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'Skyfall' Director Mendes and Actresses Marlohe and Harris Talk Updating Bond, from Adele to Bardem

Interviews
by Anne Thompson
November 15, 2012 8:00 AM
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Marlohe in 'Skyfall'
Marlohe in 'Skyfall'

Whenever any movie, even yet another James Bond sequel, gets the kind of rave reviews and business earned by "Skyfall," the inevitable awards speculation occurs. Will it get Oscar nominations? After all, right out of the gate Brit theater director Sam Mendes' "American Beauty" swept five Oscars including director and picture. 

That's been hard to top. But Mendes had a bit of luck as well as a lot of hard work on the way to "Skyfall." One, production was stalled by the MGM bankruptcy for more than a year--which meant that he and John Logan could dig into the script started by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and make it strong enough to lure the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem. Mendes also talked frequent collaborator Roger Deakins (who might finally win after nine nominations) into taking on the cinematography, and offered Thomas Newman (who has been nominated ten times) the chance to indulge his soaring orchestral side. At the same time Mendes brought back the classic Bond tropes we know and love--while updating them for 2012. That includes digging into the relationship between Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Judi Dench), making Q (Ben Whishaw) a young computer whiz, and of course, the Bond Girls.

One of the signs that Sony is chasing Oscar was a recent Q & A with Mendes and tall French actress Berenice Marlohe, plotting a movie to LA,  and drama school grad Naomie Harris ("28 Days Later," "Miami Vice"), which I moderated. SPOILER ALERT: DONT READ ON UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN THE FILM.

'Skyfall' Bond girls Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe
USA Today 'Skyfall' Bond girls Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe

Anne Thompson:  Sam, tell me how you came to modernize the Bond Girls.

Sam Mendes: What we were really looking for when we cast Naomie was a new Miss Moneypenny.  You have no idea what a relief it is to say that. We lied through our teeth for 18 months about what she was actually playing. And so we wanted somebody who, in a sense, would reivent the rules for Moneypenny. We wanted somebody behind a desk because she chose to be, not because she was simply a simpering secretary, and who was also going to be able to go out in future episodes in the field, and was introduced in an unusual way. So in every sense we wanted somebody who was really an unconventional Bond girl. And, on top of that, I wanted somebody who could hold their own with Daniel and that’s not easy because he’s very good, and he’s demanding as an actor. And also [a Bond girl who] could hold their own when it came to action, so there were a number of boxes that had to be ticked. But it was a joy, because she managed to do all those things and more, with great grace and patience.

And then with Berenice, what happens is I put into a computer, “Design me a perfect Bond girl,” and it came back Berenice. And that’s how I cast her. Actually no, Debbie McWilliams is the casting director who has cast all  [lots of] Bond movies, I think the last fourteen movies, and literally travels the world -- the job I thought I would have, meeting lots of glamorous women -- and brings back takes of the people that she thinks are best, and then I saw Berenice on tape, I thought she was fantastic, she did exactly what we’d imagined in the script. And she came in and was delightful, and read with Dan, and he loved her too. And she was equally a pleasure and equally low maintenance. I couldn’t believe how little we had to talk about anything except what was on the page, and what was in front of the camera. And so it’s been a pleasure.

AT: So Berenice, I understand that you took quite a route trying to make it known that you were interested in this part.

Berenice Lim Marlohe: Yeah, I heard that they were looking for the Bond girl in that movie, and I felt very strongly connected to the leading person in the Bond movies, specifically the orchestration of the music since I was a kid, and –

SM: But there weren’t any jobs available in the music department.

AT: You were a classical pianist.

BM: So yeah, I knew that if it was the moment for me, then I didn’t want to miss the chance to show my work to these amazing people. So I tried to find them, to contact everybody everywhere, and finally I managed to meet Debbie McWilliams.

AT: You tracked down her email, right?

BM: Yes, indeed.

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