On the eve of the opening of his new play Peter and Alice, which stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw, the Skyfall co-writer John Logan gave some tantalizing clues about how he sees the future character development of James Bond.
Interviewed by Sarah Hemming for the ‘Life and Arts’ section of the UK’s Financial Times newspaper (March 9-10), the American writer spoke at length about his theatre writing, his film work, and also (perhaps inevitably) touched upon his involvement with the world of 007.
Logan’s new play is about a real-life meeting that took place in 1932 between Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the model for Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ in Alice in Wonderland) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan), a meeting that occurred in a London bookshop. It explores what they may have said to each other during that encounter. Even though there was an age difference (she was 80 and he was 35), they both had similar experiences, and both had ended up as rather fragile, damaged adults later on. Both were also deeply affected by the First World War.
Logan revealed that the idea for the play had been germinating for the last 20 years, ever since he first came across the fact that this real-life encounter had taken place. The two key roles in the play are being taken by Dame Judi ‘M’ Dench, as ‘Alice’, and Ben ‘Q’ Whishaw, as Peter.
When asked what had taken him so long to put the idea into practice, Logan pointed out that he has been very busy – he wrote the award-winning play Red, and he has also been steeped in screenplays for the cinema for the last 15 years, the most recent being, of course, the screenplay for Skyfall. He told Hemming: ‘I’ve been thinking about it for 20 years and I wasn’t ready to write it until three years ago’.
Hemming noted that Logan’s new play is permeated with the irony that he is taking dramatic licence with the historical characters, and ‘is daring structurally’ in the sense that ghosts and fictitious characters also take the stage, and mingle with his real-life protagonists.
Logan revealed to Hemming that, as a seasoned screenwriter, he cherishes the stylistic freedoms that theatre can give. He said: ‘Film is very linear. Abstraction in cinema is very difficult to do in ways that aren’t cliched, whereas on stage you can do that better than anything. Film is very visual: you’re always looking for visual metaphors to tell emotional stories. So in Skyfall, for example, the bulldog on M’s desk became a visual metaphor for M and then it pays off at the end when Bond gets it. Theatre can be about language – it can only be about language, and (yet still) be riveting’.
Contrasting theatre writing with screenplay writing, Logan reflected: ‘If you deliver a screenplay with a scene longer than three pages you’re in desperate trouble! Screenplay writing is like writing a haiku. You have to make sure every single word justifies itself. Whereas with theatre, you can have a complexity of language. The audience doesn’t expect reality or traditional narrative, they’re open to whatever storytelling you’re going to give them’.
Logan was a successful playwright before he became a screenwriter, and he told Hemming that his first film, Any Given Sunday (1999), directed by Oliver Stone, had been a steep learning curve: ‘I’d written a speech and he (Stone) said, “Al Pacino could give you that speech in a look”. And he was absolutely right. Part of my education was realising when to let the actor, the cinematographer and the the director do the job. Ingmar Bergman said “build your films on faces”, and that’s exactly what movies do. You don’t need a lot when you have Daniel Craig’s eyes’.
Turning to 007, Hemming noted that Logan was just about to go off to a meeting about the next Bond. Naturally, Logan would not say much to Hemming about this, but he did comment that he hopes to build on Skyfall in examining the complexities of Bond’s character. Logan said: ‘Fleming’s courage in showing Bond’s fear and vulnerability and depression was really interesting and something that a modern audience can accept. I think Skyfall demonstrated that they want more layers to that character. And those are the layers that Fleming wrote’.
Logan’s new play, Peter and Alice, runs at the Noel Coward Theatre in London until June 3, 2013.