GREG BECHTLOFF’s report from the Los Angeles 1999 ‘Press Junket’ for THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
(Issue 37 of ‘OO7’ MAGAZINE)
MICHAEL G. WILSON
the Bond co-producer proved to be an interesting segment in the junket. His low-key demeanour and low profile kept the other journalists from asking the annoying personal questions that dogged Pierce Brosnan and Denise Richards. In fact, a lot of the people at the round table sort of lost interest. This left me with the opportunity to ask more questions, most of which were beyond the other journalist’s grasp (no surprises there!).
Wilson answered his questions with lawyerly thoroughness. In fact, he looked quite the practicing lawyer he once was, in a dark business suit and no-nonsense shoes.
Journalist: Robbie Coltrane says you get the Bond you need for the time. Do you agree with that?
It’s like “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It’s sort of a Zen concept.
Did that work for George Lazenby?
No. (laughs) You’ve still got to look the part. Find the right guy.
Journalist: He wasn’t talking so much of the actor as the way the character has changed over the years.
Bond is contemporary and he always lives in a contemporary world. A character written to interact with the contemporary world. In that sense, yes, absolutely.
Journalist: You have to be conscious of that? People thought that after the Cold War, there would be no more Bond.
That’s right. That’s why in GoldenEye we have the “misogynist dinosaur” speech. We wanted to face it head-on. To tackle it to hopefully prove by the end of the film that he was still needed.
Journalist: Could the new Bond series work without Pierce Brosnan?
No, he’s absolutely key to it. The whole series has been like that. First we had Sean then Lazenby then Sean again. Then we had Roger Moore. These are leading men we’re dealing with. They aren’t character actors. They play themselves in the role of the character. They bring their personality to it. Roger’s was a comic, fun-loving personality who did it all with a tongue in cheek. We went with that. They were a very successful group of seven pictures. They were totally different from Sean’s. They were tremendously successful and started the whole series off. Then Tim came in. He took it down a different direction. Then we had a hiatus because of some legal problems we had. We came back in 1994 looking around and of course Pierce had been in the running in 1985. It was obvious he had matured a lot and he could bring something to it. What he brings to it, he can play the character with more vulnerability without the weakness. That gives us the opportunity to try out different stuff. So we could try out where his friend Trevelyan in GoldenEye could betray him and he could be totally taken in by that. In the last film, his girlfriend could come in and be married to the villain. That would affect him and get him off the case and confuse him for a bit. In this one we have him falling in love with the villainess and being taken in by it and then not even sure himself whether he’s right about his instincts. So all of that brings those elements. It gives us an opportunity to continually revitalise the series.
Journalist: How do you define the Timothy Dalton era?
I think he went back and read the books, especially CASINO ROYALE. He wanted to ground himself in the Fleming type of Bond. But he had come after Roger, so he also needed to have a lighter side to it. It was a difficult thing to write and a difficult thing for him to play because of that transition. It was easier for Pierce to come in and do the transition. We’d had Tim and because we’d had Tim and were off for five years and hadn’t made a film, we could open up the character more. The Cold War was over and everyone was questioning if Bond was still relevant anymore. It was an opportunity.
Journalist: Would you agree that the public did not want a serious Bond?
I don’t know if I agree with that. First of all
Tim’s pictures were both successful. The two pictures he made were financially successful since they went into net profits. That isn’t something bad in this business. He was successful in the role to that extent. Whether the way he played it didn’t have enough elements of humour maybe that’s it. But I don’t think people want a comic Bond in spite of Austin Powers being successful. I don’t think they’d like in the ‘90s to see a Roger Moore style Bond back. I think you have to have a balance between humour, drama, action and all the elements.
Do you miss writing the Bonds? You wrote five of them.
When you’re a producer supervising writers, you get your oar in the water. There’s enough going on to satisfy that.
Journalist: How will you bring Bond into the next century?
How are you going to bring him into the ‘90s was the question asked 10 years ago. I think we’re on an interesting path. I think we’re making the stories complex, intriguing, dramatic – all that kind of thing. Whenever you say we’re going to top ourselves (which is always the cry) if you went out and did focus groups, surveys, what the audience remembers and what they talk about is always the action. That can be misleading. I think that a lot of series have fallen into that trap. They look at the lllfocus groups who want more action so they give them more action. They want more outlandish villains, we’ll give them more outlandish villains. Whatever it is they like, you should say let’s pile it on. I think that if you start having more explosions and more bullet hits, you lose your way with these series.
I think you have to believe fundamentally that they like interesting and intriguing stories. We’ll try to follow that path and give them all the elements that they enjoy. The spectacle, the action, the women.
Would you conceive bringing SPECTRE back now that McClory is taken care of?
Not exactly taken care of. He’s still around. The last time we did SPECTRE was 1971.
I do have an attitude of looking forward. Whenever you bring in new writers to make a pitch (famous writers who have a lot of credits) I can almost predict what they’re going to say, “I’ve got Goldfinger’s daughter”. You have to say we want to keep looking forward in the contemporary world. That’s all in the past.
Journalist: Who are the new villains in this contemporary world? Industrialists? Terrorists?
We had someone manipulating Russia in GoldenEye. We had a media baron exploiting the world, something that’s on everyone’s mind. We take those elements and magnify them out of proportion. They stick in people’s craw such as misgivings about the media. This one’s about oil and the last oil rush in the world in the Caspian Sea.
Journalist: What demographics are going to the Bond films? Is it a big teen audience?
We release around the world. In the United States we deal with 25 to 30% of our audience. In the United States, between GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, the video games came out. It brought teens into the Bond world. The big market is from 15 to 25 year olds for going to the cinema. If you’re out of business like we were for five years, half of that group is gone. So you have to bring them back. In GoldenEye we skewed much older. The video game skewed down into teens for the United States. Every territory is quite different. Some are older, some are younger. Some are evenly distributed. Some places older men and women are interested. The quadrant we don’t have is younger women who tend to be hesitant about coming to a Bond film as the initiator. They come along. When you do an exit poll, they love the picture but they won’t think of it as their first choice.
Journalist: Is Bond’s relation-ship with women changing? There seems to be a difference between his relations in Tomorrow Never Dies to The World Is Not Enough.
If you took Tomorrow Never Dies, he starts out in bed in Oxford with a linguist. We always establish him in a bachelor sort of thing. The doctor is that kind of sexy, fun-loving relationship. The heart of the story is with Sophie of course. That one is a fairly complex character. You’ve got a character who is not an out-and-out villain. In a sense, M and her father and events kind of twisted her. She found this inherent ability to manipulate people. Even Robbie Coltrane becomes a victim of hers. The whole thing is a complex situation.
Journalist: Do you like the complexity of the story?
I do. The films are meant to be mass-market family entertain-ment. That means we try to deliver something for everyone in the family.
Journalist: And the double entendres?
They work on the teenagers. If you think of a family of four sitting around the table, the husband, and the wife, a pre-teen and teen. They have to decide what film to see that night – if they do that anymore. This is a film that no one will object to violently. They’ll all say; okay. Most other films someone will say, “oh god I don’t want to see that.” This is something that everyone can agree on. We try to deliver that. For people who want an interesting and intriguing story, it’s there. For people who want action, it’s there. For people who want double entendres, they’re there. It’s all PG-13. It’s a popular entertainment. That’s what it is. As you go around the world, you meet people in all different walks of life that are from all different ethnicities, all-different religions and they all say, “my first date with my wife was on a Bond film. We got married twenty years ago.” The guy will say, “the first film my dad took me to was a Bond.” They become important moments in a lot of people’s lives and they look forward to seeing them because they can remember back and you try not to disappoint them. That’s the whole object.
Journalist: Do people react the same way to James Bond as they did to Sean Connery? Someone who I wanted to be in terms of masculinity.
To the extent that he is a hero. People will have that reaction. I don’t know. There are people who find Pierce heroic in these films.
Journalist: Who picks your cameos in the films? The director or you?
It’s kind of mutual I guess.
Are there any other cameos in The World Is Not Enough we should know about?
Barbara Broccoli’s husband Fred Zollo was in Tomorrow Never Dies.
God, I’m trying to think. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle’s wife. When Bond lands in Bilbao outside the window. She’s one of the people there. There must be other people.
Does Barbara ever show up in the films?
Oh no! She’s done a few voices.
I’ve still never found Cubby in A View To A Kill.
(Thinks) Cubby was in…. I thought it was Moonraker. I’ll have to see.
Journalist: What is your relationship with Barbara. Do you divide anything?
We really don’t divide anything. She comes from the floor because she worked her way up from the floor. She’s very good at scheduling and budgets and things like that. Right now she works on the script, development and casting. She does everything. The only time we divide up stuff is when we go out on location. One of us may go and one may stay back to organise stuff in the studio. There’s a big second unit. One of us may go out on second unit. That’s all.
Journalist: What was going on in the five-year gap?
That was Paretti taking over MGM and putting it in bankruptcy and all that.
Journalist: Was there any talk of Bond not happening again?
There seemed to be a desire to get the films out again. I think that when this was resolved, that was the first order of business.
Journalist: Do you think Ian Fleming would be pleased where his character of James Bond has gone?
I hope so. I’d think he’d be surprised like anybody else is. To start out in 1962 and see that this is still going.
Journalist: In this movie everyone turns out to be something other than what they start out to be. Except for Bond.
You could have villains or villainous people or not. Depending on how you want to position the film and characters. I don’t know if it’s necessarily because of the time we live in. We get an opportunity with Pierce to play around with that a bit more. I don’t think we could have that with Sean or Roger. Sean is a little bit more on the nose, more straightforward, hard-hitting. Roger was a little more humourous.
It wouldn’t have worked with him.
Journalist: Who thought up the name Christmas Jones?
That was our writers. The team of Rob and Neal.
Are they going to get the next gig?
I think they’re great to work with. You try to find writers that you can collaborate with. That’s the key to this. This is a joint project between writers, producers and directors developing it. You need writers who can collaborate. Not all writers can. Many of them are lone wolves. They want to deliver the thing and leave. It doesn’t work that way.
Are you happy with David Arnold’s music?
He’s fantastic, David’s fantastic. I love him. He’s the one who came up with Garbage and calling Shirley. Getting together they just hit it off. All that worked.
Your son is the music assistant on this film. Is he being worked into the system?
He goes to Stanford. He was a physics major and he switched to music. When we were living in England he went to the Royal Academy of Music. He’s a classically trained musician. This was an opportunity for him to see if he’s interested.
Do you live in England?
I live in England. He goes to Stanford.
Journalist: What made you decide to make M a woman?
When we were coming in 1994 to bring Pierce in and re-starting the series up, Stella Rimmington was the head of MI5 then. We thought that if that’s what the contemporary world is, what would happen if Bond lived in this world. It was a suggestion the writers made that was consistent with reality.
Journalist: Judi Dench has so much presence.
She’s great isn’t she? We were lucky. She was available and anxious to do it. So we got her.
Journalist: How come John Cleese wasn’t in there more?
I don’t think the situation called for him in the film more. It’s more of an introductory part. We’re still keeping Desmond.
Journalist: He said he’s retiring.
Have you talked with him today? Retired? He’s still here. I don’t think he’s retired. Not in my book, he better not retire.
Journalist: Can Bond just keep going and going?
It’s not up to me. I think he’ll always be here. He’s Sherlock Holmes. He’s Tarzan, Superman, Batman. He’s a fictitious character who will always be reinvented in some form. Even when we stop making films, he won’t go away.