ComingSoon.net has spoken to director Marc Forster a couple times in the past few years, so there weren’t many people who were more excited when he signed on the dotted line to direct the 22nd James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. If you watch Forster’s extensive body of work, it might not be obvious which of his films led to the decision to direct a blockbuster action movie, whether it’s Monster’s Ball, which got Halle Berry an Oscar, his 2004 follow-up Finding Neverland, which also got a lot of Oscar recognition, or any of his movies since. Probably the movie that gave the best example of Forster’s ability to do a large film on a global scale was last year’s adaptation of The Kite Runner, which sadly went mostly unnoticed in this country.
Quantum of Solace follows right after the events of Casino Royale with a car chase through the streets of Italy, as Daniel Craig’s James Bond tries to find those responsible for Vesper Lynd’s death, ending up at Dominic Greene, a wealthy ecologically-minded industrialist played by Matthieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and meeting Camille (Russian beauty Olga Kurylenko), a South American woman looking to get revenge for a tragedy in her own past.
With the release of the action-packed sequel, it seemed like a good opportunity for us to catch up with Forster and find out his take on James Bond and what he wanted to bring to the 46-year-old film franchise.
ComingSoon.net: What was the original pitch as far as getting this job? Did they come to you or did you pitch for it? Marc Forster: No, my agent called me and said, “Look, they wanted me” and I said, “No, say, ‘Please, no thank you. I’m very honored but I don’t want to do it.'” Then he called me back and said, “Look, just out of respect, why don’t you meet them? You don’t have to do the movie obviously.” Of course we knew it was Barbara Brocolli and Michael Wilson, and it’s fascinating just to sit down and have a conversation with them. I then met them and thought they were charming and liked the ideas, but wasn’t so interested. Left, had thought about it, and then came back again, met with them again because in between that, there were a couple incidents. My DP and my editor mentioned how much they loved Bond and they tried talking me into it and other people, too. I talked to other people too and I realized how many Bond fans out there, diehard Bond fans, loads of them, like people I wouldn’t expect. I see they don’t like action particularly or they’re more the arthouse people and they say, “No, Bond is different.”
CS: It’s also an age thing, especially among guys over 35. Forster: Yeah, so then after I met Daniel Craig, I felt like that guy really inspires me, so I thought, “Okay, let’s go on this adventure” and really, it was one.
CS: I liked the fact that the movie deals with a lot of real world issues like the corporations monopolizing water. Was a lot of that in the script when you signed on originally or was that stuff you wanted to instill or bring to the mix? Forster: No, Purvis and Wade wrote a bit of a different script, it was very different, and then I brought Haggis in, and I said, “Let’s make it about natural resources and let’s make it that water’s the new thing and make it so that not everybody who’s green is necessarily a good guy. Let’s bring in all these elements.” I thought the more real we make it even when M talks to the foreign minister and said, “Look, we have to make business with them just for economic survival,” is I think an interesting concept. The more we set it in reality, the more Bond will come across real.
CS: You’ve done adaptations before, but in this case, you’re working on a franchise, working with producers who are known for having their fingers in everything. When you threw these ideas out to the producers, what was their reaction? Forster: To my surprise, they were open to anything. For instance, they say, “Oh, but don’t make it too political.” I said, “Look, they hired me. Obviously, Bond is not a political movie but we have to settle it in a political surrounding.”
CS: There are elements of the real world, but you don’t have any of the existing world leaders, as it’s set in a different universe. But they were open to all these things as long as they were in budget? Forster: Yeah, the main thing for them, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to do the film; now they’re going to hand me a Bond rulebook” and the only rule they said to me was, “Look, be free to create your version of it, but Bond can’t kill any innocent people.” I thought that was very reasonable; I don’t want to do that either, but that was the only rule that was mentioned to me. Even with product placement, I was never pushed to shoot anything.
CS: I didn’t really notice any at all. Was there any in the movie? I didn’t notice anything obvious like the Sony cell phones and laptops in “Casino Royale.” Forster: No, that’s why I just sort of threw it out.
CS: Until you mentioned that, I didn’t even notice or realize that. One of the constants for this movie is composer David Arnold, who’s composed the score for the last five Bond movies. I was curious how it was working with him, because at a certain point, he does the Bond movies in a way that’s been successful. How did you approach working with him? Forster: Basically, I exchanged the entire crew, everybody I switched out except for David Arnold, and I kept him because I think he’s doing a really good job with those, and he was a great collaborator. I sort of had ideas with the temp track and my editor as we were shooting was playing that to David, and David was writing music during the time we were shooting based on the script. I just wanted to hear his ideas, and I thought I didn’t want to go too orchestral with a lot of things. I was like, “Let’s try to keep a little bit away from that, keep it a little more modern” and I think the score, for him, is a little bit more of a departure from the previous Bond scores. I just loved collaborating with him. He was just smart, and the way I imagined the Bond theme. I wanted the Bond theme to come in and play but I didn’t want it to be over the top and on the nose, because that can easily happen really quick like when John Williams did with the last “Indiana Jones.”
CS: Yeah, you’d think that David has done so many of these movies, he’d know exactly what has to be done. One thing about your other movies is that the soundtracks have always been very distinctive”Stranger Than Fiction”, “Stay”which is why I wondered about that. Forster: No, I just thought let’s move him in the direction I want to go, and even with the action sequences, I thought let’s just try to steer away from the typical thing. Let’s just see what we can do a little different.
CS: Earlier you mentioned the boat chase you weren’t able to do because of the location, because in the movie, the boat chase is the one thing that seems very typical to older Bond like we’ve seen before. Was it important for you to create your own distinctive car chase or boat chase that we haven’t seen before? Forster: Yes, and that’s why with the boat chase, it was the one place where I felt like I had to make a compromise, because the boat chase I had in my mind would have blown people’s mind, and it would have been so incredible, but I had to shoot it all in that harbor. It was still important to have that chase there, but it wasn’t as interesting or as spectacular as it could have been.
CS: I think the dogfight with the cargo plane made up for that, as that’s something I’ve never seen before. Going into designing the action sequences, like one of the simpler ones with them fighting while hanging from the ropes. Do you lay all of this out very closely beforehand? Forster: Yeah, first, it was the idea of them coming in from the bottom and fighting up the scaffold, and I never liked that in the script, so I thought I’d have them crash in from the top and then crash down and then climb on these ropes and then have this effect where it’s all 3-dimensional. We basically built a little model and we discussed it with the stunt coordinator, because we had to rehearse everything. Chris Corbould, the special FX guy, we all literally walked through and “This happens, then this” then we did a pre-vis of the entire scene, and everything was so planned to the detail. You sort of almost have to because that scene is so complex, that it doesn’t work any other way.
CS: There are so many different elements in that scene, and I didn’t think you could just go onto that set and figure things out there. Forster: No, that was all pre-planned to the detail. I mean, once we came to the set, it’s just execution.
CS: You did some of this in “Kite Runner” but what about doing these action scenes where you have thousands of extras just there, especially in Italy, where you have a scene where Bond is chasing the bad guy through this huge crowd. How do you manage that? Were you able to use some of the things you learned while making “Kite Runner” in a scene like that? Forster: Yeah, and I think it’s just that usually, you need a really good AD (assistant director) team who’s in charge and has a lot of great P.A.s (production assistants), especially in foreign countries, where they don’t speak the language and that’s really crucial. That one actually went pretty smooth. I mean, “Kite Runner” was ten times more difficult with those extras because nobody spoke the language, and sometimes I felt in “Kite Runner,” I felt we had these scenes of footage where you felt like you were in “Night of the Living Dead” with people just walking around like that or didn’t know what to do. It was crazy.
CS: I read somewhere that they asked you to do another Bond movie and you didn’t want to do that or another action movie right away. Is there anything that you might consider challenging at this point? Forster: No, I’d still love to do a sci-fi movie, I’d love to do a musical, I’d love to do a big sort of epic love story, so those are the subject matters I’d still like to do.
CS: You’ve really covered a lot of ground with the last five or six movies, which not a lot of directors can say about their body of work. Forster: No, but it’s funny; people say, “So what is a typical Marc Forster movie then?” If you look at them actually very closely, if you forget the world they’re set in, but if you take the characters, they’re all very similar. They’re all very emotionally repressed, sort of closed characters, like Bond himself and what he’s going through, like Will Ferrell or Johnny Depp in “Finding Neverland,” they’re always very similar male characters.
CS: Also the visual style I tend to notice since you’ve worked with the same visual FX guys on so many movies. There’s a movie called “The Jury” written by Peter Morgan on your roster, is that something you’re still interested in doing? Forster: It’s very early in development. Peter Morgan wrote the series set in the early ’90s in London and another writer is writing the screenplay now, but I’m not sure. I haven’t read the draft yet and it’s still early in development.
CS: After doing the Bond movie, would you be interested in doing another franchise, either existing or a new one? Forster: If I would do it, I would have to sort of create my own, not necessarily action, but it could also be like fantasy.
CS: Do you read a lot of that stuff or follow the genre? Forster: Yeah, I do, but nothing really jumps to mind at this point. I’m still looking and being open and seeing what sort of comes.
And here’s more with Forster from a group interview done earlier that same day:
CS: A big thing about the movie was when the title was announced which left people scratching their heads. There isn’t a lot of “solace” in the movie, so who came up with the title and what’s that about? Forster: When I first found out the title, Barbara and Michael, our producers asked me in their office, and there was sort of this board, and “Quantum of Solace” was there. They said, “So, what do you think of the title?” And I said, “Quantum of Solace’? What’s that about?” Basically, it’s a short story from Fleming and it’s one of the last few titles left. There are only like two more left after that that Fleming ever used, and the short story has nothing to do with the movie. There’s a nice little paragraph in the short story where a governor explains to Bond at this ball, he explains to Bond what “Quantum of Solace” means to him. That in a sense, in the beginning it took me a little while to get used to it, but now the title grew on me. I really like it and I tried to include it. Yes, Bond gets him “Quantum of Solace” at the end of the movie and Quantum is the organization.
CS: I don’t think people realized it was from the title of an Ian Fleming short story, which is what threw them off. Forster: Yeah, but still, it’s like an odd — I mean, who would come up with a title like that? It’s very odd to me.
CS: What did you want to do to put your own stamp on this Bond movie? Marc Forster: It was crucial to include my sensitivity. I basically thought, “Okay, what is the “Bond” film I always wanted to see?” I thought first in reference I included very specifically all the visual sort of styles from the sixties, some of the retro stylistic references I liked from Ken Adams’ designs, and then in the Bond films I thought the MI6 offices were always outdated, so I wanted to recreate the entire MI6 look completely new and modernize that with the graphics and use a new artist for the title sequence. Started to think what was the influence in the early “Bond” movies, which I always thought came a little bit from Hitchcock. Looking at Hitchcock movies, what could be the influence to those early “Bond” movies and started from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in that opera sequence was an influence and started thinking, “Okay, stylistically, how do I want to tell those action sequences?” Then I thought because it’s a Bond film, I should set them in the four elements, the big action sequences are fire, water, air. I felt I wanted to tell a story within them that they move like the character, forward, especially with Camille and Bond in a boat sequence, a plane sequence, and then at the end, a fire sequence. Then the technique of the intercutting was something which I wanted to do because I thought it would be more interesting than just purely having action sequences, it was more my sensitivity and storytelling. I felt I wanted to dive further into the pain of Bond to create an emotional texture of Bond to get a little bit more under the skin. I felt I wanted to also go back to specifically like those ’70s thrillers. The movie should feel really fast I thought. It should start like a thriller and keep you on the edge of your seat until the last frame, so I started developing the entire movie. When I first came, the producers in a way had a script, but an unfinished one, then I brought Haggis in, and as I brought Haggis in, I was scouting all of the world for locations and chose locations according to what I saw and sort of insert them in the script and just try to make it my vision.
CS: What was the plan for approaching the movie as a direct sequel to “Casino Royale” since it starts literally where that ends? Forster: When I first met Barbara and Michael, the producers, they said, “Look we want to start half an hour after ‘Casino Royale’ and it should be a direct sequel.” In a sense, I thought it was interesting because I thought I don’t have to deal with Bond fresh after he lost the love of his life in the last one, but now we have a Bond again, “Oh, where are the next ten women I can consume?” It’s like literally a Bond who is in pain and who is dealing with this emotional texture. That’s why I created this character of Camille to have a mirror to Bond, that she is sort of after revenge as well, that was the idea.
CS: Sequels often use flashbacks to the previous movie for people to know what happened, but there are none here. Was that a conscious decision? Forster: The producers first wanted flashbacks, but I was very against it, and I wanted to have this sort of sequel without it. Also, you know I feel like even in certain movies sometimes when I see it and they explain things, I feel like it just doesn’t feel right to me, so I decided against it.
CS: Could you talk about what Daniel Craig brings to all of this? Forster: I think first, his interpretation of Bond, he humanized the character. He plays the character I think closer to the way Ian Fleming wrote Bond than anybody ever has done before. I also think he’s just a really smart actor and it was the reason why eventually I signed on because I felt like he’s a real collaborator and would help me in the process that we could really create the movie as I envisioned and he really was that.
CS: It’s interesting to see what Dame Judy is bringing to this, too. Forster: Yeah, I wanted to make her part bigger because I think she’s such a brilliant actress and she’s always underused in those “Bond” films. I just love her, like she could read the phone book and I would watch her.
CS: Can you also talk about Mathieu and how you had him be a bad guy after he’s played all these quite, nice guy protagonists in so many French films. Can you talk about how you came up with him? Forster: I just always loved his French movies and I think he’s such an interesting actor, so I brought him in and the first thing he said to me, “So can I have a scar or a hook or something?” And I said, “What?” He said, “No, I need a crutch to play the villain. I’m playing a Bond villain, I want some scars and hooks and stuff.”
CS: Like a cat maybe? Forster: Exactly. Yeah, I love Blofeld, he’s a great villain. So I said to him, “Look, I think it just doesn’t really work. I think you should just play this sort of totally straight, nice guy. At the beginning, he was a little bit insecure about it, but then he trusted it and said, “Okay, let’s try that.” I just thought it would be interesting to play it differently than all the other “Bond” villains.
CS: In this movie and in “Casino Royale”, we’ve established a different kind of “Bond” girl. It’s not the brainless beauty and that’s it, and Camille is definitely not your typical “Bond” girl. Forster: I thought in the last movie he lost the love of his life. I felt you can’t have him fall in love again. I thought you need a sort of mirror image to him to sort of create a character. A “Bond” girl these days it just can’t be an object of beauty. I think it should be a three dimensional character and I thought it would be an opportunity to create an equal to Bond and that’s what I did with Camille.
CS: The casting of “Bond” girls is always a big part of the movie, so what was it about Olga that interested you in her for this role? Forster: After hundreds of tapes, and a couple of people reading for me, I brought four or five girls in to read with Daniel himself and see what the chemistry is like. Olga just had the best chemistry and was best suited for the role, but it’s just a hard process because you’re just looking for so many qualities and you just want to make sure that Daniel and her visually look good together and there is a chemistry, and so on and so forth.
CS: You stripped Bond down from all the gadgets and stuff even more than “Casino Royale” did, too. Forster: I just felt like we have so many gadgets in our lives these days and also gadgetry in general reminds me of superheroes these days and take away a little bit from reality. And I feel like I didn’t want to go in sort of this more comic, super hero world because it was more, I thought, interesting I thought to set Bond in reality, in a sort of background that is slightly politically accurate what’s happening today and I thought it would be more believable to follow him.
CS: There’s so many action sequences but at any time did anyone look at what you wanted to do and said, “There’s no way we can do this”? Forster: Basically, when I first set up those sequences I thought, “Okay, this is going to be tricky and crazy.” Like with everything, with every dramatic sequence, you just start to break them down. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do with Sienna (in Italy). That was a very hard sequence to achieve. It’s basically step by step you just put them together and it needs a lot of patience and just lot of preproduction, but the main bubble for the movie for me is in pre-production. That’s where I set the vision, where I break everything down, and once I start shooting, it’s more of an execution.
CS: Since this was a sequel to an action-packed movie, did you feel you had to up the ante in terms of the action? Forster: Not really, but I did feel like there is an enormous amount of expectations and the pressure to really deliver something special, because people loved “Casino Royale” so much. I just felt like, I’m doing an action film, so I really want to do some really great action, and tried to figure out the most interesting way I would like to see action. That sort of was the goal.
CS: So, what are the things you got out of it doing action that you really think you’ll carry on with you in whatever you are doing? Forster: I just learned a lot about action. I felt like it’s so essential that action needs to tell a story and there always has to be also in an action film what I realized, if you’re not connecting with your lead character, than even the most spectacular action is sort of empty. I feel like in a small movie you always have to connect emotionally to your lead character, but what I also learned is shooting in six countries, juggling an enormous amount of crew. The first time I’d ever shot with second unit, really communicating to people what you want and what they should get for you. The clarity of communication is crucial to get to that end result because you have crews that are always working ahead of you. Even my production designer, if I’m in London, he’s in Panama. When I get to Panama, he shows me the sets and moves onto Chile. When I choose the locations I come into this room and say, “Oh, I want the wall green,” and you decide what the color green is you want. When you get there, often it’s really different from what you wanted and things like that, you can go crazy, or at least I can, because it’s all in the details for me.
CS: Can you talk about some of the injuries and incidents that happened on the set? Some called it the “James Bond jinx,” so did you feel that ever? Forster: No, I thought actually opposite that we were very lucky. We had one bad accident. That first Aston Martin going into Lake Garda wasn’t owned by production and had nothing to do with us. It was a separate car owned by Aston Martin and an engineer drove it to a press conference for Aston Marin not even linked to us and he was going to breakfast in the morning and put it in the lake. We were shooting on the other side of the lake so they linked it to us. So then the second, the accident that had something to do with us was a stuntman named Alfra Romeo, and there was a horrible accident. Thank God, the stunt guy’s back is to almost 100 percent. He went after six weeks and was able to be out of the hospital and he’s fine again. Then we had two minor injuries with Daniel where he cut his finger in a fight scene, and he got a tiny hit here with the micro stitches. I mean he was working the next day on both occasions. But that was it, and so from the one bad accident to the minor things with Daniel, I think no, I didn’t feel that way. On the one hand, it was important for me to feel his sort of physicality and his pain, but at the same time that you feel like he is spent, and he has endurance to keep going. I think that’s a sort of Bond characteristic that he has to have a sort of endurance though. There is an emotional tissue which is slightly damaged.
CS: Even though you won’t be doing a “Bond” film again, do you have a sense of where the character is going to go next and did you try to set up anything that might pay off in future movies? Forster: I think he’s sort of set up that he finds “Quantum of Solace,” the story’s completed, and either if they want to do a trilogy, they can follow into the heart of “Quantum” and follow that organization and go further up the ranks to find it, or they can start anew with a sort of different story line.
CS: Having made a movie with the biggest budget you’ve had so far, does it kind of spoil it for you to go back to doing smaller movies? Forster: No, you have to make compromises on this movie as well as any other movie, and in a sense yes, you get all the much more toys you want, and much more freedom than in other films, but ultimately I had to make compromises and cut the two scenes, and slim things down. I think it’s the usual thing you have to do with pretty much every film.
CS: So what then for you is next? “Monster’s Ball 2”? Forster: (laughter) Yeah, probably. That film was two people at a table talking.
Quantum of Solace opens nationwide on Friday, November 14. Look for more interviews with the cast later this week.