By Matt Mueller | Thompson on Hollywood November 3, 2011 at 5:11AM
At a press conference in London’s Whitehall district Thursday, director Sam Mendes confirmed the swirls of rumors surrounding Bond 23, from the new title to casting. Matt Mueller was there.
Confirming weeks of speculation, with producer Michael G. Wilson calling it “the worst kept secret in London”, the title of the 23rd official 007 adventure was today unveiled as Skyfall. The choice of location was deliberate, according to Mendes: Whitehall, Britain’s corridor of power, will play host to “a large section of shooting” on the latest James Bond production, which officially begins on 7 November.
Fifty years to the day from Sean Connery being announced as the original 007, Mendes introduced Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, returning as M for the seventh time, Javier Bardem as the new outing’s chief villain, and the two Bond girls, French actress Berenice Marlohe and British actress Naomie Harris. Confirmed for roles but not in attendance were Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw.
Mendes quickly settled two things: contrary to rumour that the film would favour drama over spectacle, Skyfall will feature “plenty of action”; and the mysterious Quantum organisation which has hovered SPECTRE-like over Craig’s first two Bond films, Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, has been jettisoned for Skyfall, which the director classified as a standalone adventure not linked to any of Ian Fleming’s 007 works.
Wilson denied reports that the budget had been scaled back after Quantum Of Solace, the most expensive Bond movie to date, failed to perform as well as Casino Royale. “It’s in the same range as the last film,” he insisted. “We haven’t had to sacrifice anything.” The only locations confirmed were Shanghai and “other parts” of China, Istanbul and “other parts” of Turkey and “the wilds of Scotland”, so it certainly appears there will be less globetrotting than in Solace. (No mention of India, which at one point was expected to play a significant part in the new adventure, including a train-top set-piece.)
007 press launches are always cagy affairs, and this one proved the same. Marlohe and Harris were allowed to utter one line about their characters before Eon’s brusque moderator silenced them (Marlohe: “I play a glamorous, enigmatic character called Severine”; Harris: “I play a field agent called Eve”). Asked about being chased to play villains in big productions, Bardem (whose character name wasn’t revealed) retorted, “Who says a villain is a bad person?” and declared it “a pleasure and an honour to be here.” A question about what physical training the actors had engaged in prompted the Spanish star to joke, “I’ve been learning the English vowels”.
Plot details were unforthcoming. Mendes, who will be working alongside his Jarhead/Revolutionary Road Director of Photography Roger Deakins and Jarhead/Road To Perdition production designer Dennis Gassner, promised “lots of surprises” in the story, which he credited to Neil Purvis, Rob Wade and John Logan (no mention of Peter Morgan, who was known to be working on Bond 23 at one stage). “It has all the elements of a classic Bond movie,” said Mendes.
A question about whether the Oscar-winning director’s appointment combined with the high-pedigree cast signified an intention to take the franchise in a more highbrow direction was greeted with laughter by Craig, who exclaimed, “No, the opposite!” As for the title Skyfall, Bond gatekeeper Barbara Broccoli said “it has some emotional context which will be revealed in the film.”
Next year marks 50 years since the release of the very first Bond escapade, Dr. No, with Wilson declaring that “Sony, MGM and ourselves” are looking at a lot of opportunities to celebrate the franchise’s golden anniversary next year. He also revealed that a documentary is currently in production that will look back over the entire history of the series.