This November, Daniel Craig returns to the screen as James Bond in Skyfall, the 23rd film in the long-running franchise chronicling the adventures of Ian Fleming's famous secret agent.
Skyfall's arrival also marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise, and continues the longstanding tradition of filming at Europe's most famous production arena, Pinewood Studios. The massive “007 Stage” at Pinewood is the largest film stage in Europe, and has served as the base of operations for the majority of the films in the franchise – beginning with 1962's Dr. No and most recently with 2008's Quantum of Solace.
Fandango was one of several outlets invited to the U.K. this month to get an early look at Skyfall and go behind the scenes as James Bond faces off against a brand new enemy played by Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem.
“All I ever wanted was, if given the chance, to get the best script writers, the best directors, and the best actors,” said Craig of his ultimate hopes for the newly revamped James Bond franchise. “Why the f--- not? They're James Bond movies, for Christ's sake. People want to come and see them. So let's put the best in them.”
While filming also occurred in Turkey, Shanghai, and Scotland in addition to London, the globe-spanning aspects of Bond's next adventure were on full display at Pinewood, too.
Among the set pieces glimpsed during our tour were interior and exterior stages for an exotic Macau casino. The exterior stage featured a pair of large, colorful dragon heads positioned near a shallow paddock filled with water, and an enormous green-screen in the background. A nearby soundstage housed the interior set of the casino: a two-floor stage adorned with ornate, golden dragons wrapped around pillars, polished wooden floors and railings, and several casino tables bunched in a corner.
The next set piece on our tour offered a decidedly less polished environment for James Bond and his Skyfall nemesis, Silva (played by Bardem), to cross paths.
A re-creation of the deserted Japanese island Hashima (known as “Ghost Island”), the outdoor set was was ringed by a gray facade of bleak, empty storefronts and streets filled with urban rubble. The remains of a toppled statue spilled out across the faux-city's central plaza, and various pieces of weathered rubbish filled the abandoned “streets.” It was strongly hinted that this will be the setting for James Bond's first meeting with Silva, and if so, it's an environment that makes for an appropriately grim beginning to the pair's relationship.
Other Skyfall set pieces that were constructed at Pinewood but disassembled before our tour included the Shanghai office building seen in some early promotional photos, and a safehouse Bond uses during the film. The third (and final) set we toured, however, stayed close to home – for James Bond, at least.
Occupying a large portion of the 007 Stage was a recreation of Temple Station, a busy stop in London's underground transit system, and the location of a scene being filmed that day. A life-size model of one of the train's cars sat perched high above the set's floor on tracks that led around, then directly into the roof of a ground-level stage created to look like an empty section of the London Underground. Portions of the floor were submerged in several inches of water, and stone arches lined each side of the room, made up to look like the tunnels running beneath London's streets.
“We've been lucky to have the ability to film down in Westminster, a bit in the Underground, and areas you usually don't get a chance to film in, because it's difficult to get permission,” said Craig of some of the on-location filming that occurred outside Pinewood Studios in London, some of which was being replicated in today's scene.
“Somehow, James Bond seems able to pull the strings, though,” he laughed.
The scene filmed that day involved an encounter between Bond and Silva deep beneath London, occurring either before or after a chase through the trains and surrounding tunnels. Bond catches up to Silva in the shadowy, wet depths of the tunnel and fires off a pair of shots from his trusty Walther PPK as Bardem's character ascends a ladder in the foreground of the scene. Sparks fly as the shots hit the metal ladder near Silva.
“I won't miss next time, Mr. Silva,” says Bond as he steps from the shadows, his pistol leveled at Silva.
“Not bad, James – for a physical wreck,” responds Silva.
“Why, thank you,” says Bond, ever the gentleman.
“You called me, now here's your prize,” continues Silva. “It's the latest thing from my local toy store – it's called a radio.”
The scene concluded with Silva holding up a radio in his hand.
Later in the day, the pyrotechnic team went to work, adding an explosive finale to the scene under the watchful eye of Skyfall director Sam Mendes. After taking a break to set up the controlled explosion, the same scene played out again, but ended with a loud report from the wall behind Craig. From what we could glean from the cast and crew, the scene ends with Silva's character triggering an explosion that diverts Bond's attention and causes havoc with London's train system.
“So many great actors and great villains have been in James Bond movies over the years, but the reaction I had was not to really think about that,” said Bardem of his mysterious character in the film. As is often the case with Bond films, Bardem and the rest of the Skyfall cast were cautious about revealing too much of the plot during the publicity cycle.
“I had my own ideas [about the character], and Sam came to me, and then we put the ideas together,” he said. “And hopefully we're doing something that's original – which in this world is very difficult.”
Our sneak peek at Skyfall wasn't limited to just the aforementioned sets and scene, though.
Also on the day's itinerary was a trip to James Bond's armory for a look at some of the weapons that will appear in the film, as well as some of the vehicles (both on the ground and in the air). Professional armorer Joss Skottowe, who oversaw the weaponry used in both Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale, indicated that Bond's latest adventure could offer the most varied selection of weapons we've seen so far – including everything from a classic elephant gun to a modern machine pistol, which fires off 13 rounds per second.
According to Craig, with the 50th anniversary of the franchise looming large over the film, they haven't shied away from offering the occasional nod to the 22 films that preceded Skyfall, either.
“It pays homage to what's gone before,” he told reporters during the set visit. “You have to in this situation, and we've had some fun with it.”
On that note, it was hard to miss the profile of James Bond's most famous car, an Aston Martin DB5, parked in one of the garages we toured. The studio confirmed that the familiar vehicle will make yet another appearance in one of James Bond's big-screen adventures, making Skyfall the sixth film to feature the DB5 (or possibly the seventh, if you count its blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in The World Is Not Enough). A nearby garage housed the scaled-down model versions of several vehicles from the upcoming film, including the DB5 and a large military helicopter that will turn up at some point in the movie.
With production wrapping up in May, there are only a few more weeks left before James Bond's next journey is complete. Still, Craig said the job of bringing the famous secret agent to the screen is an adventure in itself – and a new one in every iteration.
“The truth of it is, I feel like we're still discovering stuff,” said Craig when asked whether he's starting to feel more comfortable in the role of James Bond now that he's in the midst of his third film. “That's a coy thing to say, but it's not meant to be. . . . This is a whole new experience for me. Having Sam come into this, and the fact that we got a script together so well early on, that meant that I could work for a long time on the script and everything else.”
“But I feel just as nervous as I did when I'd begun the first one,” he laughed.