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Immersed in Movies: Production Designer Dennis Gassner Talks 'Skyfall'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 28, 2012 at 2:31PM

One of the great pleasures of doing a Bond movie for Dennis Gassner is that he gets to be 007 before Daniel Craig. On "Quantum of Solace," his first, the Oscar-winning production designer ("Bugsy") created a pattern language based on the actor's blue eyes and craggy face. But on "Skyfall," he went further in shaping the world of Bond...
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Daniel Craig as James Bond in "Skyfall"
Daniel Craig as James Bond in "Skyfall"

One of the great pleasures of doing a Bond movie for Dennis Gassner is that he gets to be 007 before Daniel Craig. On "Quantum of Solace," his first, the Oscar-winning production designer ("Bugsy") created a pattern language based on the actor's blue eyes and craggy face. But on "Skyfall," he went further in shaping the world of Bond, and channeling the actor, creating a tension between the old and the new, the classical and the modern. Like cinematographer Roger Deakins, Gassner found inspiration in a rich rite of passage story, creating a dense mosaic out of varied locations that fell into place organically.

Take the bridge in Turkey where Bond nearly falls to his death during the powerful pre-credit sequence. It was essential that Gassner find the right one. He had already scoured the world but his search was proving futile. Fortunately, like everyone else on "Skyfall," he had the luxury of time as a result of the MGM bankruptcy, which pushed back production from 2011 to this year.

"We needed to put Bond somewhere that was totally unique," Gassner recalls. "I looked at so many bridges in nine countries, trying to find the right one and the right feeling. And I remember getting on this bridge in Turkey and standing in the center by myself and I said, 'I want Daniel to be here right now.' I get to be him first and I thought this is where he needs to be to play the scene. And the big question was: Will he do it? It was a pretty impressive place [the Varda Viaduct outside of Adana]. It seemed so iconically perfect [with its stone arch structure] to play a scene where you knew if he went off that bridge something was going to happen. He's going into another world and he comes up in a place that is his own parallel universe."

But it worked out perfectly, as did Istanbul, which was a blessing and contained the right softness that suited director Sam Mendes, whom Gassner had worked with previously on "Road to Perdition." It was all about finding the right place at the right time, guided by a 50-year Bondian collective unconscious.

"The privilege of this one was going back and mining the legacy," he says. "Bond's an abstract hero and this is more about who he is. Daniel really, really looked good. Something had changed in him: he's thinner, he's stronger; he has a quality to him that difference from the dynamo he played in 'Casino Royale.' To me, this is the first film that I really felt he looked like Bond. He could survive dying to resurrect and rebuild himself on this journey.

"I traveled so much. I thought the last film was arduous but this was beyond that. Where can you go that hasn't been touched in a Bond film? That takes time and energy. But there are cost concerns and politics to deal with (India was too complicated). You balance what's right for the movie and what you can afford and how it works."

This article is related to: Skyfall, Sam Mendes, Production , Interviews , Features, Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.