Bond is 50 this year. Well, not Bond himself – he’d be about 85 pushing 90 by now; it’s the 007 movie franchise that celebrates the golden anniversary with Skyfall, the 23rd film in the series.
And a remarkable franchise it is, too; not only has it earned comfortably more than $12 billion at the box office but it has remained in the same hands (essentially those of the Broccoli family) for half a century.
Bond is the Broccoli family business, the movie equivalent of the Broccoli corner shop. Barbara is the daughter of American Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli who, with his then partner Harry Saltzman, produced the first 007 movie, Dr No, in 1962. Now she and her stepbrother, Michael G Wilson, run the family store.
I met them in their office in Piccadilly where they were arranging the release of Skyfall and no doubt mulling over ideas for Bond 24, which is scheduled for release in 2014.
Looking back over the last 50 years Barbara Broccoli said, “It says something that there are fewer actors who have played James Bond than there are men who have walked on the Moon.”
That continuity probably has much to do with all those decades of pretty well unqualified success. David Niven played him way back as Sir James Bond (retired) in a spoof version of Casino Royale. But the previous actors who took the role under the, as it were official, Broccoli aegis are, just to remind you, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. The sixth and latest, Daniel Craig, now coming up for the third time in Skyfall, was Broccoli’s choice.
“We knew we wanted him from the beginning,” Broccoli said. “But the studio especially doesn’t want to see any stone unturned, so they wanted us to see everybody. So we met them. But when Craig is on the screen you can’t take your eyes off him. It doesn’t matter how big or small the role. I remember him from Our Friends in the North on the telly, or films like Elizabeth, where you think, ‘My God, he has such presence and such charisma.’ He’s a movie star – that extraordinary combination of movie star and great actor.”
Of course Bond has changed in half a century. In his first outing, in the 2006 version of Casino Royale, Craig lent him far more of the hardness and even cruelty of Ian Fleming’s original creation, although unlike the original he had given up smoking, didn’t drink so much, had far less sex and no longer cared whether his martini was shaken or stirred.
“Well,” said Broccoli, “he’s tired. He’s been doing it for 50 years!” True but political correctness surely has much to do with this slight reformation of his character. Smoking and drinking? Naughty, naughty. Too much sex? Think of Aids.
Those essential 007 accessories, the Bond girls, have changed too, switching over the years from forceful personalities to mere eye candy and now apparently back again.
As Broccoli and Wilson pointed out, the women in the earlier films – Ursula Andress in Dr No and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger – were strong characters, well capable of taking care of themselves. “Unfortunately,” Broccoli said, “later in the series they got to be window dressing. He developed some rather… distasteful pastimes but those have now receded into the past.”
“Now it’s about the cocktail, the cars and the beautiful countries he gets to go to.”
In Skyfall with Naomie Harris, a tough agent who shares electrifying chemistry with Bond, and Bérénice Marlohe, who plays the girlfriend of bad guy Javier Bardem, they’ve gone back to resourceful, strong women who give as much as they get.” Broccoli also played a part in a woman being given the role of M and says of the other lady in Bond’s life, Miss Moneypenny, “You can look forward to that some time in the future…”
Nevertheless, even with this tinkering and the occasional change of lead actor, Bond’s longevity – the same character turning up roughly once every two years for half a century to public, if not always critical, acclaim – is indeed remarkable.
Wilson put it down to the fact that, “like Sherlock Holmes and Batman, he’s become part of the culture”. You could perhaps add that probably more than any other action hero he is the ultimate in masculine wish-fulfilment, what with his exotic travel, adventures, beautiful women and all those boy toys which, in some of the films, threatened to overwhelm the story.
Wilson and Broccoli believe, too, that the fact that he is British adds to his international appeal. “A lot of people,” said Wilson, “think the British have more class, a sense of taste and a sense of dress style. But what the two producers, Cubby [and Saltzman] managed to do was put more – as Fleming described it – ‘blunt instrument’ in there. So you had a guy who had all the British attributes but in a tough American style.”
The principal rule for director, writers and cast when setting out to make a Bond film is apparently simple – above all he must be shown to be incorruptible. “He is not known to take bribes,” Broccoli said. “He does things for Queen and country. He wouldn’t do anything for his own personal aggrandisement or gain. I think that’s important.”
The director of Skyfall is Sam Mendes, best known as the Oscar winner for American Beauty, who got the job through Craig.
“Daniel called us,” said Broccoli, “and said, ‘Last night I saw Sam and asked him to do the next Bond. Is that all right?’” A touch grimly, I thought, she added: “It’s a good job it was Daniel and not someone else!”
Yes, indeed. I had the strong feeling that anyone other than the invaluable star of the film appointing the director over the producers heads wouldn’t have been around very long.
Happily, as it turned out, the producers were delighted with the choice. What Mendes brought to the movie, Broccoli said, was “a Boys’ Own enthusiasm. I think when they’re involved with making these films, all the guys go back to being the 12-year-old they were when they saw their first Bond film. And for Sam it was Live and Let Die. I think the Bond films had a huge impact on his childhood. So he comes to this with a sort of boyish enthusiasm, wanting to make the film that his 12-year-old self would enjoy as much as his contemporary self.”
According to Wilson, Skyfall is a return to the 1960s Sean Connery-style of 007 movies, more character-driven and less gadget-ridden than some of the offerings. It is not at all like the 22nd film, the very disappointing Quantum of Solace, which was all frantic action and very little fun.
With that one, Wilson said, “we had a problem with the writers strike [in Hollywood] and getting the script together. I think the director struggled with getting the picture out. We would have liked a tighter script.”
With Skyfall they had different problems. Their partners in the enterprise, MGM, went into bankruptcy and last year there was talk that the film would be cancelled and that Bond was no more. Not that that was ever likely to happen; nobody would let such a lucrative franchise die away and in any case the financial difficulties were overcome.
Since it seems that everyone has his/ her favourite Bond and favourite Bond movie, I asked Broccoli and Wilson which were theirs. Predictably, Broccoli said of the stars, “I love them all. I do. I grew up with them all. Although for a lot of my childhood I thought he was a real person because everyone was always talking about him. It was: ‘Bond’s coming’ or ‘Where’s Bond?’ He was like another member of the family and I kept expecting him to walk in.”
Of the films she said, “I have a favourite for each Bond. For Sean, From Russia with Love. I loved George Lazenby’s Bond (On Her Majesty s Secret Service), I thought it was an amazing film. I think for Roger The Spy Who Loved Me; for Tim, The Living Daylights; GoldenEye for Pierce and Casino Royale for Daniel.” Again predictably, she added that Skyfall would probably replace that one.
Wilson shrewdly chose Craig as his favourite actor on the principle that “if you have a lot of ex-wives, who’s the favourite wife? The current one.” And he agreed with all Broccoli’s choices of films except that he thought Connery’s best was Goldfinger.
Broccoli and Wilson have been involved in the Bond franchise since childhood (Broccoli was born in 1960, closely followed by Bond in ‘62) and are pretty well steeped in it, but I wondered whether it was tough taking over when Cubby Broccoli died in 1996. Apparently not. It was, they felt, a smooth transition from one generation to another.
“I started [working with Cubby] in 1972,” Wilson said, “but on the films since 1974. Barbara worked her way all the way up. She started as third assistant and then worked through different departments and on the floor, then into production and associate producer on a couple of pictures.”
Broccoli said: “We were with him for many years, day and night. I mean, you knew him – he was a very entertaining guy.”
So he was but after he died I wondered how testing it was for their relationship to take up where Cubby had left off. “People don’t realise we are brother and sister,” Broccoli remarked. “Sometimes they think we’re a divorced husband and wife. We don’t argue about work at all. It’s a strange thing but I don’t think we ever have. People will try – if they don’t get the answer they want from me, they will go to Michael and vice versa. But they’ll get the same answer.”
So they are very much on the same wavelength? “Yes, said Broccoli, “and that has a lot to do with Cubby’s legacy, I think. We have intuition or what ever you like to call it.”
What is curious about the Bond franchise is that between them the 22 previous films have so far acquired only nine Oscar nominations, of which a mere two were wins – best effects for Goldfinger (1964) and again for Thunderball (1965).
Broccoli thought it disappointing that the films hadn‘t won more awards for the likes of editing, production design and special effects because “over the years they have made ground-breaking contributions to cinema”, as well as for the actors themselves. “I am surprised there haven’t been acting nominations, if not for Bond then for the support, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Judi [Dench] was nominated for this one.”
Wilson, on the other hand, pragmatically shrugged the question aside, saying that he’d always prefer financial success to Oscars, as I imagine, given a choice between the two, any producer would.
At the Cheltenham Literary Festival recently it was suggested that Bond, the literary figure, should be allowed to die on the grounds that since Fleming’s death too many sequels had been written by other people.
Be that as it may: Bond the movie franchise seems imperishable. For the moment, with nephews and nieces coming along eager to take over, it seems like remaining a family business. Well, that’s all right – nothing wrong with nepotism, so long as you keep it in the family.
And besides, as Wilson said, “Bond is never think going to disappear. We might not be making the films. It might go into hiatus for a few years, but eventually it will come back.” And again he said: “It’s part of our culture. Like it or not, he’s probably right.