On the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films, director Sam Mendes strives to make Bond brand new again — and his new movie, Skyfall, is so self-aware that the clash between old and new is at the center of it. Can an old-school agent like James Bond still exist in today's world? What's the point of a Cold War secret service in the 21st century?
We talked to Mendes and delved into these questions, and a whole lot more, at the Skyfall press conference.
Was there a lot of pressure to throw in references to past Bond films, with the 50 year anniversary around the corner?
Sam Mendes: There's nothing in the movie that I don't stand by and didn't want to put in myself... [Small Spoiler] I think they were delighted when I said I want to use the [Aston Martin] DB5 and I want to try and instill some more humor into the proceedings in some way... I felt about the homage elements, that you have to earn them. If you put them in at the wrong time, they're going to strike a false note. You have to rediscover your 13-year-old self. It was a delight for me to find that part of myself again.
The Return of the Lip-Smacking Relish Villain
Sam Mendes: I want a certain kind of villain. I had a very particular idea of the kind of flamboyant… even very early on I wanted a kind of feeling of flamboyant… lip-smacking relish of this particular type of villain. That villain that dates back to the old Bond pictures.
How Casino Royale Saved Bond
Sam Mendes: I felt that what I saw in Casino Royal was a Bond who was capable, as an actor, capable of handling a much bigger personal journey. The thing about Bond, for me, watching the old movies was that there was a point around Moonraker where it lost some of its thriller roots and went into more of an almost travelogue, action-adventure type of feeling. Immense locations, beautifully shot. Bond the character became kind of the Sellotape that tied it all together. It was like, "How can we get Bond from Rio to Venice and from Venice to a cable car?" Because these are the big sequences that we have to make work. He almost from that moment on had no journey at all.
I'm being unfair to the movies in-between because there were some great movies in-between. But particularly in Casino Royale, it felt like Bond was back in the center of the movie, because he was on screen the whole time. He had a journey, he had an emotional stake. He fell in love in that movie. And there was no coincidence that, that was the first movie in a long time that had been based on a Fleming novel. So to try to find that kind of personal weight in the center of the movie was really important. That was something that we really concentrated on.
Would Mendes direct another Bond Picture?
Sam Mendes:It's been a fantastic experience, but it's been completely exhausting. I finished the movie last Tuesday and I was reading reviews on Friday… "Do I want to do another one?" I'm a shadow of my former self. The truth is I never sought to be a primarily commercial filmmaker, the challenge with me is it's all about timing. But I did need a challenge and something new. No, I don't know. I felt like everything I wanted to do with a Bond movie, I put into this film. So I would have to be convinced that I could do something that I loved and cared about as much if I was to do it again. I think the great risk of repeating oneself is that one doesn't have the great store of ideas that you have when you first tackle a subject… but that's a long ways off.
The theme of Old vs. New in Skyfall
Sam Mendes: It was to me very clear that the discussion at the center of the movie was, what is the point of a secret service created during the Cold War now that the world has changed? And therefore, what is the point of Bond? And therefore, what is the point of Bond movies? And so, at its core there's an argument for all three. I'm not just talking about the old and the new — [for example] whizzy computer kids and hacking. And the old being letters and people writing on a piece of paper and making phone calls.
I'm talking about old values: honor, trust, friendship, courage. In a way it's deeply old-fashioned in its values. I think they never go out of date. That, for me, is what old is in the movie. I think [this theme] runs right through the picture, and reaches a natural conclusion. That is what I hope is there.