others.”

The key to Skyfall‘s success would be to add in those elements that audiences desired, but to do so in a way that fitted with the tone of the previous two Daniel Craig movies. Consequently the gadgets issued by Q, who is now much more computer geek than a mad scientist, are very simple: a gun that knows who is holding it, and a very small radio; while Bond’s weapon-laden DB5 is a knowing nod to Goldfinger that actually came from Eon’s own archives.

Even Moneypenny was modernized, receiving a first name –- Eve — and a personality better suited to the 21st Century than her desk-bound predecessors; a change that suited actress Naomi Harris, “What attracts me, and what my body of work is about is playing strong women. That’s what I find exciting, that’s where I find myself challenged, that’s what I like to do. If I felt like a character was in any way just weak, didn’t really have a pivotal role to play in a film in the form of drama, it wouldn’t interest me.”

Of course, every Bond film needs a villain, and in the case of Skyfall‘s, it wasn’t just the writers with ideas, “Right from the very beginning we talked to Sam and Daniel about the kind of movie they wanted.” Wade reveals, “Certainly we all wanted a worthy adversary for Bond, so the idea of [Silva] came up in the very first meeting about it all – somebody who’s like a darker version of Bond, and of a similar age.”

Played by Javier Bardem, Silva offered a counterpoint to Bond, with an even more torrid history, but played with, as Wilson describes, “a dark, fun humor.” For Wilson, Bardem’s performance was vital, “The script is the script, but how they interpret the script is quite – these two actors are great, and it’s a real head game, both seeing how far they can push the other in a psychological chess game.”

As far as Purvis is concerned, the result is a film that may be an evolution of the character, and a return to some of the classic Bond formula, but that fits perfectly with the last two, “right until the end of ‘Skyfall,’ it’s gadget-free on the whole, and it’s all quite brutal and Bond just using his wits.”

So what’s in store for the future of the franchise? Wade and Purvis have already made it known that they won’t be back for Bond 24, going off to produce their own projects, including an adaptation of JG Ballard’s “Cocaine Nights.” They may return in the future, as Purvis describes the move as them “taking a break” rather than retiring from the Bond franchise, but as Wade points out, all the pieces are in place to open with the traditional Bond formula, “The next one could theoretically start with Bond going into M’s office, and M saying, ‘here’s the mission’ and he’ll go off and do it. It could do that, because it’s set up now to do that. Maybe it will, it’ll be fun if it does.”

Then there’s Harris. Given that Moneypenny is now a bona fide agent, rather than just a secretary, is there a chance she might one day get promoted, and take over from Judi Dench, and Ralph Fiennes as M? “That’s quite a huge role, with huge shoes to fill, and I feel intimidated at just the prospect of that, so for now I’m just happy playing Moneypenny, that’s a big enough role for me.”

Meanwhile, Wilson is quite clear, “We’d love to have them all back,” he says of the team behind Skyfall, “They’re top notch.” And while neither she nor Wilson would be drawn on specifics of what we might see in the future, pointing out that they still didn’t have a draft of a script, Broccoli was clear that they want to please Bond fans, “We don’t want to disappoint audiences, and the audiences have always been so faithful to us.”