The award-winning director of Skyfall, Sam Mendes, has said that his James Bond movie, under the surface, was a meditation on ageing and loss and what it means to be English.
This was just one of the points that emerged in a new profile of the director by Emma Brockes for a major British newspaper. Mendes was interviewed at length in the Guardian Weekend, the Saturday magazine of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, on April 20.
The profile and interview concentrated mainly on his upcoming theatre production of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, a production which Mendes has apparently been planning to make for at least five years but, for logistical reasons, Skyfall took three of those years, and also the famous book by Roald Dahl is clearly a tricky one to adapt.
The new production of Charlie has recently been in reshearsal in south London, before moving to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in central London. The Guardian profile revealed that the Dahl estate spent years rejecting offers for other stage adaptations, but said ‘yes’ to Mendes because of the reputation of his theatre company, Neal Street Productions, which has staged some of the best musicals of the past decade.
Mendes has surrounded himself with a team which consists of the American songwriters Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, plus a largely British core of writers, choreographers and designers. David Greig is adapting the book for the stage, and it is going to be a major West End production: ‘It’s big’, Mendes told the Guardian: ‘Christ, it’s so big’.
Mendes on 007
Given the smash-hit global success of Skyfall (it grossed over $1bn worldwide), it was inevitable that Brockes’ interview with Mendes would also include some of his latest reflections on the 007 movie which, Mendes said, was: ‘The biggest movie I’ve ever done, followed by the biggest show I’ve ever done, almost back to back – not a sensible piece of planning’.
At one point, Mendes confirmed that he was offered another 007 movie almost immediately after Skyfall, but he said he wasn’t tempted: ‘Was I willing to go straight back into a room with a writer and start work on the same set of characters and the same scenarios as I’ve been working on for the last three years? No. The idea made me feel physically ill’. He acknowledged that the movie world had seen his decision to turn down Bond 24 as eccentric, and Hollywood executives do not see the theatre world as a serious entity, but he felt doing something else was ‘psychologically’ necessary.
Reflecting on the possible crossover between Bond and Charlie, Mendes revealed the extent to which some of his own life experience had gone into the Bond movie (he lived in LA and recently moved back to England). He said that you could say it revolves around the topic of Englishness. Skyfall had certain themes: ‘Under the surface of the movie is a meditation on ageing, and loss, and England. And what it is to be English, and does it mean anything now?’ Mendes explained that the film was the story ‘of someone who disappears for a while, and comes back to England to find everything has changed, but everything is basically the same. And that was basically what I was going through’.
Mendes also said that making Charlie was a bit like ‘locating your inner child, trying to remind yourself of what it was like when you first hearsthe challenge of making Bond the story. And you have to unremember the narrative; in that respect, it’s a bit like doing Bond, where everyone in the audience knows that Bond’s not going to die. But you have to make people believe that there’s a danger he will’.
Interestingly, he conceded that killing off ‘M’ (Judi Dench) may have been his response to not being able to kill Bond, and he revealed: ‘I thought I was going to get so much s–t for that. But you know you shock people into rediscovering their first acquaintance with the characters…’.
Charlie And The Choclate Factory previews from May 17 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London.
Bond trivia note: The famous children’s author Roald Dahl met and worked with Ian Fleming in World War Two, as both men were intelligence officers and, at one point, were involved in British intelligence work in the USA. Dahl was also recruited by Broccoli and Saltzman in 1966 to write the screenplay for the fifth Bond movie, You Only Live Twice (1967).