Sam Mendes, the director of two highly successful 007 movies with Daniel Craig, has said the next Bond director should come from ‘a slightly unexpected direction’ when it comes to the main storyline for the next James Bond movie.
He also repeated the comments he made earlier this year that he will not be the director on the next 007 adventure, and that he would now like to move on to new projects. He emphasised that he had ‘loved every second’ of being involved with the James Bond films.
Mendes was interviewed live on stage by Clemency Burton-Hill in a session at this year’s Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, and the JBIFC managed to have a spy in the audience. The director spoke for about three quarters of an hour and then took 15 minutes of questions from the audience, in a packed event held at the Festival on Saturday, 28th May, 2016. His talk took place at 4.00pm in Hay Session Event no. 67, which was entitled ‘Talking about Directing’.
In a wide-ranging interview session, Mendes discussed his career, the craft of film-making, and other key aspects of his experiences as a film-maker and director. Inevitably, he also spent some time during the session talking about his time as Bond director, and offered some views on the future of the franchise.
The Hay Festival is an annual event held in Hay-on-Wye, a small town on the English/Welsh borders, located in the lovely countryside found in the area around the River Wye. Hay-on-Wye is known as the ‘town of books’, as it contains nearly 30 second-hand bookshops, including one located in an old cinema. Indeed, at one point in the early stages of the interview, Mendes referred to his love of cricket (he had wanted to play cricket for England when he was a young boy), and he also revealed that, between the ages of 12 and 16, he had collected cricket books, some of which he had picked up from the cinema bookstore at Hay, when visiting the town as a teenager, alongside his father.
Hay and Bond
The Hay Festival, which this year runs from 26th May to 5th June, has seen a number of Bond-related guests in attendance over the years, including the 007 writers Sebastian Faulks, Charlie Higson, and William Boyd. Steve Cole’s first ‘Young Bond’ adventure was also launched at the Festival in May, 2014.
But there was particular interest in the debut of Sam Mendes at the Festival this year and in his session on film-directing, as media speculation over the Bond series has been pretty relentless in the last few months, especially over whether Daniel Craig has stepped aside as Bond or will continue in the role.
Mendes, in his talk at the event, reflected on his general film career and his critical successes, as well as offering a few comments on his recent 5-year encounter with the world of 007 movie-making. He also touched briefly on the future projects of his film and TV company Neal Street Productions, including announcing that one project he is excited about is The Bureau, a possible TV series or telemovie which will looks at the early origins of MI5, the British domestic Security Service.
Mendes and Bond
Although Mendes concentrated on directing and filmcraft in general in his Hay talk, Mr. Bond was inevitably a looming presence at the feast. Mendes revealed various things about his relationship with James Bond over the years, and the way he had dealt with this in his film-making.
At one point in the interview, Mendes said directing is a bit like running a cricket team: you have to be sensitive to each member of your team. He also talked with humour about his relationship with Judi Dench, who often reminded him about his cocky self-confidence when he first became a director in his twenties (he had refused to take suggestions from actors back then, including Dench, always convinced that he knew best); he said, with experience, he had changed, but it is something Dame Judi has never forgotten and has often reminded him about, both on the Bonds and even up to today!
Mendes explained that, over time, as he changed, and as he gained more experience, he became a lot more trusting of his cast members; he said, on the Bond movies, for example, he did not do lots of rehearsals, as they were such long movies anyway (7-8 months), and scenes would often be shot very far apart: what he preferred to do was to explain very clearly to an actor what he wanted in the shot precisely, try and get it all in the shot there and then, and also give the actor a fair degree of independence over interpretation.
Regarding the Bond franchise in general, Mendes said that he had not approached his first Bond movie as if it was part of the franchise, but as a movie in itself; he said it was his job as a director ‘to cut out the white noise’ and just get on with making the movie. Referring to Skyfall, Mendes explained that he wanted to make a movie where Bond would be ‘vulnerable’ and also to introduce fragments from his past life, combining the themes of past and present. He said he wanted to give the audience the feeling that Bond was going to die, so that audiences would have a ‘different investment’ in the story. But he emphasised firmly that without Martin Campbell, and what Campbell did on Casino Royale, his own movie Skyfall would not have been possible.
Interestingly, at another stage in the interview, reflecting thoughtfully on what all his movies perhaps had in common, Mendes said that all his films were about couples or individuals who are ‘lost’ or who are ‘unmoored’ – this was a core theme that had run through his films, including his approach to Bond.
When it came to 007 and the future, responding to a question from Clemency Burton-Hill about the recent media and fan speculation, Mendes commented: ‘There’s this constant debate about who’s going to be the next Bond. The truth is – and here’s the headline: it’s not a democracy. It’s not the X-Factor, it’s not the EU referendum, it’s not a public vote. Barbara Broccoli chooses who’s going to be the next Bond: end of story’.
Developing this point further, he continued: ‘Without that, there would be no Daniel Craig because public support for Daniel was zero. It was her saying “that man over there is going to change the whole thing, I’m going to cast him”. That turned it on its head’. Mendes added: ‘I can guarantee whatever happens with it, it will not be what you expect. That’s what she’s been brilliant at, and that’s how it’ll survive. It’s not a public vote, and I think we’re in an age where everything is deemed votable on. Some things just aren’t and it’s better that way’.
When quizzed further about the casting decisions over Bond, Mendes referred to the original furore that erupted around Craig being cast as 007; he said no-one would have predicted the success of Craig, or even that he would have been an option for Bond when he and Mendes first paired up on the Mendes-directed movie Road to Perdition: ‘It’s always totally unexpected. If someone had said to me then, this guy is going to be cast as James Bond, I would have said a) no way, and b) you’re mad. Because at that point I would have said he was totally miscast. At that point, to me, Bond was urbane, witty, eyebrow-raising. And Daniel was all about intensity and commitment and seemed wrong to me. And I said that at the time he was cast, but I was completely wrong. Sometimes you just don’t see it coming’.
The Q and As
Shortly after the main interview, Mendes took a number of questions from the audience. And the first one to be asked concerned (you guessed it) James Bond, which prompted the director to wonder whether the questioner had been ‘sent by MGM’!
Mendes confirmed his decision that he was leaving the Bond franchise, and explained: ‘It’s not a negative. I’m a storyteller and, at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters’. He continued: ‘I also believe there are directors out there who can do the job every bit as well as me. And, like with Skyfall, it should come from a slightly unexpected direction’.
Mendes added: ‘It was an incredible adventure, I loved every second of it. It was a privilege, all the experiences were gobsmacking for me, but I think it’s time for somebody else to do a great job. And I will be first in line [to see it]’.
Where next for Bond?
Mendes was very open, honest and thoughtful about his career as a director, and it proved to be a really interesting hour, which seemed to fly by. The ‘mood music’ coming from Mendes seemed to be that the Bond franchise has now entered another watershed stage in its history but, notably, it still has a great future. Unsurprisingly, he avoided saying anything directly about whether Craig is still James Bond or not.
At the Jameson Empire movie awards held earlier this year in London, Mendes seemed to be drawing the curtain down on his own time as a Bond director, and his new comments appear to be a strong confirmation of this. As the JBIFC has commented before, having re-introduced an old traditional foe back to the series in a modern setting (Blofeld), it seems a great pity that Mendes may not take this story further, especially if Daniel Craig does decide to return as 007 for a fifth movie.
Film director Sam Mendes speaking at the 2016 Hay Festival