By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 28, 2011 at 11:53AM
When it was announced that Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, a man best known for prestige pictures like "American Beauty" and "Revolutionary Road," would be directing the new James Bond film, it was generally seen as something of a curveball. And if anyone was expecting business as usual for the franchise (especially after the poorly-received "Quantum of Solace"), they were mistaken. While previous entries have been made up of acclaimed, but relatively small names like Mads Mikkelsen and Mathieu Amalric, Mendes has stacked his deck with a host of award winners.
Joining Daniel Craig and Judi Dench for the new installment, rumored to be titled "Skyfall," were Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes, both Oscar-lauded actors a few steps above the usual Bond villain names, while much-praised stage actors like Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Helen McCrory and Rory Kinnear (who appeared in "Quantum of Solace" as M's right-hand man, but will have a bumped-up role this time out) are also on board, along with relative newcomer Berenice Marlohe, who'll play the Bond girl. And they've been joined by another acting legend, one with recent experience in the spy genre.
Baz Bamigboye, who's been the first stop for casting on the project throughout, reports that the great Albert Finney joined the cast for a recent table read and has landed "a reasonably big role" as a higher-up at the British Foreign Office, and M (Judi Dench)'s superior. Finney is, obviously, a much-lauded star of stage and screen with a career stretching back over 50 years, and is a five-time Oscar-nominee, most recently a decade ago for "Erin Brokovich."
He's been away from the screen for almost five years, battling prostate cancer, but 2012 will see him pull a double-header in the two big spy franchises, as he's also reprising his role as creepy Mengele-esque mastermind Dr. Albert Hirsch in Tony Gilroy's "The Bourne Legacy," having already appeared in the last installment, 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum." Our guess is that his Bond role is the one that Mendes was pursuing "The Deep Blue Sea" star Simon Russell Beale for, until the actor had to step out of the running due to stage commitments in London.
Considering the wealth of talent involved and a script by "The Aviator" and "Coriolanus" scribe John Logan (who Bamigboye reports is being courted for future films), this is certainly the most eagerly anticipated Bond flick in years, which is fitting, as the film will be released almost exactly 50 years after the first movie, "Dr. No.." Shooting finally begins next week, and there is a press conference scheduled at Pinewood Studios so we're expecting a few more details -- and perhaps the official title -- will arrive at that time. "James Bond 23" hits theaters on November 9, 2012 (with a European release coming two weeks earlier).