Raymond Benson discusses his Bond work, Casino Royale, and more
007 continuation author Raymond Benson, author of six original James Bond novels and three movie novelisations, spoke to Paradigm recently about his time with the franchise and other aspects of his career:
In 1985, you were commissioned to do a stage play of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. While you can't produce or publish this yourself, could you share some details about its structure or action? What did you take from the source material and what did you leave behind? How does one go about staging Fleming's novel? Do you regret not seeing it produced?
At the time, the Fleming literary estate owned certain rights in that one particular novel, including stage adaptation rights. Because of my theatre background, they asked me to try and adapt the novel to a play. It's really the only novel that could be adapted to a stage play, because most of the story is indoors in a casino.
My play turned out to be very faithful to the book. The action was made up of stage fightingâno gadgets or special effects. I cut down the cast to five actors: Bond, Vesper, Le Chiffre, Felix Leiter, and an actor who would play all kinds of different rolesâwaiters, croupiers, henchmen. A staged reading of the play was performed in New York in early 1986 and it went very well. But the Fleming estate ultimately decided not to pursue a real production. Then, sometime in the nineties, EON Productions (the film company that makes the movies) bought the remaining rights of Casino Royale and in 1999 acquired the film rights from Columbia. So, the stage play cannot be produced without the movie people's permission. It's weird. I own the copyright of the play, but the Fleming Estate owns the publication rights and the movie people own the production rights.
So I can't do a thing with it.
An obvious question: What did you think of the recent film version of Casino Royale?
In many ways it was the first real James Bond film. I loved it.
When you were announced as the new author of the James Bond series, were you ever intimidated by the shadow of Fleming, Amis, and Gardner? Early on, did you find yourself imitating a style, keeping certain "Bond" elements, or rewriting your work to meet expectations?
One would have to be a fool not to be intimidated. I was stepping into very big shoes. Before I began, I had a few talks with the Fleming people to decide what direction my books should go. There was some discussion about keeping Bond in the Cold War era and "freezing" him in time. Ultimately, though, it was decided that we should keep him updated, like in the films. I was also told to make "M" a woman, like the new films. Other than that, I was free to do what I wanted. I was required to write an outline for each book, which had to be approved by the Fleming people. I never had any problems. They knew that I knew what Bond could do and couldn't, what was right in the universe and what wasn't. I didn't try to mimic Fleming's styleâthat would have been a disasterâand besides, I don't think anyone can really do that. What I tried to do was simply stay true to the spirit of Fleming's books but write them the way I felt they should be. Sure, there are certain Bond elements that have to be there, and I wanted them to be there.
What goes into creating the perfect James Bond villain, in your opinion?
That's the toughest part of doing the Bond books. A good villain and plot. So much has already been done that you really have to work hard at coming up with something new. I would always try to tie in my villains with the history of a particular country. The plots of my Bond novels usually have something to do with Britain's concern over a hot spot in the world: Hong Kong, Cyprus, Gibraltar â¦wherever the United Kingdom has interests. The plot, the location, and the villain were usually all related somehow.
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