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Interview: Sam Mendes Talks Directing 'Skyfall,' Pursuing Javier Bardem For The Villain & Misconceptions About The Bond Producers' Control

by Drew Taylor
November 6, 2012 2:52 PM
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Sam Mendes, Skyfall

This weekend, "Skyfall" is unleashed on cinemas nationwide. Almost from the very first sequence you will realize this is a very, very James Bond movie, and although it's the third in the Daniel Craig series, "Skyfall" almost feels like a hard reboot of the entire franchise, with winking nods to the previous entries and some bold expansion in other areas. The film is also laced with both melancholy and humor, both of which were absent in the hard-driven previous two.

We recently sat down with the fim's director Sam Mendes, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker behind "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition," and spoke with him about the challenges he faced in taking on such a beloved franchise, what he intended to do with the series, and where his significantly reconfigured Bond could go. At one point, when talking about the refreshed look of the movie, achieved in conjunction with genius cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes told us that he was trying desperately to make a James Bond movie that looked really different. "Could you tell?" he asked. Yes, absolutely. And for those wondering about the Bond's bullseye "spoiler," Mendes notes: "It’s always at the beginning of the movie. We tried it to put it in the opening.. It just didn’t work."

But like most other things re-thought and re-tooled for "Skyfall," it all fits into a picture that audiences are welcoming in a big way. Below, our extensive chat with Sam Mendes. Some spoilers ahead.

Were you always interested in doing a Bond movie?
No, not at all. It all came with Daniel [Craig], really. I was never interested and I don’t think I saw most of the Pierce Brosnan ones. I was not into them at the time and then when Daniel got cast I was interested because he was a friend and I had worked with him. And I thought, "Wow, I thought that I wasn't interested." I was on record as saying that I didn’t think he was good casting. Then I saw it and was blown away and was suddenly interested again, as a character, and eager to see the next one. I was slightly disappointed with ‘Quantum’ although I think it’s got a bit of a short shrift, there’s a lot in it that’s interesting. But when I met with Daniel and he asked whether or not I was interested in doing it, I found myself saying yes very quickly. It was just good timing.

Skyfall Daniel Craig
Was the back-to-basics stuff always part of it?
Well, there’s lots of back-to-basics stuff in it, but in a new way. I was interested in rediscovering MI-6, rediscovering England, Q, Moneypenny, and that whole world. And also the nods to the great movies of the sixties, the DB5, all that stuff was stuff that I was eager to get back into.

Was there a favorite or one that you wanted to draw from?
No. Where I stole from was the last two Fleming novels – “Man with the Golden Gun” and “You Only Live Twice.” In the movie versions they abandoned a lot of the dark stuff from the books, because the Bond of those later books is very cynical, kind of dark, really interesting. And I thought that was something that we could play around with at the beginning of the movie, after Bond has gone into the depths and lost himself and is woken up by this terrorist attack.

Was Adele always your choice and was that style always the plan?
She was always my choice and yes, it was – write a great ballad. Her only concern was that she said, "Look, I write personal songs, how am I going to write about Bond?" I said, "Make it a personal song." “Nobody Does It Better” is an incredibly personal song, but they throw "The Spy Who Loved Me" into the middle of it. And she was like, "Oh okay." I said just write the song you want to write and try to apply it. But she wrote a song that was much more specific to the script, but I would have accepted anything. When you see the movie, it starts with "This is the end…" and he’s going down and the opening sequence, it was always my idea, would be him going down into the water and down into the underworld. And she just got it.

How much involvement did you have in that title sequence?
Well I gave Danny Kleinman the sort of fundamental idea – that it’s all about the house, the cave, the shadows, the arches, everything underground – but then he took it from there. He’s very gifted and he put his own take on it. And it’s pretty amazing.

What was the creative push-and-pull like with the powers that be? The common perception is that it’s tough to get away with stuff in such an established franchise.
That’s not true at all. I can only speak to my own experience, but I said, "Look, these are the things I want to do." And they said, "Look, it’s your movie. Go do it." And it really felt like that throughout. I felt not a moment where they were telling me I couldn’t do stuff because they didn’t like it. Occasionally there were discussions about whether or not this was a “Bond thing to do” or not, but their opinions were almost always things I agreed with. I feel like they wanted me to make the best movie I could. It was my Bond movie and I needed to take it in a new and interesting direction. That’s always what I felt. They’re really generous and what makes them such remarkable producers is that they have the ability to make you feel like your vision is the most important thing.

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  • Sarah | November 7, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    Its interesting reading this and learning what Sam Mendes was trying to achieve. I am beyond excited for this new Bond movie, I love that it is taking a darker tone than any of the previous films. I will also be watching to see all of the shout outs to the previous movies; it’s nice that he thought to include those. To prepare for this movie, a coworker at DISH and I have been re-watching all of the previous ones. It is interesting to see how much they have changed throughout the years and how different Daniel Craig is from previous James Bonds. Watching the movies has been really easy with Blockbuster @Home from DISH. I love that you can get the DVD delivered through the mail, or exchange it in the store if we can’t wait. This movie seems like it is going to really change the Bond movies from now on, and I am thrilled to watch that transformation.

  • Ed | November 6, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    I'm going to be honest: I really didn't get into the film. I never felt any suspense - thanks to Thomas Newman's music (which sounded totally disconnected with what was on the screen), and the slow story line. The whole film felt lost to me, so I read this article to understand what Sam Mendes was trying to achieve. Now I don't think he knew either. It's not an especially dark film. Daniel Craig looked in top physical shape throughout, and immaculately dressed (very inconspicuous?) in Istanbul/opening sequence. The film was totally 2 dimensional, there was nothing to think about. It was more like an episode of the A-team towards the end. I think (re-)introducing 3 new permanent characters was an interesting step, but the audience was never given a reason to like them. In fact, all the characters (except Q) including Bond seemed completely incompetent at their jobs. We're also supposed to believe a sly army officer is somehow qualified to run mi6? There wasn't a scene that I found believable. The poor quality CGI didn't help. I hope there is a directors cut, which does this Bond episode more justice. I could go on about things that could have been done to a more authentic standard. But it may ruin it for others...

  • Olaf | November 6, 2012 3:31 PMReply

    It's not "some", I mean.

  • Olaf | November 6, 2012 3:30 PMReply


  • Piotr | November 6, 2012 3:26 PMReply

    Um, spoilers.

  • Yss | November 6, 2012 3:22 PMReply

    The movie is fantastic but My Lord the cinematography is on a whole nother level, so beautiful, so many iconic images... Great work by Mr. Deakins!

  • Christian | November 6, 2012 3:02 PMReply

    Good luck topping this one! Best action of 2012 next to The Dark Knight Rises. Thanks, Sam Mendes!

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