Interview | Sam Mendes
Published: Friday, November 16, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012 08:11
While promoting his international box-office hit “Skyfall,” director Sam Mendes took a moment to field questions from the college press about the 23rd film in the James Bond franchise.
The Tufts Daily: How do you resurrect Bond from the previous films and then keep the franchise going without becoming repetitive or irrelevant?
Sam Mendes: Well, you tell a story that hasn’t been told before, I suppose, and you push the character in directions that he hasn’t been pushed before. And the nice thing is that I have producers who were willing to let me go to places that they’ve never been before in a Bond movie ... One of the lucky things is, at the moment, we are living in a world where people don’t equate large, commercial films with having to be light. In other words, now it’s possible to be dark and ... push the envelope a little bit more with bigger movies.
TD: Everyone has his or her own opinions of what they want the Bond films to be. How do you deal with all those opinions? What kind of Bond film did you set out to make?
SM: I think the only way to deal with opinions is to chill out, to be honest with you. I think one of [the] things [about] a Bond movie is you’re surrounded by white noise all the time. Everyone [has an] opinion about what kind of Bond they want to see and you quickly realize that everyone’s Bond is different. You know, some people want to see more gadgets, some people don’t like gadgets. I mean, one day, I had someone say to me, “God, I hope you put some humor back into it,” and literally five minutes later somebody said to me, “Thank God they’re not trying to be funny anymore. It’s so much better now you’re not trying to be funny.” So the truth is, wherever you go, you’re going to have someone stating the opposite opinion to what you think. I think the most important thing that I discovered is to push away the white noise and try to ask yourself, “What do you want to see when you’re sitting in a dark room and you pay your fifteen dollars?” ... I’m very happy that I was able to make a movie that’s personal enough and that I didn’t feel I got lost in, and that I [didn’t try] to make everyone else’s film.
TD: How does your personal aesthetic show in the film?
SM: [Laughs] Well, I think it’s in every shot. I mean, I selected every shot, I chose how [“Skyfall” is] put together and how it’s ordered and how it’s timed. It’s as personal as anything else I’ve ever done. It’s like saying to a writer, “How’s your personal aesthetic show?” Well, you wrote it. For me, it’s a film I feel no different about than anything else I’ve done.
TD: What defines a Bond girl for you?
SM: Well, I can only really talk about my movie. For me, there’s nothing that defines a Bond girl except, you know, she’s in [a] “Bond” [film]. I didn’t go into this movie thinking, “What do I need to find in a Bond girl that’s always been there?” I just wanted to create two interesting, complex, multi-dimensional characters that had a few surprises up their sleeve and weren’t sort of doe-eyed innocents being pushed around, but had some kind of layers and some depth ... and I hope that’s what we’ve achieved.
TD: What were some of the challenges or rewards of working with such a veteran cast, people like Javier Bardem and Judi Dench?
SM: The rewards are huge, and there are very few challenges, to be honest with you, because, you know, if you’re used to working with actors, then you’ll know that these are the best in the world, and they do make your life much easier, because their starting points are where a lot of actors would be finishing. For me, it was just a pleasure and that was one of the biggest delights in working on this movie, was how, you know, we’d finish a scene with Javier Bardem and then in would walk Ralph Fiennes, and we’d finish a scene with Ralph Fiennes and then in would come Judi Dench. Not to mention Daniel Craig and Naomie Harris and Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw, etcetera, etcetera. So, for me, it was a huge pleasure and I’ve never done a movie in which every single person I offered a role to said yes. The only challenge was that Judi and Albert Finney are both in their 70s and they had to do action scenes. [Laughs] But they loved it, and they were game, and it turned out great in the end.
—This interview has been edited and abridged from its original form.