/Film Interview: ‘Skyfall’ Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson Chat About Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, and That Jaw-Dropping Ending
Posted on Friday, November 9th, 2012 by Angie Han
Director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig may be the big marquee names of Skyfall, but the real driving forces behind the Bond franchise have long been Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. The half-siblings are the daughter and stepson, respectively, of late producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli — the man who, along with producer Harry Saltzman, first brought Ian Fleming‘s now-iconic spy to the silver screen in 1962 — and have been involved with the series since the Roger Moore era.
At a recent Skyfall press day in New York, I got to speak with the pair about what Mendes brings to the franchise, the advantages of having Craig on board, the importance of interesting female characters, and whether perennial fan favorite Christopher Nolan might ever direct an installment. Hit the jump to read on.
/Film: How much freedom did you give Sam Mendes to take over with the new film? The Bond franchise has a reputation for being kind of producer-driven, and obviously there’s so much mythology. So how much freedom did he have in deciding what he wanted to do?
BB: Well, I think there’s no point in hiring someone like Sam Mendes and then giving him some handcuffs and telling him what to do. There are certain parameters that you have to set with a Bond film because it’s a character that has existed for 60 years, and it’s a cinemagoing tradition for 50. So there are certain parameters that you have to set. But I think he was as aware of those as we are. He wanted to make the best Bond film ever, and so it kind of worked out. We’re very involved in the process. The parameters are set basically when you have a screenplay, and then we discussed all the key crew people and all the cast and everything, and we really had a great collaboration with him. He’s directed a great Bond movie.
So does this mean that the franchise might be going in a more director-driven direction?
MGW: I think we’ve been using really good directors over the last nine or ten films. I think it’s always been going in that direction. Different directors bring something different to it. With Daniel coming onboard, it’s given directors more opportunity, and the writers more opportunity, to explore other areas of the Bond character. We’re very involved in the script part, and that’s really the heart of the film. And then the director and the actors and everyone sort of reinterprets that work to produce this.
There have been a lot of rumors about Christopher Nolan possibly being interested in directing a Bond film. Can you address those at all? Like have you spoken with him?
BB: Well, we’re huge fans of Chris Nolan, obviously. We had met with him many years ago and he has been, you know, in charge of the whole Batman series, so there wasn’t really an opportunity for us to work together. I think he’s a great director. I think we’re really happy with Sam, and hope that we’ll continue working with Sam. Don’t know whether Chris well ever do one of these.
We were talking a little bit about the story, and I thought the story was great, I thought the villain was especially fantastic because he really raised the emotional stakes. So I wanted to ask how you came up with that story. What was the process of coming up with that plotline?
BB: I think we always start off with, when we sit down with the writers we always talk about, we always have two starting points. It always begins with the character of Bond, but we always say two things. One is, what is he gonna be up against in terms of the villain and the villain’s plan? And so we try to figure out what the world is frightened of, and we try to create a character, the villain, who is a physical embodiment of that fear. I think the idea of cyberterrorism is something that we’re all very aware of, that things can be done effectively with little effort, really, in terms of the computer world. And then we also try to put Bond through some sort of emotionally challenging story. In terms of Casino Royale, it was obviously falling in love with Vesper. Quantum of Solace, it was seeking revenge, putting that story to rest. And with this, it’s having the most important person in his life in peril and being unable to save her. So we start with the Bond character and where we’re going to take him physically and emotionally.
[NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SKYFALL APPEAR FROM HERE ON OUT. Step away if you've yet to see the movie. Go on, we'll wait.]
Was it tough to make the decision to kill off Judi Dench’s M? And don’t worry, I’ll put this behind a spoiler alert.
MGW: It was an issue that we wrestled for many, many weeks, debated it quite a bit. But it’s always a, you know, you want to make the best film you can, you want to tell the best story you can, and in the end this seemed to be the best result for the film. Because we didn’t create a character that was purely lily-white. It was a person that had to make a lot of difficult decisions, and didn’t have very clean hands, and even Javier [Bardem]‘s character has some justification for his obsession. It creates this complex character and a complex situation that seems best resolved the way it was.
Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were the start of the new Daniel Craig Bond, but it also felt like Skyfall was the start of a new chapter. You introduced a new M, you introduced Q, you introduced Moneypenny, and all that stuff.
MGW: I’m glad you felt that, that’s great.
So where do you see Bond’s emotional journey going from here? In the film, one of the themes is that he’s aging, and I wanted to know, for example, is that something that we’re going to see more of?
BB: I think it’s not so much that he’s aging. I think that the idea at the beginning of this film, you know, having been betrayed and having been shot, he’s, as Ralph Fiennes says, he’s lost a step. And so the beginning of the film is about him coming back. I think by the end of the film, he’s back on top. He’s in peak condition, and he’s ready to take on the world. Bond is a very heroic character, and I think what Daniel has managed to do is to make him very human and to let us, the audience, into his inner world. We feel his pain, we understand the conflicts that are within him, and the crisis he goes through when he has to make difficult decisions. I think it’s given the character a lot of humanity. I think that idea, we will continue to pursue. The inner conflicts, the emotional complexity of the character, as long as we can go forward with Daniel, I think that’s what we will be pursuing.
I agree that that’s part of what makes Daniel Craig’s Bond so special. When something happens to him, I really feel for him. It’s not just your standard thriller where, you know, you feel bad for the character, but you don’t feel emotionally connected, so I think he does a great job with that.
BB: I mean, he cries in this film. When she dies, he cries.
Bond has a reputation as a very masculine fantasy. But it seems like in recent installments we’ve had a lot of great female characters like M, and in this one we have Moneypenny. I thought Vesper was fantastic. Has it been a conscious decision to try and draw in a more female audience or modernize the franchise?
BB: I think it’s just a result of wanting to make more interesting stories. I think women are interesting, and his relationships with women are very interesting. The fact that M was a woman, I think, brought a lot of dynamics to the role and to the relationship with Bond that weren’t necessarily there when a man was playing them. Judi also has been such an extraordinary actress that she’s taken that character to different extremes. She does have a soft spot for him, she is emotionally attached to him, and their relationship is a very complicated one, because it’s authoritative. She’s the only person that he has to answer to. She’s maternal as well, it’s very very complex. I think it just makes the stories richer when you have interesting female characters. I tend to find movies without women in them quite dull, personally. Don’t you?
MGW: Yeah. Depends on the woman.
BB: Hm. Depends on the woman, but I mean, all-male movies — I mean, a prison movie or a war film, you know. But it’s just more interesting when you have complicated relationships, and relationships between men and women are usually very complicated.
In the documentary [Everything or Nothing], you were talking about how Timothy Dalton’s Bond was a little too dark, or people felt at the time that it was a little dark, so it was a little bit ahead of its time. What made this time the right time to reintroduce a darker Bond and did you fear a backlash when you were going in that direction with the Daniel Craig films?
MGW: I suppose to say it’s dark, it’s dark in comparison with some that are more flippant, or more science fiction-y, or more fantasy-driven. But I think Casino Royale was a fairly dark film too. The story comes from Fleming, it was that first Fleming story, it was a pretty dark story. But it does explain how Bond became the way he was. I think just having Daniel there, and the stories and everything, we can sort of explore all kinds of aspects. In a funny way, in spite of what happens, this isn’t a really grim, dark film at all, this is more of a thriller.
I don’t think it’s grim, it’s just that especially compared — we were just coming off the Pierce Brosnan ones, which I think were lighter and more escapist.
MGW: Yeah, yeah, this is very much a straight thriller, action-thriller. I think Javier there makes it — you can’t help but smile, even though he’s somewhat a horrific character. The way he does it, it kind adds something.
Oh, you can just tell he’s having so much fun with it. And that makes it fun to watch.
MGW: It’s fun being evil.
BB: He’s very charismatic, but I think a lot of villainous people are, that’s how they get away with things, because they’re charismatic and you’re not quite sure, they’re unpredictable, they’re engaging. So he’s managed to get all those colors into the role.
I love that about him, but I love that even after how much fun he was having toying with them, there was a real tragedy there, you could see where he was coming from.
MGW: He felt justified for what he was doing, and with some justification.
When he was talking about why he’s doing what he’s doing, it’s hard not to feel a little bit for him. You see in him the funhouse mirror version of what Bond could’ve become under different circumstances, maybe.
BB: He’s definitely, yeah, the dark side of Bond.
Barbara, you’ve done a great job of carrying on your father’s legacy with the Bond films, but how do you think you see Bond differently than he did?
BB: I think the character that Ian Fleming wrote was so complex, I think that’s one of the reasons he’s been able to be portrayed by the various actors through the various decades. I think Cubby had a feeling that Bond was able to change and evolve through the times. I don’t think he would be surprised, or…
MGW: I think he would be very pleased, actually.
BB: I think he would love Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond. Such a shame that he hasn’t been able to see it, but I think he would be absolutely thrilled.