Welcome to MI6 Headquarters

This is the world's most visited unofficial James Bond 007 website with daily updates, news & analysis of all things 007 and an extensive encyclopaedia. Tap into Ian Fleming's spy from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig with our expert online coverage and a rich, colour print magazine dedicated to spies.

Learn More About MI6 & James Bond →

Producer Michael G. Wilson says cinematic gambles paid off in new films

06-Nov-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

It's not easy being keeper of the James Bond flame, reports The Colonist. Just ask veteran producer Michael Wilson. His association with the 007 films began more than four decades ago when he was a first-year law student taking a summer break by working as an assistant director on the set of Goldfinger.

Now, as managing director of Eon Productions, he continues to be charged with the responsibility of keeping the 46-year-old Bond franchise -- the most durable in film history -- alive and vital.

That responsibility involves taking risky gambles. That's what Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, his sister and producing partner, did with 2006's Casino Royale, a movie which represented a seismic shift in the tone and texture of the films.

Which is why life with 007 be both exciting and stressful.

"There are plenty of exhilarating moments," Wilson says. "In a creative enterprise, you get to work with a lot of great people, and hopefully it's something that other people want to see and are pleased by when they see it. So those are the exhilarating parts.

"But there are plenty of stressful moments, keeping that big engine on track, keeping everything moving, trying to adjust to all the things that come up during the filmmaking process that throw you off track. Trying to keep it on track is tough."

With the latest Bond adventure, Quantum Of Solace, already raking in huge profits overseas, all seems well. But six years ago, following the release of Die Another Day, Wilson was uneasy. He feared that this "big engine" was running out of steam and in danger of being derailed.

On the surface, everything seemed rosy. Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan, had whipped up huge profits, but Wilson and Broccoli sensed trouble ahead for the franchise.

"I thought it was ailing. That last Pierce film did better than any of his previous three, but I thought that creatively we were stuck. Barbara and I and the writers were in a rut."

There were also rumblings of discontent from the media and Bond fans, many of whom argued that the films were getting too frivolous and fantastic and that they needed to return to the sensibility of the earliest films starring Sean Connery.

It was around this time that Wilson finally secured the rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale. It had been filmed once before by another producer who did it as a spoof starring the likes of David Niven and Woody Allen. The result was one of the worst movies of the '60s. Now, Eon Productions owned the book, perhaps the darkest and grittiest Bond thriller that Fleming ever wrote.

Wilson worried about the challenge of bringing such a story -- which included a sadistic torture scene -- to the screen. And he wondered out loud about the possibility of using only the title with a completely new story -- a scenario which provoked an angry outburst from Brosnan who wanted to do Fleming's original story.

But would Brosnan have been acceptable as a reinvented 007?

"I think that in that context, it would have been very difficult to make the film with Pierce," Wilson says cautiously. "And we weren't thinking about changing Pierce, so the question was -- what could you do?"

It took four years to resolve this dilemma. But when Casino Royale was finally released to overwhelmingly favourable reviews and enormous profits, it marked a new chapter in Bond film history.

Brosnan was out, the essential Fleming storyline was intact and the franchise had a darker, grittier, more obsessive Bond in Daniel Craig. The films were returning to their roots.

"I think for me, it was going back to where we started with Dr. No and From Russia With Love. That's the way I visualized it, but of course it was now contemporary times. And Casino Royale was an 'origin' story so we could go back and really tell the beginnings of Bond."

Quantum Of Solace, which opens Nov. 14, doesn't merely retain the dark texture of its predecessor -- it actually deepens it. It also marks the first time the producers have sanctioned a sequel: the new film opens less than an hour after the end of Casino Royale with Bond still in shock from the death of Vesper Lynd, the lover who had betrayed him. As Quantum Of Solace unfolds and Craig's embittered, obsessive 007 pursues the shadowy international organization which seeks to control the world, he seems driven by blind vengeance.

This, Wilson points out, is a man who's "emotionally wounded" but who can't find catharsis because of the kind of violent world he occupies. Heavy stuff for a Bond thriller, some might say, but in Wilson's view, Craig -- "he's probably the best actor of his generation in Britain, if not the world" -- is the kind of actor who can deliver.

Looking back on the 22 Bond films -- and a procession of 007s which have included Connery, Brosnan, Craig, a jokey Roger Moore, the short-lived George Lazenby, and Timothy Dalton -- Wilson suggests that the franchise has frequently reinvented itself.

"When you think in terms of what happened after Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever were fairly fantastical things. Then we went down to earth more or less with the first Roger ones -- they were jokey but not fantastical. Then we got sort of carried away with Moonraker which again was a big success -- but where do you go from there? So we brought it down to earth with For Your Eyes Only, and then kind of kept it there for a while, and then with Pierce it started to get more fantastical again. There's a tendency to sort of drift, I think."

With Quantum Of Solace. the producers took a further gamble in hiring a director from the art-house circuit. Marc Forster had never done an action movie but Wilson says he wanted the filmmaker responsible for Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland. "Those pictures are unique and have his stamp on them. They're great visually. And he has great narrative skills and works well with actors."

Furthermore, Forster excelled himself with the action sequences, even though they left Wilson anxious for Craig's safety.

"There was a fire sequence and we were sitting outside the set, because the only people allowed in there were the firemen and a few camera operators. So we're outside, watching through a video monitor, and there's this huge fireball which engulfs the whole thing. Barbara and I were both there and we jumped up to see that he was all right. We do worry . . . even though it's all done by experts."

Discuss this news here...

Open in a new window/tab