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Producing THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
Michael G. Wilson carries the Bond legacy into the '90s and beyond.
By Steve Biodrowski
November 19, 1999
Michael G. Wilson has been a part of the James Bond franchise since with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977. Not only has he produced ten of the films; he also worked on scripts for five of them. Working first under the auspices of producer Albert Broccoli (who launched the series, along with Harry Saltzman, back in 1962), Wilson helped revive interest in the exploits of 007 after a certain decline during the early to mid-'70s. During the '80s, he oversaw the gradual move away from the light-hearted, humorous turn the series had taken, back toward a more serious direction. In the '90s, since the death of Albert Broccoli, Wilson and his step-sister, Barbara Broccoli, have been carrying on the family tradition, again reviving flagging interest in the series, this time with the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming's famous creation. The latest Bond film, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, is meant to set the character up in a way that will carry the franchise into the next millennium. This is quite a feat when you consider that the films have long since run out of books to adapt; fortunately, that hasn't slowed the series down.
IS IT HARD COMING UP WITH PLOTS NOW THAT YOU'VE RUN OUT OF FLEMING NOVELS?
Plots are always needed. It's really coming up with a good story that's the key thing. It's not something that the audience appreciates in the sense that, if you ask them what they like about the film, they usually don't mention it. But if it's absent, they won't like the film. It's almost a kind of unconscious, visceral thing. They really want a good story; they just articulate it. That's why when people do research and stuff, they miss out. We do a lot of research. A lot of the series that you've seen that have come and gone have listened to the audience and then tried to write scripts according to what the audience says. The audience generally remembers the stunts and the action, so they just keep on getting more and more stunts and action, and letting the story go. Before you know it, they don't have a series anymore.
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP THE SCRIPT NEAL PURVIS AND ROBERT WADE?
They came to us and said they wanted to do it, and they gave us some writing samples and threw out some ideas. (We only used established writers, I hasten to say, because we get floods of stuff all the time, and it just goes to our lawyers and gets sent back.) But these fellows looked like the type of people we could work with. That's the main thing: you want writers that can collaborate with yourself and the director. That's key to making these kinds of films. These are made by teams of people, and the writers are part of that team. Then, we were talking about the idea of a woman villain, so we started off with that as a general idea. And then Barbara Broccoli, my sister and co-producer, saw one of the Nightline episodes about Bakku and the oil. We thought, 'This could work as a backdrop.' Then it was just a matter of coming up with the plot. It evolved over eight or nine months of working, pretty much meeting the writers weekly and then daily.
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE MICHAEL APTED.
Part of the film works because the relationship between Sophie and Pierce works; if that didn't work, the film wouldn't work. So rather than think in terms of 'Who's a good action director?' we thought 'Who's a good dramatic director who can work with actors to bring out the drama that we need for this to work?' As a consequence of hiring him, we were also have to have Robbie Carlyle and M have a great scene together, Bond and M have a great scene together. It sort of...the whole picture improved because of the fact that Michael knows how to deal with actors, and they trust him implicitly; he gets a really good performance out of them. As far as the action goes, he's knowledgeable about action; he knows that all action sequences need a good, solid narrative, and he had no problem letting Vic [Armstrong] and the special effects guys work to bring these really good, solid action sequences in.
WHAT WAS YOUR CONCEPT FOR THE DR. JONES CHARACTER?
The Dr. Jones character came out of a friend of mine who collects rugs from Afghanistan. When you collect something that obscure, you have to go where they are; to find other collectors is quite a job. In New York city he heard of a Russian woman who was a collector of these rugs, and it turned out that she was an atomic scientist who, as soon as she graduated, went into the special services. The Russians-when a plan crashes with atomic weapons on board, no matter where it is in the world, they spend a special unit that surreptitiously drops in, and they take the bombs and disarm them. This is what her job was during her twenties, and she was an athletic, attractive, wild kind of girl who was an atomic physicist. Having that was a pretty good model for Denise.
WHAT MADE DENISE RICAHRDS THE BEST CHOICE FOR THAT ROLE?
Well, we wanted an American. We wanted somebody who could fit this image of a physicist who was going around doing something important. Not necessarily an action hero but just committed to doing something.
IS DESMOND LLEWELYN LEAVING THE SERIES NOW THAT YOU'VE ESTABLISHED JOHN CLEESE AS R?
As far as Desmond Llewelyn, who's been playing Q since FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, we're anxious to have him continue on. He's the one who suggested we bring someone else in, a younger man, so we brought someone in just slightly younger. But he's just great. He just goes on and on, so we're going to keep using him.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE TO HAVING JUDI DENCH AS M?
The idea of casting a woman as M, which we did in GOLDENEYE in 1994, came about because Stella Remington had taken over MI6 in London, so we had a woman in charge of MI6. We thought, 'If we're going to be contemporary and up to date, why not try it and see what it would be like?' When you think about that, you then say, 'Who can we cast in that kind of role?' It turned out that Judi Dench was enthusiastic and ready to do it, and we thought, 'Wow, we've got a great opportunity here.' We've taken that and developed that idea, and she has a much bigger role in this film. The character of M has never had as large a role as in this film.
THE NEW FILM TRIED TO BALANCE THE DRAMA WITH LOTS OF VERBAL HUMOR.
Some better than others, I trust. I think it's just a matter of trying to get a balance right. Sometimes we use too much humor, too many double entendres; sometimes not enough. As soon as you change anything, you get a flood of letters: 'What happened to this? What happened to that?' Other people write in saying, 'It's all right, except you've got too many double entendres.'
THAT LAST LINE OF DIALOGUE WAS A BIT MUCH. WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?
That was Rob and Neal, the original writers on it. We've always pushed a bit. At the very end of the film, we kind of pushed a bit, for the teenagers. We're family films, and you've got to have something for everybody in the family.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT SELECTING COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS FOR THE THEME SONG?
We've had a lot of different forces acting on us in the music area over the years. We have a view, Barbara [Broccoli, Wilson's sister] and I, that we should have the composer do the theme song, the title song, because the theme will be integrated throughout the score of the film. The lyric may be done by the performer or some other guy. We feel ballads by female singers probably work the best in the Bond films, so we aim for that. This time, we were lucky enough to get Garbage. That's because David Arnold, our composer, suggested Shirley [Manson, the singer] and went out and got a hold of her. She was very enthusiastic, and we clicked right away.
WERE YOU AWARE OF THIS BAND?
I've heard of them, but I don't know much about them. I can't say I'm current on pop music.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT OPENING ON NOVEMBER 19.
The way it works these days, nothing builds; everything comes out, and they hit you on the head with a hammer. You've got to go see the picture, and first weekend's important, and everybody looks at the figures. But of course we've seen films that have gone on and on. Some of our films have; they just play through. I think, to me, that's the most important thing, because almost any films you can get a big weekend out of it if you advertise it to death. The good films have legs, and they go. We're positioned here, the 19th, because we run up to the biggest weekend in America. There's really two big weekends in America: the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving's the biggest one for film and everything else. We're playing so that's our second weekend. We've got very few-certainly no other action-adventure films competing with us. We have things like SLEEPY HOLLOW and END OF DAYS, but we don't seem to have any other ones coming in to Christmas, so we should be able to play through the Christmas holiday. If we do that, we'll have a good return.
PIERCE SAYS HE'D LIKE TO STEP BACK AND TAKE A BREAK AFTER THIS FILM.
It doesn't give me a problem to do one in three years instead of two. The studio may feel different, but these are very hard to put together. They take over your life. When we're working on the script and production, my wife will say, 'Do you realize you've been working seven days a week?' So I don't mind doing something else; to me it's fine.