MI6 got to attend "The Orange Word" Screen Writers Season 2004, and can bring you the full transcript from the interview. In this in depth talk Neal Purvis and Robert Wade discuss Bond, their careers, loves and pet hates of film...

Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 4)
15th April 2004

MI6 got to attend "The Orange Word" Screen Writers Season 2004, and can bring you the full transcript from the interview. In this in depth talk Neal Purvis and Robert Wade discuss Bond, their careers, loves and pets hates of film...


Peter Florence: The film you've currently been working on, which we're going to see the very first rough cut of, you've been working on for a very long time haven't you?

Above: Connie Nielsen

Robert Wade: Yes, this is a film called Return to Sender, it's currently called Return to Sender, but it probably won't be called that when it comes out - if it comes out. We wrote it, I think we first started writing it 14 years ago.

Neal Purvis: Yeah it was when we were researching Let Him Have It that we found that there was a con man in England who would follow cases at the Old Bailey and if anyone got, was going to be getting the chop, he'd (and as I said, they're only in prison for three months, interestingly enough) ...

Robert Wade: We had a policy when we were hanging people that if they didn't get executed within three months the sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment because the British Government considered it inhumane to keep someone on death row longer than three months. That was back in the 40s.

Neal Purvis: Not that we're criticising America.

Robert Wade: No,

Neal Purvis: But yeah, no someone, this con man would contact the person on death row, well British death row and he would pretend to be someone from that person's past and the person would be so desperate that he'd research it, and it would be feasible that he might know them, he would be so desperate that he would say yes I remember you and they'd have some communication and then once the person got hanged, he'd go to the pub next to Wandsworth prison and auction the last letter to the press, so that was in the 50s

Robert Wade: And we thought this was a terrible thing but very interesting and we didn't want to do another depressing British period piece so we looked across the Atlantic and saw that they were still executing people.

Neal Purvis: So this was, we started doing it about 14 years ago and when we wrote it we said that it was the first female execution in Oklahoma for 40 years …

Robert Wade: But in between by the time we came to make it …

Neal Purvis: Which was true.

Robert Wade: … which was true, I mean in one year they executed three women…

Neal Purvis: In 2001 or 2002.

'... we didn't want to do another depressing British period piece...'

Peter Florence: Would you like to tell us what we're going to see?

Robert Wade: So eventually we got the money together to make it and a Danish Director called Bille August who made Pelle the Conqueror (he won an Oscar for that), the Danish actress called Connie Nealson who's actually quite a successful American actress but she is Danish and Aiden Quinn and it's quite interesting it it?

Neal Purvis: But just to say that there's no proper sound on it, there's no proper music and …

Robert Wade: They only finished shooting on Saturday …

Neal Purvis: But this is made up from things that they shot.


Above: Aidan Quinn

Robert Wade: I think this was a tape that was made to sell the movie at the American film market

'I think the whole budget is less than the pre-title sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies...'

Neal Purvis: Well it is, yeah.

[clip of Return to sender shown]

Peter Florence: That's a thrilling scene. The hook is absolutely brilliant.

Neal Purvis: Well we hope so.

Robert Wade: I mean it's funny you have something being so old and finally getting, I think it's fantastic. It's an old script and …

Neal Purvis: Mm, I mean it was written as a spec script which our agent tried to sell 12 years ago and it almost sold at MGM until Laddy, Alan Ladd junior who was head then, he decide that is was morally repugnant, wasn't it?

Robert Wade: Yeah that's right, I mean he's right.

Peter Florence: You start with a lawyer and a journalist so moral repugnance is going to be in there quite strongly. Presumably the journey is towards …

Neal Purvis: It is a tale of redemption, but for us it's very exciting because it shows that something isn't dead until it's been shot.

Robert Wade: Yeah. But it was in the days when we didn't have deadlines wasn't it, I mean we had …

Neal Purvis: Yeah

Robert Wade: Oh it took us years and years and we got through a few directors on it …

Neal Purvis: Five.

Above: Robert Wade & Neal Purvis


Robert Wade: Really? But it's just a thing which is true about things is that if you keep going long enough then a script that is, you know it was a good script and I hope it's going to be a good film but it's now got made because we kept going.

Peter Florence: It's also got made presumably because now you've made two movies, which between them grossed a billion dollars and you are, you have in some sense the power to get it made.

Robert Wade: No I don't think that's got anything to do with it but what it means …

Neal Purvis: You'd think that that would be the case but it doesn't work like that.

Robert Wade: It did mean that we didn't have to get it made. I think when you're starting out, above all you want credit, you want to get a movie made so you will take whatever people come and maybe they might not be - I mean I'm not saying that about anything that we've done - but we were able to say well we don't want to do it with this person but we will do it … we had control because we weren't desperate to get it made.

Peter Florence: We now have time for questions from the audience and we will I promise you be screening at the end of this an action sequence from Die Another Day

Floor Questions...

Floor Question One: I'd just like to start off the questions from the audience with one that was texted in from an admirer of London who wants to know how easy writing Johnny English was having started with Bond.

Robert Wade: Well we were adamant about not making a James Bond spoof because it's sort of contained within the genre itself so we said to Rowan Atkinson we only want to sort of go into the Graham Greene sort of territory.

Peter Florence: A Graham Greene spoof rather than an Ian Fleming spoof.

Robert Wade: No, you know, maybe not so commercial but more interesting to us but something happened and we weren't able to carry on with it and it ended up being a James Bond spoof. Is that right?

Neal Purvis: Yeah, I mean it really wasn't, and it was embarrassing for us to a certain extent because our intention, I mean you can't do the James Bond and write a Bond spoof, you can't do that.

Peter Florence: No I think because it holds within it its own…


'... it was embarrassing for us to a certain extent ...'

Robert Wade: It's not interesting, it's a boring thing to do so we were sort of trying to go down a certain road and it was more about the kind of end of Empire and everything and then basically September 11th happened and suddenly, our plot had been about some spies who had nothing to do sort of conspiring to re-hang the iron curtain …

Robert Wade: … and that seemed suddenly terribly unfunny so it had to be, it had be re-changed and we couldn't do that because we were doing the Bond film so it was a really difficult situation. What they did was they took the scenes that we had written and they put it into a much less controversial or sort of cynical plot …

Neal Purvis: And both films …

Peter Florence: Closer to Bean and the Barclay Card ads.

Robert Wade: Yeah, I mean that's the funny thing about it, but it, you know I think it's sort of, it is funny but it's like a Bond spoof. For instance we had him in a Bristol, which is you know very end of Empire British car and now he's in an Aston Martin.

Floor Question Two: I get the impression with the Bond movies that you two are quite keen to do a more Fleming-esc movie but market forces are dictating that that's not possible, is that a fair assessment, particularly of Die Another Day?

Above: Die Another Day, UK Quad (2002)
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'...I think it's Fleming-Ian is the term actually, because it's got the Ian in it...'


Peter Florence: What's Fleming-esc

Neal Purvis: Well …

Robert Wade: I think it's Fleming-Ian is the term actually, because it's got the Ian in it. I think that you couldn't do a straight Fleming adaptation. I mean they did do it and that was of its time but I don't think you could do that now because the Bond movies sort of became a different thing and that's what people expect.

Neal Purvis: Well I suppose you would like to do a totally dark one possibly but that's not what the film is, it's for the whole world you know, it just can't be like that. It's got to entertain and there are so many expectations now. I mean if you did a low budget Bond movie set in the 50s you might be able to.

Robert Wade: Which wouldn't be low budget would it?

Neal Purvis: I mean a small story, but you know I mean we're not unhappy but I think the first half of Die Another Day is quite Fleming-Ian.

Floor Question Three: Have you ever felt that you wanted to move into directing films as well as writing them?

Neal Purvis: Well we've had a deal at Working Title for several years now and we've never got around to actually doing anything. The problem is, is that you have to get up very early to do… I mean they get up at 5 and …

Robert Wade: Well we were going to do a night shoot of a movie just shot at night about the schizophrenic guy and we were going to direct…

Neal Purvis: I mean we did think, I mean we do, a performance was shot by Donald Camel and Nick Roe with them turning up on alternate days and you know I think there's a lot to be said for that.

Robert Wade: But the thing is that you get into … you have to deal with actors all the time as a director and there's, you know …

Floor Question Four: What is Bond as a character like to write for?

Robert Wade: Well it's very difficult in the sense of everyone has an expectation of the character but the essential thing about the character is that he doesn't give away much about himself and he doesn't externalise his feelings so if you're going for … the Fleming books are really interesting because they're underneath the surface of the character and cinema isn't like that, so especially with a character who doesn't express his emotions, you're constantly struggling to suggest them. I think Pierce Brosnan is very good at suggesting a kind of undercurrent there without it becoming self indulgent.

Peter Florence: An undercurrent of what?

Robert Wade: Mm sort of there's a shadow over this man, you know, although he enjoys what he does, it's, there is sort of death always kind of running along side him. I don't know if that's noticeable.


Picture: Maxim Fashion

'...the character is that he doesn't give away much about himself...'

Peter Florence: What about what you've done with his relationship with M because Judi Dench gives Bond possibilities that one never had when we had a male controller?

Neal Purvis: Well I think they did it really well in GoldenEye is where it was set up and it's sort of become a little bit cosy now between the two of them.

Robert Wade: Well we did eh, didn't she get, you know he shot her through the shoulder didn't he in the virtual reality sequence of the last film, so we were trying to do something different there but it has got a bit cosy.

Neal Purvis: Yeah, I mean we tried to make John Cleese a bit more like Q was when he first started with Bond, because again that had become very cosy and …

'...we shot her in the last one, I mean and then she had kissed him...'

Peter Florence: Is there a danger of the breaking down of this cosiness?

Robert Wade: Well I think the danger is that it becomes a bit soapy if you keep having these characters all the time.

Peter Florence: How can it be a bit soapy, he's had a relationship, or not had a relationship with Miss Moneypenny for 35 years for goodness sake?

Peter Florence: Is there a danger of the breaking down of this cosiness?

Robert Wade: Yes, well we shot her in the last one, I mean and then she had kissed him but that turned out to be virtual reality as well so.

Floor Question Five: I notice that every time so far that you've talked about something that you really like or that you really admire or that you're fond of or esteem, fairly soon afterward come the words 'but of course you can't do that now'. I wondered whether this makes you at all unhappy?

Neal Purvis: Well mm, maybe you're right

Robert Wade: We should just turn out the lights and …

Neal Purvis: Yeah.

Robert Wade: No, it's not like things were better in the old days but it's just that you need, I think its all the things that I really like I now think how the hell did they manage to do that because now we've got some experience of how difficult it is. Not just to get something made, but for it to be any good, you know that's a huge thing.

Peter Florence: You particularly, with your relatively unlimited budget for your imagination, if you said, to take a very obvious example, we want to abseil down the biosphere, we want to run the speed boat race along the Thames you can do any of that, so turning it round, you now have possibilities and potential that nobody ever had before don't you?

Robert Wade: That's right but it's actually not having any limits to what you can do makes it more difficult to live up to that.

Peter Florence: Do you also find it a particular challenge that international terrorism is no longer solely the realm of fantasy?

Robert Wade: Yes it's bad, you know it's very inconvenient for us.

Stay tuned to MI6 for the rest of the the Neal Purvis and Robert Wade interview.

Related Articles:
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 1)
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 2)
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 3)
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 5)
MI6 "The World is Not Enough" Coverage
MI6 "Die Another Day" Coverage

Many thanks to Peter Florence, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Ellie Ward, The Orange Word and The British Library. Transcript courtesy The Orange Word. Image courtesy Amazon Associates and The Orange Word