Sam Mendes on Why He Returned to Direct Another Bond Film
The 'Spectre' director also weighs in on controversy over casting the next 007: "I think it's fun."
This story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
How do you top the biggest movie of your career, 2012's Skyfall, which took in $1.1 billion worldwide to also become the highest-grossing James Bond movie ever? Sam Mendes, 50, an Oscar winner for 1999's American Beauty, took his time, but ultimately decided to tackle the new Bond adventure, Spectre, which hits theaters Nov. 6. The director, who will be honored at BAFTA Los Angeles' Britannia Awards with the organization's John Schlesinger Award for Excellence in Directing (named for the renowned helmer of Midnight Cowboy), spoke with THR about his decision to return to 007.
You initially said you wouldn't do another Bond. How did producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson persuade you to come back?
They wooed me the first time and were very clear that they wanted me, but I had to find my own way back into it. I felt like I didn't know where to go narratively after the last one. These things take a lot out of you, and I went immediately into a huge theater project, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So I didn't feel I had any head space to try to work out how to crack it again, and they wanted an answer straightaway.
So what brought you back?
It was a much more difficult process for me to decide to do the second than to decide to do the first. But I had a bit of time to think about it and about the narrative. My hook for Skyfall was M's death. The thing that lured me into Skyfall was a lot of the mythology of Bond, the iconography of Bond from the '60s and '70s, and I felt like there was an opportunity [with Spectre] to perhaps reimagine on a more epic scale some of the darker characters and organizations that had haunted Bond in in the early part of the franchise — which are all of course rooted in Ian Fleming's novels. The thing about the novels is that they're much darker than the movies that were made of them, because by the '60s and '70s, dark was not commercial. And that has changed. People are much more willing to go to different and more interesting places in commercial features now. So there's a lot to be rediscovered from the Bond back-catalog.
How difficult was it to deal with the speculation about the film and who will play the next Bond while still finishing Spectre with Daniel Craig?
I'm pretty unaware of most of it. While shooting, I don't read the press and social media. I was only mildly aware of Daniel saying he didn't want to play Bond again, because I've been too concerned with finishing the movie. But the speculation about who plays Bond … I think it's fun. That's part of the joy of it. Who's going to be the next Doctor Who? It doesn't mean that you want to see the back of the current Doctor Who. Who would be interesting? Who would change [the role]? Who would make it fresh and new and different? Luckily, it's not my decision.
Would you do another?
Well, the most of important thing is that you can only make this decision if people want you do it, but one thing I learned from the last one is that you’re in no fit state to make any decision about your career – or any form of creative involvement in Bond – until at least six months after you’ve finished. So I think it would be foolish of me at this stage to offer anything concrete.
And how about Daniel Craig? He’s said a lot about whether he’ll return or not. Do you have any idea whether he will?
There’s so much speculation, it’s a bit like being England football manager. It’s a sort of national burden and it’s tricky to please everyone. I think that it’s entirely his call and I’m not sure he’s made up his mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if he just says he’ll see how this film goes down and have a think about it.
Do you have an opinion on who the next Bond should be?
For me, Bond is Daniel, and I think he does everything as a director that I wanted the character to do, that he’s capable of doing and more. But it will regenerate because of the audience’s love for it and their desire for the next chapter of the mythology that is Bond and this great contemporary myth. And that’s why we love it and that’s why it’s been around for half a century. Someone else will have another vision of what it should be and how it should feel – another director, another actor, another production designer and all those things. That’s as it should be. If you try to cling on to it too long it becomes a bit of a burden. So that would be Daniel’s decisions. But beyond that, it’s up to Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [G. Wilson]. Poor them! It’s a good burden to have.
Given Skyfall’s tremendous success as the biggest Bond of all time, are you feeling any pressure ahead of Spectre’s release or have you been able to put it to one side?
Oh, no pressure at all. Absolutely none! Yeah, there’s a little.
The Britannia Award you're being given is named after the late John Schlesinger. Did you ever meet him?
I never did, although I'm a big fan of his work. I was always very admiring of European and British directors who went to America and were able to make American movies and come back and do English movies, too. Schlesinger, with Midnight Cowboy and Day of the Locusts, made great American movies, but was also able to do British films as well. So I rather love the fact that it’s John.