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THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH: Michael Apted
The director of documentaries and dramas puts a new spin on the Bond franchise.
By Steve Biodrowski
November 19, 1999
For the newest James Bond extravaganza, producer Michael G. Wilson and star Pierce Brosnan wanted to move the character of 007 in a more dramatic direction-while still serving up fast-paced action, exotic locales, and beautiful women. With an established production team to supply these trademark elements, the decision was made to hire a director more known for dramatic flair than explosive action. Much to his own surprise, Michael Apted got the job. Apted is best known for his continuing documentary series, which began with 7 UP and continues to this day with 42 UP, returning at seven year intervals to re-examine the lives of the same group of people as they grow and change. He has also helmed films that emphasized true-life and/or female protagonists, as in GORILLAS IN THE MIST, COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, and NELL; and he has a fair amount of experience with mystery-thrillers: GORKY PARK, FIRST BORN, THUNDERHEART, BLINK, and EXTREME MEASURES. However, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH represents his first attempt at a big-budget action-adventure. With that in mind, we begin with the obvious question:
WHAT MADE YOU TAKE ON A BOND FILM?
I didn't ask to do it. I don't know how I got to it. I suspect they were looking for a director and my agent put my name up. Then they said, 'Okay, we'll meet,' and I had about five meetings on it. I was a big gob-smacked when it first came to me, because I thought, 'Why on Earth would they want me to do it?' When I met them, I got kind of a feeling why they would want me. I got a feeling they were looking for-this is not to diminish the previous two-a drama director. They wanted to concentrate more on the story or at least to get more out of the story. They knew that they had a female lead in the film-they didn't know who the actress was, but they knew had leading character in the film that the whole story depended on, and I had done a lot of work with ladies in films, with some degree of success. So once I began to figure out why they wanted me, I became very interested because to me it was a vast opportunity on a thousand levels: first as a career opportunity to do a big movie; secondly, I would be learning a whole lot of new stuff about running a film, about doing action stuff, about doing gadget stuff. I could see, with the number of years I've been doing it, at my age it was kind of thrilling to have a real challenge. So it became mutually attractive to do it. I could see why they wanted me, although they saw other directors and took a long time to decide it. I suppose my point is that, once I saw how I could be of some use, I really wanted to do it. I would have been upset not to have done it.
BEING THE NEW PERSON ON THE FRANCHISE, WORKING WITH AN ACTOR ESTABLISHED IN THE LEAD ROLE, WHAT'S IT LIKE TRYING TO PUT YOUR OWN IDEAS INTO THE FILM?
Well, it's pretty scary, because I really wondered, I suppose, 'Is this going to be a can of worms? What am I going to come into? There's been eighteen of these films-what subtext is going to be going on that I'll have to tap into? Is there just going to be a lot of baggage flying around, and one's going to have to deal with it?' That wasn't the case. It was a very friendly and benign organization, and I suppose one of the reason's it was, is that I didn't go in and say, 'Look, this is how to do it-this is how I'm going to do it. ' Frankly, I didn't know how the hell I was going to do it. I knew they'd got together a really strong team, truly some of the best people in the world: Vic Armstrong, the second-unit director; Simon Crane, the stunt coordinator, who's just come off TITANIC and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (you can't do better than that); Peter Lamont, the production designer on TITANIC. All the way down it was a really first class operation. So there was every reason to be respectful of that, every reason to use their guidance to get me through this stuff.
I have to say, during pre-production it was pretty intimidating, because I was going to shoot for six months, from January to June, and I was being asked to make decisions about stuff in October or November that I wouldn't shoot for six months. I found that unconscionable. I thought, 'I'm never going to get through this. This is overwhelming.' Everywhere I went, there were storyboards all flying around. Once we started shooting, things sort of rationalized a bit; things prioritized themselves a bit better. But it was pretty intimidating-the whole taking on the job and also working on it, trying to figure out not just how to do them but how to make it different from other Bond action sequences and different from else is out there now. So that was difficult.
ARE YOU GLAD THAT YOU TACKLED THE PROJECT?
Oh, absolutely yes! I mean, I think I am. You know, it's scary, because you're out there, and there's nowhere to hide. I've taken it on, and if it doesn't work, I know it will all come crashing down around me. No, I really had an enjoyable time doing it, and I learned a ton of stuff, and I hope I haven't-I may have-learned some incredibly bad habits by having almost everything I wanted at my fingertips. I imagine on my next film, which will have a much lower budget, saying, 'Can I have blah-blah-blah?' and they say, 'WHAT!' So I may have learned bad habits, but I hope not.
WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?
Oh, yeah. I had a good time on it, you know. It just worked out for us: the script worked out; casting worked out. Now whether it would again, you never know. Probably not. But it did sort of work out, so it was a fairly smooth ride.
WAS THE CASTING IN PLACE BEFORE YOU STEPPED ON?
No, no, no. Pierce was in place; Judi Dench was in place; Robbie Coltrane was in place, because he had done a previous Bond. But no one else was in place.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DENISE RICHARDS THAT MADE YOU DECIDE SHE SHOULD BE THE NEXT BOND GIRL?
One of the Bond girls. Well, I thought...it's a high-wire act doing the film. You have to deliver certain things: you have to deliver stunts; you have to deliver gadgets; you really have to deliver babes. So you've got to deliver the Bond girls. Once you've delivered that, you can push it around a bit, which is what we wanted to do. The part of Christmas Jones seemed to me to be the part where I had to deliver a Bond babe, but since I was peopling the film with good actors, I wanted a good actress to do it. I didn't want some celebrity piece of casting: some rock-n-roller, some model, or something like that. I'd know of her and seen her stuff. The woman who cast the American part of the film had sort of launched Denise in a way with WILD THINGS and stuff like that. I tested her. I thought, as a character, she had a lot of spunk to her, a lot of gumption, and I liked that in the character, because it's not as interestingly developed in a way that Sophie [Marceau]'s part is or [Robert] Carlyle's part is. Because it's more sketchy, I needed someone who could bring a lot of bounce to it-intellectual bounce as well as physical bounce. I though that's what she would give me.
WAS SOPHIE MARCEAU YOU FIRST CHOICE FOR THE ROLE OF ELECTRA KING?
Yes, she was. It's hard to talk about it, but I'll talk about it-you have to be careful. The thing I felt when I met Sophie was I fell in love with her immediately. I also saw the child woman in her. Some women have a lot of childlike things-sometimes childish things, sometimes innocent things. I felt that would be a terrific way to go with it. You could believe, therefore, that she could be childish and spiteful, and I thought that was a quality you can't act. It's, you know, some men are still boys when they're forty, and some boys are men when they're eighteen. You can't act that; it's just who you are. I just felt she had this kind of child-woman quality. I saw it immediately, and I wanted her immediately. We had a terrific fight with the studio about it. The Broccolis wanted her; we all wanted her. Because she was the first person we say, they [the studio] said, 'You've got to see other people. She wants too much money; we cant afford to pay that,' and all this crap. So we tested other people. But I frankly knew that, if I didn't get her, there was a chance the film wouldn't work, because I always felt that it that character didn't work, I had no story. It wouldn't make sense: Bond would look like an idiot. Supposedly, there was a lot of bullshit in the papers about Sharon Stone playing the part, which was just newspaper gossip. When they said, 'It would be great to have Sharon Stone in it,' I thought, 'As soon as Sharon Stone walks in, you'll know she's the villain, so that makes Bond look stupid.' So the short answer to the question is I knew Sophie was the one when I first met her.
THERE'S MORE DEPTH OF CHARACTER TO THIS PIECE.
That's what attracted me to it. It wasn't very well executed when I came aboard, but I saw the potential there for it. It took a lot of figuring out, a lot of writing to incorporate M into the story much more. Really, the role of Electra was the most difficult to write and the most difficult to write and the most difficult to play, because it's the center of the film. If that collapsed, then you have no movie. If you don't believe Bond could be in love with her twenty minutes into the film and then seventy minutes later he's killing her, then you don't have a story. So that character has a huge journey to take, and that performance has a huge way to go. I think we all knew, everybody did-I'm not sure about the studio-how important that was. We had to have it extremely well played and extremely well written. The same with Carlyle. I get the feeling-just to be immodest for a moment-[because] I was directing the film, these actors expected they would have more to do than just show up and shoot guns. I just knew that Bobbie Carlyle was always looking for stuff. We didn't even have to change how his part was written very much, but because I allowed him to do it, he got this whole sense of the vulnerability of the character, the pain of that relationship with Electra. I would be surprised if we rewrote much of it. It was just something he brought to it. I was interested; Sophie was interested. There may have been some fine touches with the scripting, but I think it was something Bobbie brought to it. With Sophie, we really had to struggle to figure it out, and after the two guys, the main writers [Neal Purvis & Robert Wade], had done the story and done the first eleven drafts, we brought a woman [Dana Stevens] in, simply really to write Electra, to write Christmas, and to write M. Then we brought someone else [Bruce Fierstein] in after that, to sort of 'Bondize' it all again.
HAD YOU BEEN A FAN OF THE JAMES BOND SERIES?
Not really. I mean, it's part of my culture, part of my upbringing. I have to say, when I was in the '60s when Bond was being launched, of course I went; and, you know, great testosterone-inducing images of Ursula Andress stayed with me, but I have to say that I am more like to see something by Bergman or Trauffaut or Goddard or Antonioni than a Bond film. So I wasn't really, but I was always fascinated by them, because in some ways it is a unique kind of cornerstone of English culture and the English film industry. It is the one piece of England and English culture that just survives. It constantly, constantly reinvents itself and survives. So I've always been interested in them, but it would be a bit phony of me to sit here and say, 'God, I was a huge fan of the whole thing from DR. NO onwards!' I mean, I've seen them; I may not have seen them all. They were kind of around, but they were all part of the culture.