Bond Week: From the Set of Skyfall

The 23rd authorized adventure of Ian Fleming’s British spy designated 007 and Daniel Craig’s third outing in the role marks the 50th Anniversary since the very first Bond film Dr. No, so it’s a really important movie in the franchise that’s taken a four-year hiatus while MGM squared away financing. Unlike Quantum of Solace, which continued on from the 2006 reboot of Casino Royale that introduced Craig as Bond, this is a stand-alone movie that takes place sometime afterwards.

We didn’t really learn too much about the plot of the movie except that it revolves around the relationship between Bond and his handler M, played for the seventh time by Dame Judi Dench, and how it’s affected by something from her past that comes back to haunt her, something Bond must try to stop.

New Characters and their Costumes

The main villain is one Raul Silva, played by Javier Bardem, and really, we don’t know that much more about him except that like many past Bond villains, he’s using terrorism to get what he wants. We know that Dame Judi Dench’s M is a lot more involved in this one and even goes out with 007 into the field, while Ralph Fiennes plays M’s government overseer Mallory and Albert Finney plays someone named Kincade. For those counting, that’s two Oscars and fourteen Oscar nominations among just those four actors and that’s not even including the one Sam Mendes won. If nothing else, the acting will be better in this one than Quantum of Solace.

GALLERY: View the 3-page gallery of “Skyfall” production photos!

Then there’s the movie’s lovely eye candy – the two new Bond girls are Eve, another British agent played by Naomie Harris (28 Days Later and “Pirates of the Caribbean”), and the “glamorous and enigmatic” Severine, played by sultry French-Cambodian model Berenice Marlohe, neither of whose characters we know much more about.

We thought maybe we could get some clues about these characters from what they may wear, and no one would know more about that then costume designer Jany Temime, best known for her work on the “Harry Potter” series, who admits that Skyfall is more of a “director’s film” because of Sam Mendes, which also may help differentiate it from previous Bond movies.

“He’s the sort of director who puts his signature on everything he does,” she told us. “I thought it was interesting to try to understand why the characters were acting that way in an action movie, to try and find the motivation for those actions. I think that’s what we’ve brought in this new Bond. It’s an iconic project, so you should update it but not change it. Of course, you have to make it up to a 2012 film, because the public wants something new, but you shouldn’t change the formula because the formula is extremely successful.”

She watched roughly half the previous Bond movies as homework and she picked up the most inspiration from the earliest Bond movies, especially the relationship between the costumes worn by the men and the women. She also studied all of the previous Bond villains in developing the costumes for Bardem’s character, while trying to do something different, but that’s all she’d say on the villain, because she began to realize she might give too much away.

Locations and Sets

A big part of the Bond movies have been the exotic locations where they’ve shot them, but for Skyfall they’re staying fairly close to home, both in terms of creating those exotic locations on the Pinewood soundstages, but also doing something that seems unheard of in a Bond movie by having part of the movie take place on and under the streets of London proper. The production would be heading off to Turkey soon for a couple more weeks of shooting before they wrap in late May, but they still had a lot of work to do at the studio.

On arrival our first day, we were taken around to the sets, beginning with one that had already been torn down at what is called the “Paddock Pool,” a large outdoor water tank where they had built the exteriors of a casino in Macao, China. We were told they had put lily pads in the water and hanging red Chinese lanterns above it, plus there was a blue screen on the wall behind the tank to enhance the environment. In fact, this was a similar water tank as the one at Universal Studios where Steven Spielberg shot a lot of Jaws. All that was left were two giant colorful dragonheads in their full glory, which they haven’t figured out quite what to do with just yet.

Next, we walked through the Pinewood backlot where they had built an abandoned ghost town, which is meant to be a part of Hashima Island in Japan, the location where Bond first meets Silva in the movie, though we weren’t told what the context of that meeting was. Again, mysteries, mysteries… The entire complex was made to look like it was concrete, mostly crumbling with rubble everywhere and the multi-paneled glass windows had many of their panes smashed in. As we walked through the empty streets, we came upon a town square in a similar state of destruction with a giant statue of some Japanese emperor or other guarding over it, though its head and torso had already been pulled down, either by the townspeople or by whatever drove them out of town. They were ready to tear this set down and they had already pulled out all of the set dressing and props that littered the streets behind the set – rusted shopping carts and bicycles, signs that used to adorn the doorways. Presumably, this stuff would be used again down the road for other productions.

Finally, we were brought into Pinewood’s 59,000 square foot 007 Stage, the largest soundstage in Europe, where they had reconstructed part of the London Underground for a chase scene with Bond going after Silva, although again, they only told us the bare minimum, so we didn’t know where in the movie this would take place. Apparently, Silva escapes from Bond by running onto a train and Bond runs after it and then chases him into the catacombs underneath the London Underground. This was where they were filming today, and we peered behind the large safety curtains to see a large cavernous structure made of concrete and brick, looking very old, as one might assume the tunnels below the tube might look, with large circular portals between the different tunnels and pools of water on the ground where it was flooded. Although we didn’t see it, in another section of the massive stage they had built a replica of the Temple Station platform, and we were told the production had been in London over the past couple weekends shooting in an abandoned portion of the Charing Cross tube station.

Special Effects Supervisor Chris Courbould, who had been working on Bond going all the way back to Moonraker (!) and who has since become Christopher Nolan’s main effects man, had spent a good deal of time rigging up what would be one of the movie’s bigger set pieces, in which an actual tube train would crash through the cement roof of those catacombs, a stunt that literally could only be done once, because it would take them an entire week to rebuild the set after doing the stunt. They had brought in two authentic looking London tube cars, which were sitting on a track high above the other sets that was indeed pointed straight towards the top of the catacombs set. Sometime the next day, once they had cleared the stage of everyone, they would power up that train and send it barreling forward and crashing though the roof.

Our small group of journalists was brought over to the monitors where we watched them finish up Roger Deakins’ meticulous lighting on set for Craig and Bardem’s stand-ins before they got in position for their scene. Unfortunately, this was a long shot and both of the actors were in shadow, but we could see that Bardem was dressed up as a London policeman with blonde hair–we couldn’t tell if that was a wig or he really had blonde hair–and he was climbing up a ladder in the foreground.

In the scene, Bond catches up to Silva as he climbs the ladder and fires two shots with his Walther PPK at the villain, as sparks fly off the ladder near to Bardem.

“I won’t miss next time, Mr. Silva,” Bond state confidently, to which Silva responds, “Not bad, James. I’m a physical wreck. Now that you got me, here’s your prize, the latest thing from my local toy store, it’s called a radio.”

Yeah, it’s a rather strange thing for a Bond villain to be saying, but apparently, right after that bit of dialogue, a giant explosion goes off in the tunnel, presumably right above Bond where the derailed train would come crashing down. Unfortunately, we missed this part, but it didn’t take a dummy to figure out that Silva’s radio must have set off the explosion that derails the train allowing Silva to escape.

Day 2 at Pinewood was mainly spent in the Ballroom, talking with some of the movie’s cast and crew, and of course, we looked forward to catching up with Craig and talk to Javier Bardem about playing another villain after winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Skyfall also reunites Bardem with cinematographer Roger Deakins who in turn is working with the Coen’s long-time production designer Dennis Gassner, who also worked on Quantum of Solace and had worked on a few of Sam Mendes’ other films.

Here are two of the interviews we conducted with Bond himself, Bardem and Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, and we’ll have more to share as “Bond Week” continues.

Daniel Craig and Barbara Broccoli

Javier Bardem is Raoul Silva

The Guns and One Very Special Car

In between interviews, we went to the garage where the film’s armorer Joss Skottowe, who had been handling Bond’s guns going back to Die Another Day, had laid out a few dozen guns from the entire history of Bond for us to look at and handle, including various models of Bond’s handgun of choice, the Walther PPK5 from different eras of Bond dating back to From Russia with Love.

Skottowe’s job is to train the actors to hold and fire the guns properly so they’d be convincing in the movie, and he’s worked on all three movies with Craig. Javier Bardem’s character also carries and uses a number of guns, as does Bond’s fellow agent Naomie Harris, as Skottowe showed us a wide range of guns from Glocks to cool-looking German assault rifles from Heckler and Koch. Even Berenice Marlohe got some training with the guns even though we were told she doesn’t really use one. We got to pick up and handle the various guns to get a feel for their weight and compare how the different hand guns felt, as well as the difference between the working firearms and the rubber dummy models used for longshots and during stunts.

He also showed us a large futuristic gun that they had invented for the villain in Die Another Day, essentially jury-rigged together from a number of other rifles, but the trick is to make these guns work realistically even though they’re shooting blanks.

As we left Skottowe, we had a chance to get a close-up look at the original 1963 Aston Martin DB5, which was parked nearby–one of the cars in the garage that wasn’t covered up. This actually is the same car that 007 won in a poker game in the Bahamas in Casino Royale, and we were told it plays a fairly large part in Skyfall. Earlier the previous day, we were walking around the workshops and saw that they were building a smaller model version of the DB5, which makes us think that it will be involved in some sort of stunt as well.

Skyfall opens in theaters on Friday, November 9. Look for more interviews over the next few days, including our chat with M herself, Dame Judi Dench, and Bond Girl Berenice Marlohe.