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Director Marc Forster talks candidly about making `Quantum`

28-Nov-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

Marc Forster remembers his response when his agent told him he was in line to direct the 22nd James Bond film: "No, no, no, no, no", reports the Mail & Guardian.

The 39-year-old, German-born filmmaker squeezes out an incredulous laugh. "I said, 'They've got the wrong director.'" You take the point. A long, hard stare at his CV -- which ranges from the intensity of Monster's Ball to the winsome Finding Neverland and the smartypants comedy Stranger than Fiction -- reveals nothing to suggest an aptitude for mildly fogeyish, espionage-based escapism.

And yet here he is, 18 months-later, discussing the 22nd James Bond film. Precisely how many razor-sharp bowler hats, switch­blade shoes and genital thrashings was he threatened with before he signed on the dotted line? Actually, Forster experienced nothing more torturous than a charm offensive from Barbara Broccoli, one of the most tenacious producers ever to share a name with a vegetable.

"Even so, I kept thinking: What's the upside here?" he says, averting his eyes from the open laptop on the coffee table before him, which lends his features a faint blue glow. A silent assistant with an air of Rosa Klebb about her taps at another keyboard on the other side of the room, making me wonder whether she's feeding Forster his answers. "I'm at a point in my career where I can make the mid-budget movies I want to make. I have creative freedom, final cut, and now they're offering me a $200-million movie? If it's a failure, it could harm my career. And if it's a success, the only advantage is I can make more blockbusters. Do I really want that? I don't think so!"

He scoffs at the idea. With his floodlight eyes and enormous hairless head, he momentarily resembles a surly baby.

The clincher for Forster was talking things over with Daniel Craig, the man who should be praised for bringing the first hint of nastiness to Bond, and blamed for causing an unhealthy upswing in the wearing of Speedos. "Daniel and I are very much in sync; he's a highly intelligent and sensitive actor.

"His achievement has been to humanise Bond, so that he could be one of us -- not a hero, but an antihero with a dark side. Meeting him made me want to jump in, take the risk."

On the minus side, there was still the matter of the film's title -- it didn't have one. "When I signed on, we had a release date but no script and no title," he says with a disbelieving laugh. During pre-production, Broccoli and her co-producer Michael G Wilson summoned Forster to their office, where a poster, emblazoned with the proposed title, was laid out for his inspection. It would be fair to say that his immediate reaction foreshadowed that of fans the world over, many of whom were left marveling that the accolade of Worst Ever Bond Title had been stolen at last from Octopussy, while at the same time wondering how on earth anyone was supposed to mime Quantum of Solace in a game of charades.

"That's the title?" he spluttered.

"Well -- what do you think?" asked Broccoli.

"Er, I'm not sure," Forster replied. "Where is this going?"

He says he grew accustomed to the title after a while. Now he even claims to love it. "At least it created discussion," he points out. Yes, but so did foot-and-mouth.

When we meet, Forster is still cutting the picture together, and is showing the strain of a punishing schedule which has left him with five weeks to complete editing compared to his usual 14. "It's the way Barbara and Michael work," he sighs. "I think it's to minimise studio interference.

"I can't think of any other reason to impose such a horrible deadline."

He has been hidden from natural light for weeks on end, and is consequently unaware that Jack White, who wrote the film's theme song, Another Way to Die, on which he duets with Alicia Keys, has complained about it being used first on the new Coke Zero ad campaign. "I haven't heard about this ...

"What exactly happened?" Forster shoots a nervous glance at Rosa Klebb, who doesn't look up from her laptop. And what of the Amy Winehouse number that was originally intended as the new Bond theme? "Oh, Amy never recorded anything. We had a meeting. I don't think she was feeling so well." Nice euphemism, I say. He laughs cheekily.

Winehouse's fluctuating health was one of the milder problems to hit the production. More worrying were the stunts that went spectacularly wrong, including a crash near Lake Garda that left the stunt driver Aris Comninos in hospital. There were also reports that the Bolivian government complained about the film "stereotyping" its people. While shooting in Chile they hit a snag when a town mayor objected to the disruption.

Forster has dealt with worse. On his previous movie, The Kite Runner, he directed a foreign cast entirely through interpreters, then watched as his young performers were forced to flee their homes after accusations that the film had denigrated Afghan culture. Compared to that, he says, making Quantum of Solace was a breeze.

Although he is diffident by nature, he can't quite conceal his pride at the film. "It's in good shape," he says. The wham-bam 20-minute excerpt that I see the night before we meet suggests a sun-baked travelogue, visiting Italy, Mexico, Panama and others, interspersed with outbreaks of hand-to-hand combat, not unlike switching back and forth between Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Fist of Fury. The picture begins at the end of Casino Royale, as Bond's search for his lover's murderers drives him on to ever more brutal methods that impinge on his professional duties. He hooks up with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who is on her own revenge mission, and confronts the businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), whose environmental concerns provide a front for more disreputable practices.

Having subsequently seen the completed film, it is evident that Forster was nobody's puppet: Quantum of Solace, which is as short and sharp as its title is woolly, evokes the Ken Adams-designed techno-retro look of Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, while pushing the series, and Bond's persona, toward more morally ambivalent waters. But after the turgid ruminations of, say, The Dark Knight, do we need another hero with a perpetually furrowed brow?

"Times have changed," he insists. "People don't identify any more with a pure hero. They identify with somebody broken." Here I begin to understand what it was that overrode Forster's reservations about making the film, even more than his kinship with Craig. "All my movies have some connection to me. Each of my protagonists is emotionally repressed. That was my 'in' to the project. Bond is an outcast. He can't open up. He's vulnerable beneath his hard shell. I need to connect with all my characters in that way; a film can only work for me if I incorporate something personal."

Without wishing to insult him, I point out gently that he appears to have owned up to being a repressed misfit. That's when he sketches in his background for me: how his father, the head of a pharmaceutical firm, sold his company when Forster was three years old, leaving the family extravagantly wealthy. After the sale was splashed across the German media, the family became targets for the Baader-Meinhof group, who issued kidnapping threats, prompting the Forsters to relocate hurriedly to the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

"I wasn't aware of the danger," Forster says. "I just knew I was part of a wealthy family. One of the reasons I was an outcast in Davos, and played alone all the time, was because I grew up around farmers, who led a very plain life. They knew I was rich, which meant I could never fit in."

But when Forster was 17, his father lost everything. "It was the best thing that could've happened. It forced me to find the discipline to follow my dream. Between the ages of 17 and 31, I was so poor. But I had nothing to lose. Nothing!" He is practically whooping. "Can you imagine? That means no one can take anything away from you."

Even now, he keeps his life as pared down as possible. He lives in Los Angeles, but avoids the social scene. He hikes, he swims. And, as you'd expect from a man whose childhood was shaped by a piercing awareness of wealth and its consequences, he never does anything for the money.

"When I got the call to do Bond, I warned my agent, 'Don't tell me what they're offering.' I didn't want it to affect my decision." I was going to say that I hoped he would make a film about his feelings of isolation, purity and self-sufficiency. But, in Quantum of Solace, he seems to havedone just that.

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