[9 November 2008]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
When “Casino Royale” opened in theaters around the world in November 2006, producer Barbara Broccoli - daughter of original James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli and keeper of the 007 movie flame - was a little nervous.
Not only were she and co-producer Michael G. Wilson introducing a new Bond, actor Daniel Craig, but they were also rebooting the entire 20-film series, taking the character back to the beginning of his career as a globe-trotting, not-yet-suave MI6 agent.
Fortunately, audiences liked what they saw. “Casino Royale” grossed nearly $600 million worldwide - more than any Bond film before it - and Broccoli exhaled.
“‘Casino Royale’ exceeded our expectations, really,” Broccoli recalled during a recent press day at Miami’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. “It was exciting and fantastic when it did so well. And then it was time to start work on the next one, and it felt like the day after New Year’s Eve, when all the balloons come down. Now we had to deliver something that was just as good - if not better.”
What they came up with - the action-intensive “Quantum of Solace,” which opens Friday - marks a series of firsts for the venerable franchise. “Quantum” is the first 007 movie to pick up immediately where the previous one ended - specifically, around 15 minutes later, according to Broccoli.
“At the end of ‘Casino Royale,’ we felt there was a lot of unfinished business,” Broccoli said. “Bond had fallen in love with the government agent Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, who died at the end of the film and had his heart broken. He was in denial and emotionally shut down. He understood that Vesper kind of gave up her life for him and he wants to go after the people responsible - the hand that holds the whip, so to speak.”
That hand turns out to belong to a top-secret organization known as Quantum - so secret even Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench), has never heard of it. Bond’s quest for revenge sends him around the globe, to places including Austria, Bolivia and Haiti, where he meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who happens to be searching for some payback of her own.
In another departure from time-honored 007 tradition, Bond doesn’t get his leading lady into bed. With the exception of one kiss (and some flirtatious glances), their relationship remains entirely chaste.
“If this part had come along a few years ago, I might have hesitated, because a lot of the female roles in the Bond movies back then were really just an accessory for him,” said Kurylenko, a Ukrainian model turned actress (“Max Payne,” “Hitman”). “But Camille is not an accessory. She’s her own hero, she has her own personality and her own story. She doesn’t need Bond. Even if she never met him, you would still have a movie about her. Bond just happens to come along. But he’s the one who comes along; she doesn’t.”
“Quantum of Solace” (at 105 minutes, the shortest entry in the Bond canon) was directed by Marc Forster, a veteran of character-driven dramas (“The Kite Runner,” “Finding Neverland”) who had never made a big action picture.
“We wanted to hire Marc because he has an astounding visual style and a great sense of story structure and dramatic tension,” Broccoli said. “But we had to woo him and convince him to do it, because he wanted to know what he could bring to the movie - how to make it different and leave his own mark on the series. A big part of the reason he finally decided to do it was the opportunity to work with Daniel and continue the direction the character was going in.”
When Craig’s casting was first announced, many diehard Bond fans complained that the blond, blue-eyed, ruggedly handsome actor did not match the traditional 007 mold of the sophisticated tall, dark and handsome agent.
But Craig’s surprising approach to the role in “Casino Royale” - playing Bond as a still-brutish, quick-tempered, trigger-happy diamond in the rough - earned the fans’ respect and revitalized the character, who had sailed far beyond the verge of becoming a cartoon.
“I’ve been acting for a long time and it used to be that you read your reviews in the newspaper and you went ‘Ow, that hurts’ or ‘Oh, that’s great,’ and that was it,” said the 40-year-old, British-born Craig. “But with the Internet today, public opinion is easily accessible and it’s too much for one individual to deal with. It’s thousands upon thousands of opinions, and within them, you can find any truth you want.
“There were a lot of people who had huge expectations and were very passionate about the series, and so was I,” Craig said. “I grew up with James Bond like everybody else. I hadn’t been hiding under a rock for 40 years. Those movies had an impact on me and were very precious. So when the initial reaction to my casting first spread and it seemed to be overwhelmingly negative, there were a few moments on the set of ‘Casino Royale’ when I felt a bit dark and thought ‘What am I going to do about this?’ But I was surrounded by people who were doing the same thing I was - trying to make the best movie we could - and I got over it very quickly.”
Craig said he took the same approach to “Quantum of Solace,” constantly coming up with bits of business - like the way Bond’s eyes quickly dart around his surroundings after he’s killed an enemy on a hotel balcony, to make sure nobody saw him - that keep the viewer tuned into the character’s inner thoughts.
Even during the film’s big action blowouts, Craig never coasted. For the hair-raising car chase that opens “Quantum,” the actor practiced by driving an Aston Martin on a test track while stunt drivers nudged and bumped his vehicle, so he could get a feel of what the impacts would be like. That experience helped Craig sell the illusion of the filmed sequence better: There’s never a moment in that opening chase when you don’t believe it really is Bond getting banged up behind the wheel of the car.
“There are two ways to go as an actor with Bond: You can either use your performance to comment on the whole genre, or you can put touches of reality into it, even though it’s a complete fantasy,” he said. “I wanted to do something different with the character: I wanted to refresh things and earn the right to ask for a martini the way Bond does. We had to strive for realism, because ‘Austin Powers’ blew the whole thing apart. We have Mike Myers to blame for the fact that we couldn’t do the way they used to anymore.”
But Craig also adds that just because “Quantum,” like “Casino Royale,” adheres to a level of dramatic realism not exactly common to the series, fans who loved the outrageousness of some of the older films haven’t been completely forgotten.
“With ‘Quantum,’ we’ve kind of top and tailed Bond’s story now,” Craig said. “His heart’s been broken, he knows who his allies are, and now we can do whatever we want. We can introduce Q and Moneypenny. We can have a submarine base blowing up. We can have the huge setpieces. Before, I was new, so I couldn’t just step in there and do them. But we’ve kind of earned the right to have them now.”