Bond is back, bad and playing it by the book
THE search for a new James Bond began on a rainswept November evening. The location was, appropriately enough, a gentleman's club in London. Among the creaking leather armchairs and chink of whisky tumblers, to which 007 himself would be only too accustomed, were gathered the guardians of both a multi-billion dollar franchise and the world's most popular secret agent.
Around the table was Barbara Broccoli, the daughter of the legendary 'Cubby' Broccoli, who launched the Bond series back in 1962, and her half-brother, Michael G Wilson. Together they had slipped Pierce Brosnan into the tuxedo and shoulder-holster and made more than $2 billion at the box office with movies such as Goldeneye and Die Another Day. At that moment, however, the tuxedo lay empty.
The problem was that Brosnan's salary negotiations had collapsed amid rumours that he had demanded $30 million to star in the 21st film in the franchise, Casino Royale. He had also taken a role in The Tailor of Panama, in which he sent up his Bond image by playing a washed-up MI6 officer and was having increasingly antagonistic relations with the producers. Once informed that his secret services were no longer required, he struck out at the role and its "stupid one-liners". Last week, however, he was back-tracking. "Would I go back if they asked me? Sure. I thought I'd made inroads with the character after playing him four times."
At the meeting last November, also attended by Amy Pascal, chairman of Sony Pictures, new names were hurled around the room like baseballs. Hugh Jackman, who played Wolverine in The X-Men films as well as Curly in the broadway musical, Oklahoma, was favoured by Wilson, but dismissed as lacking masculinity by Broccoli. Colin Farrell, about to appear in cinemas worldwide as Alexander the Great, was deemed too much of a bad boy while Eric Bana, who was the Incredible Hulk as well as Hector in Troy, was ruled out as lacking adequate good looks. Ewan McGregor, who would have been the first Scottish Bond since Sean Connery, was dismissed as too short.
For the past 11 months, production of the latest movie has been in limbo as the producers struggled to find the right face. James Purefoy, who was screentested for Goldeneye, has been mentioned. However, one name raised last November, and which has been argued over ever since is that of Daniel Craig.
The British actor, who recently revealed his skills as a Casanova by seducing Sienna Miller, the current girlfriend of his "friend" Jude Law, was confirmed as the sixth James Bond on Friday and signals a radical change in direction for the 43-year-old film franchise.
It is no coincidence that Craig resembles Ian Fleming's own description of his beloved character: "He was good looking in a dark, rather cruel way." For on the 40th anniversary of the posthumous publication of Ian Fleming's last James Bond novel, The Man With The Golden Gun in 1965, Broccoli and Wilson are keen to explore the grit of the original books.
The reason for switching tack is to do with cost and cultural change. Die Another Day, the last Bond film released in 2002, was the most expensive yet, costing $170 million and earning roughly $432 million at the global box office. By comparison Goldeneye, released in 1995, cost just $65 million and still earned roughly $351 million. Ever since the release of Moonraker in 1980, James Bond movies have been closer to science fiction than espionage thrillers. There is now a conscious move to bring them back down to earth.
The success of The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon, proved that there was a market for a straight spy thriller stripped of gadgets and those one-line quips so detested by Brosnan. Casino Royale has been re-written by Paul Haggis, who wrote the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby, to introduce a new James Bond on his debut mission and the director, Martin Campbell, who previously directed Goldeneye, is so anxious to re-invent the franchise that he is said to have favoured an unknown actor in the lead.
This weekend, Michael G Wilson said: "We had a good run with Pierce but the films were moving towards the more fantastic and there was a feeling that that sort of film had run its course. Die Another Day was our most successful one yet but we felt audiences were getting tired of the over-the-top action sequences. We thought it was time to reinvent the series before it ran out of steam."
SO if the cinematic Bond is a debonair man who can carry a safari suit as easily as he can dispatch a few heavies and still find time to slip in a witty riposte, what of his literary alter-ego? James Bond was born on the morning of 17 February 1952 in Jamaica, shortly after Ian Fleming had enjoyed a vigorous swim and breakfasted on scrambled eggs and Blue Mountain coffee. He sat at his typewriter, rolled in a piece of paper and rattled out the first line of Casino Royale: "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning."
Fleming was a 43-year-old journalist with the Sunday Times, a veteran of naval intelligence and a polished Casanova. He was a snob and a racist who had a passion for life's finer things, all of which he poured into the mould of James Bond. Elements of his own life, such as his seduction by a Russian agent while covering Stalin's show trials of the 1930s, were woven into his new hero.
The early life of James Bond was revealed in an obituary prepared by M, which appeared in the penultimate novel, You Only Live Twice. He was born to a Scottish father, Andrew Bond, of Glencoe, and a Swiss mother, both of whom were killed when their son was 11. Raised by an aunt, young James attended Eton only to be expelled for seducing a maid. He finished his education at Fettes College in Edinburgh and joined the navy, rising to the rank of Commander during the Second World War. After the war he joined MI6 and killed three times which earned him his '00' rank.
James Bond is a different animal on the printed page. "The James Bond of the novels is a far tougher man than his counterpart on the big screen," says Henry Chancellor, author of James Bond: The Man and His World, published this week. "He is an assassin and he operates in a serious world. He is always wondering if this mission will be his last."
In the books, Bond, while a confident seducer, rarely bed-hops, restricting his attention to one lady per adventure, who usually winds up dumped or dead. Fleming gave Bond his own rather disdainful attitude towards women. Rosamond Lehmann, a contemporary author, says: "The trouble with Ian is that he gets off with women because he cannot get on with them." Bond, too, saw women as playthings. In Casino Royale, he ponders that: "Women are for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them."
The success of the James Bond novels meant a film was inevitable and Fleming had clear ideas of how the role should be played. He favoured David Niven as Bond. As Mr Chancellor reports in his new book: "He felt Bond should be hard and fatalistic, and make no attempt to endear himself to the audience, who should dislike him until they get to know him and appreciate he is their idea of an efficient agent."
Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had, of course, other ideas. "The humour added to the character was largely the work of the scriptwriter, Richard Maibaum, to balance the violence and allow it to pass the film censors. If Bond made a cheesy line after dispatching someone, it took the edge away."
The new 'edgier' tone expected in Casino Royale is, however, not the first time that the film producers have reduced the plots and toughened up the character. Timothy Dalton, who appeared in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill, was viewed as the tough-guy antidote to Roger Moore's weary clown. However, after just two outings, he was retired.
"The irony is that Pierce Brosnan was probably the closest in physical appearance to the Bond of the books," says Chancellor. "He could be very smooth but when required he could be the hard man. It will be interesting to see if Daniel Craig can pull it off."
James Bond: The Man and His World, the official companion to Ian Fleming's creation, by Henry Chancellor, is published by John Murray, priced 20.
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