Incoming director Sam Mendes talks about becoming involved with the 23rd James Bond adventure, Skyfall, and why we can expect all the ingredients for a classic Bond movie. He also talks about his earliest experience of the franchise and those rumours he can confirm and those he can't.
What can you tell us about Skyfall?
Sam Mendes: Well, I've got various bits of information to impart. There are rumours that I can confirm and there are some rumours that I can't. And the first is to say that we will be shooting Skyfall here in London. Obviously, a large section of it is in Whitehall which is why we're here rather than dear old Pinewood... although we will be shooting a lot of the movie in Pinewood as well. Bond's journey also takes him to China, to Shanghai and other parts of China, to Istanbul in Turkey and other parts of Turkey, and to Scotland. I think that Rob [Wade] and Neal [Purvis] and John Logan have written a fantastic script, I'm incredibly excited to be doing it, and I think it has all the elements of a classic Bond movie including, to quell any rumours, a lot of action. There are various members of the cast who because of work commitments can't be here, all of whom I'm delighted to confirm. Ben Whishaw, who will be playing a part I can't tell you about in scenes that I can tell you nothing about. And Albert Finney, who'll also be playing a part I can't really tell you about in scenes I can't really tell you about. And Ralph Fiennes, who, similarly, I can give you very little information about! But just to say that those three make up the first of, I think, eight fantastic actors I am genuinely thrilled to have the most fantastic cast. [Mendes then welcomes Bérénice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Daniel Craig]
So what attracted you to the film? Have you been a long-time 007 fan?
Sam Mendes: Well, I've always been a huge fan of the Bond movies. As a child, of course every young English schoolboy grows up with it. It's in a sense part of my life and I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the impact it had on me. But there was something else, which was, frankly... I got very excited when I saw my friend, Daniel, play James Bond in Casino Royale, and I thought it opened up all sorts of wonderful possibilities for the character. I love that movie and when Barbara and Michael and Daniel came to me, I thought the story was fantastic, I love Daniel and I love Judi and I wanted a huge challenge. For me, this was an enormous challenge and one I'm extremely pleased that I've taken, thus far [laughs].
You mentioned already that there'll be plenty of action in Skyfall, but what about gadgets and everything else we expect from a Bond movie?
Sam Mendes: This is an odd press conference because there's so little... Normally one is involved in a press conference when you've got something to announce and talk about and you won't be surprised to hear me say: 'I can't give much away'. As far as that is concerned the movie will reveal everything, but there are a lot of surprises, I will say that.
Can you tell us about the Scottish elements and Bond going back to his roots... Duntrune Castle has been mentioned?
Sam Mendes: You're not entirely accurate about him going back to his roots... there is a Scottish element, and it is the wilds of Scotland.
Could you explain how Skyfall relates to any existing Fleming property or story?
Sam Mendes: It doesn't.
So, will this film continue with the Quantum organisation and follow-on from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace?
Sam Mendes: No. It doesn't. It's its own story. It doesn't connect with the last two movies, other than these two characters sitting next to me [gestures to Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench].
Traditionally, Bond directors haven't handled the action sequences,.. will you be hands-on in that respect?
Sam Mendes: Have you told Martin Campbell and John Glen that? I think they have! Traditionally they're very hands-on, working in tandem with a great second-unit director and I'm very lucky I've got a fantastic second-unit director, Alex Witt, alongside Chris Corbould, who is the king of special effects, and Steve Begg, on visual effects and Gary Powell, stunt co-ordinator... these are the people who, for me, it's been a new experience to work with and it's one of the reasons it's been so exhilarating so far. That's the world that's new to me and I've embraced it because I've found it very fascinating, and it's exciting.. but the action needs to co-exist with the drama and that's the balance we have to strike.
You've got a great Oscar-heavy cast and crew, are you hoping the golden anniversary might tie in with a few golden statuettes?
Sam Mendes: It's not the reason you do any movie, and it's certainly not the reason you do a Bond movie. I don't think in those terms. For me, Bond is for the audience and only for the audience, like any good movie should be. And the rest is just what happens afterwards and that's out of my hands.
But if this film is a success, are you open to doing another one?
Sam Mendes: [Gestures to producers] If it's as much fun... if in six months' time I'm still feeling as excited as I am now then the answer would be 'yes'. There's a long way to go on this... there's a lot that's going to happen between now and then.
You won't reveal the character names of Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney or Ben Whishaw - is this because Bond fans will recognise them?
Sam Mendes: That's a very well put question... they might do [pauses and smiles] but on the other hand they might not.
Interview: Rob Carnevale Photo: Sony