Monday, February 25, 2013

Interview with Tom DeMichael, author of James Bond FAQ

Carlos: Which are your least favorite Bond movies? Why?

Tom DeMichael: As I mentioned in my book, I find the 1967 version of Casino Royale to be intolerable - but as I also noted, it's not considered to be an "official" Bond film. Of the 23 Bond films produced by Eon Productions, my choice for least favorite Bond film would be a tossup between Moonraker and A View to A Kill. Moonraker, because I think Michael Lonsdale - despite his normally fine abilities as an actor - completely underplayed his role of Hugo Drax. Plus, the whole scene with Jaws and his newly-found girlfriend Dolly saving Bond and Holly Goodhead aboard a space shuttle makes me want to turn off the whole film at that point. A View to A Kill forces us to believe that Tanya Roberts is a geologist, villainous May Day is stronger than Oddjob - a character portrayed by a former Olympic weightlifter, and that Roger Moore - bless him - could still be a sexy and action-packed 007 at the age of 58. Both films suffered from a weak script and a general lack of creative direction and inspiration.

Carlos: Who is your favorite Bond girl? Why?

Tom DeMichael: This is a great question, dependent on whether I answer from my own feelings of attraction, or my opinion of theatrical performance. Perhaps I'll touch on both.

For my own tastes, Jill St. John from Diamonds Are Forever was a wonderful combination of stunning beauty, pure sexiness, and brains - at least in real life. With an IQ over 160, she's proved herself to be a very capable and attractive performer over the years. From a standpoint of pure beauty, it's hard to get past blonde Ursula Andress and dark-haired Eunice Gayson, both from Dr. No.

In terms of character, and portrayal in the films, I would have to say Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger gave a wonderful performance as a tough and independent woman - something unusual in the year of 1964. She was a skilled pilot, took very little guff from anyone and Blackman nailed the character.

I thought Sophie Marceau was very strong as Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough, a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome. Olga Kurylenko was very good in Quantum of Solace, playing a woman who had been hurt many times and one of the few women who did not succumb to Bond's charms.

Carlos: What is the future of the franchise?

Tom DeMichael: The James Bond film franchise is very unique in the history of cinema. It's relatively unprecedented for a literary character to be brought to the Silver Screen managed by the same production team for fifty years. Certainly, you have Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan - like Bond, portrayed by different actors over the years - but none of those series were controlled in total by a single creative entity. The Broccoli family members - first Albert, with partner Harry Saltzman until he split in the mid-70s, then stepson Michael G. Wilson and soon after daughter Barbara Broccoli - have maintained the roles of producer since 1962. Today, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli continue to successfully push the buttons for the franchise. Waiting in the wings is Wilson's son, Gregg, who has been involved with the Bond films since The World Is Not Enough and was most recently an associate producer on Skyfall. It's generally assumed that he will take over the executive reins at some point in the future. But Michael Wilson is in his early 70s and Barbara Broccoli is only in her early 50s, so they have many years left before turning over the keys to the 007 offices to Gregg.

In terms of the films themselves, you need only to look at the fact that the most recent Bond film, Skyfall, brought in more than $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. That doesn't include Blu-Ray, DVD, on-demand, and all the merchandising. I don't think there's any doubt that James Bond will return - for many, many years to come.

Carlos: Which actor will play the next Bond?

Tom DeMichael: Daniel Craig, who has brought to the screen much of the rough and cold demeanor that Ian Fleming's original James Bond had, is contracted to star in the next two Bond films - known currently as Bond 24 and Bond 25. At 45 right now, Craig would be only near age 50 when that arrangement is completed. Seeing how Roger Moore lasted until age 58 and Sean Connery returned as Bond at age 53 in Never Say Never Again, it's not unreasonable to think that Daniel Craig could re-up for another tour of duty as Bond toward the end of this decade.

So, considering that Craig is going nowhere in the foreseeable future, the gossip still rages as to who the "next" James Bond will be. Initial thoughts have tagged Robert Pattinson - from the Twilight movies - as a possible candidate, along with actors like Christian Bale and Guy Pearce. Considering the latter two would be 45 and 50 when Craig finishes his shift, they are unlikely. Henry Cavill, only 30, has also been mentioned as a possibility and actually tested for the role of Bond in 2006's Casino Royale.

Despite their varied abilities, all six actors who have played Bond were relatively unknown, and certainly not A-list performers, when chosen for 007. Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan had made their names in television series prior to taking the iconic role, and the rest came to the table with experience ranging from print model, stage performances, and secondary roles in feature films. It's very likely that next James Bond will come from similar backgrounds.

Carlos: Do you see a JB movie filmed in 3D?

Tom DeMichael: Knowing that the Bond producers have already stated that they really don't believe the 007 franchise is suitable for, or needs to be in, three dimensions, I would think the possibilities of James Bond in 3-D are very, very slim in the foreseeable future.

Carlos: Do you see Bond continuing to use the Walther PPK?

Tom DeMichael: A flippant response would be, "Dance with the partner that brought you to the party." The Walther PPK has been most reliable, and recognizable, for the last 50 years, remembering that the puny Beretta 418 was its predecessor in Dr. No (actually the prop used was a Beretta M1934). Walther was able to convince the producers of both Octopussy and Never Say Never Again to feature their new P5 in 1983, and 007 used a P99 in three of Brosnan's films and Craig's first.

The producers made a strong statement in Skyfall by featuring a new quartermaster, yet still entrusting Bond with a Walther PPK, albeit retrofitted with a hand signature grip. Right there, I believe the Walther PPK was reaffirmed as the weapon of choice for 007.

Carlos: Which of the Ian Fleming books/short story is the next Bond film?

Tom DeMichael: Story development for Bond 24 has already been underway for three months. As all twelve Ian Fleming novels have already made it to the screen, it it's unlikely any of those will be remade in the near future. Fleming wrote nine short stories, five of which have become films, even if by title only. Portions and snippets from three of the remaining four stories have appeared in one form or another in the Bond films over the years.

When one looks at the fact that much of the source material from Fleming is now 50 to 60 years old, I would be surprised to see any major plot points and/or characters from the original Fleming catalog show up in any of the upcoming Bond films.

Carlos:  How long did it take to write the book?

Tom DeMichael: Sticking to a rigid and well-planned schedule, the James Bond FAQ - all 140,000 words of it - was researched and written in six months.

Carlos: For how long did you want to write the book?

Tom DeMichael:I have always been an avid Bond fan, ever since I saw Thunderball at the age of 10. The format that the FAQ series from Applause Books established seemed perfect for the summation of all cinematic things 007, especially considering the timing of the landmark 50-year anniversary.

Carlos: Why was Dr. No the first novel made into a film?

Carlos:  How is the order of novels/short stories made into movies determined?

Tom DeMichael: I have combined these last two questions, since their answers have quite a bit of overlap.

Fleming wrote Casino Royale in 1953. The story was purchased by the CBS television network and produced as a one-hour drama in 1954. As the author continued to write his Bond novels, much thought was given to turning them into an on-going series for CBS. When that didn't happen, producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman formed Eon Productions and purchased options on Fleming's current and future Bond stories. The exception was Casino Royale, the rights to which he had already sold (which is why it was never produced as an Eon Productions film until 2006, when alternate arrangements could finally be made. When made in 1967, the film was shot by other producers as pure parody, in order to avoid any legal wrangling with Eon.)

The reason Dr. No - the sixth Fleming novel - became the first Bond film was largely economic. James Bond was an unknown commodity in 1962. While the books had been big sellers in Britain, America knew little about 007. Studios in Hollywood were hesitant to back a film about a secret agent from England (note that in CBS's 1954 TV production of Casino Royale, Bond was an American agent, echoing the thoughts that a British agent was of no interest to American audiences.) United Artists finally took a chance, agreeing to back seven films in the series.

Thunderball, a novel adapted from an aborted screenplay Fleming had written with several others, was supposed to be the first Bond film. But when one of the other writers went to court to block the production, Dr. No was deemed to be a story that could be shot within the budget of under $1 million. When it turned out to be a big hit, budgets were increased and Fleming's stories were selected on the basis of predicted commercial appeal and potential financial success.

You Only Live Twice - the fifth film, but actually the 11th novel - was the first to really stray far, far away from the Fleming novels. With the Space Race between America and the USSR going full throttle, it was believed a story about hijacking spacecraft was superior to Japanese castles and Blofeld disguised as Dr. Shatterhand. The next film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service - the novel actually BEFORE You Only Live Twice - returned to stick close to the original story, despite the inexperienced George Lazenby replacing Sean Connery. After that, the Bond films relied on Fleming titles and very little else from books.

When Casino Royale was released in 2006, it was a pleasant return to much of the original Fleming story, featuring characters and scenes from the novel that had come out more than 50 years before.


You can find my husband Carlos on his blog Live Fast Look Good or on Twitter @livefastlookgd . Check out Carlos' review of James Bond FAQ.

James Bond FAQ
All That's Left to Know about Everyone's Favorite Superspy
by Tom DeMichael
Applause Theatre and Cinema Books (Hal Leonard)
December 2012

Find the book on:
Barnes and Noble
Indie Bound

1 comment:

  1. Fun, interesting read. I can't categorize myself as a Bond fan although I enjoy the films when I see them. I even like the cheesy ones. Thanks for posting this.



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