Back in the mid-’70s, a teenage Barbara Broccoli was working her first job in the entertainment industry as an intern for The Hollywood Reporter. At the time, things were looking dismal for women in the industry, even though on-the-rise executive Sherry Lansing was forging her path. THR was being run by another trailblazer, publisher Tichi Wilkerson, who happened to be Broccoli’s godmother. As part of her duties, Broccoli was helping Wilkerson plan an event to honor Lansing. It was a brainchild spawned from a file of ideas that Wilkerson kept in a tidy cabinet and that Broccoli would sift through. In 1992, the same year that Lansing ascended to the top post at Paramount Pictures, that event conceived by Wilkerson with help from Broccoli morphed into what it is called today, the Women in Entertainment list and breakfast, toasting the female powerbrokers in Hollywood.
“Tichi was such a visionary. She took over The Hollywood Reporter at a very difficult time and steered it through very tricky waters,” Broccoli recalls of the woman who inherited the reins after her husband, THR founder William Wilkerson (whose editorials helped blacklist alleged communist sympathizers), died in 1962. “I remember her talking about the fact that one day there would not be magazines or newspapers and everything would be on the computer. It sounded like some far-off crazy idea, and here we are. And I was in awe of Sherry then. I saw her recently at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and I was still in awe of her. Someone introduced us, and I was like, ‘Wow, she’s still so extraordinary.’ ”
Though she had no idea at the time, Broccoli was poised to become a Hollywood torchbearer like Lansing and Wilkerson and leave an indelible mark on the film business. For nearly three decades, she and half-brother Michael Wilson have controlled the James Bond franchise, the series of 25 spy films that kicked off in 1962 with Dr. No and has grossed $7.65 billion at the box office. Created in the 1950s by author Ian Fleming, Agent 007 is considered one of the last untapped megabrands in a league with Marvel, Pixar or Lucasfilm and could be a game-changer in the content space with a valuation in the billions. But Broccoli has remained steadfast in keeping the property from becoming diluted by TV series and film spinoffs.
“Sure, there are other main characters like M and Q and all that,” says Broccoli with a laugh as she settles into a plush couch in her London home. “But we haven’t really wanted to make a Bond film without Bond. It would be like making Hamlet without Hamlet.”
Sporting a black short-sleeved sweater and black-rimmed glasses, Broccoli admits she is uncomfortable being profiled (“I’m pretty private and pretty shy,” she says. “I’m a behind-the-scenes person”) and bristles at the idea that she wields extraordinary power and control in an IP-obsessed entertainment landscape. But that power and influence is very real thanks to a prescient move made by her late parents — legendary producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and stage and film actress Dana Natol — who together acquired the Bond franchise as well as the property Chitty Chitty Bang Bang back in the 1960s. Today, Broccoli and Wilson co-own with MGM Studios the copyright to all the Bond films and dictate any future content. If Amazon, which reached a deal to buy MGM for $8.45 billion in May, wants to exploit the property for additional mediums, it will need Broccoli and Wilson’s consent. For now, the enigmatic producer with a net worth estimated at $400 million is in no hurry to see the martini-loving British agent bow anywhere but the big screen.
“I never thought of it as power and control. I mean, these films are made by a group of people that had started in ’62, and it’s always been a group of people working together to make these films,” she explains. “We make theatrical films and go to great pains to make them as cinematic as possible. We have always worked with great directors and cinematographers and production designers who do their utmost to create a visual feast for people to enjoy. I think that’s what we intend to do, but things change, so who knows? Down the road, it may be different.”
According to those closest to Broccoli, she knows exactly what she is doing.
“She brought the character and the franchise into the modern era without compromising what’s entertaining about a Bond movie and very discreetly did away with some of the less inclusive things that were OK back in the ’70s,” says Universal chair Donna Langley, a Broccoli friend who worked with the producer on the latest Bond entry, this year’s No Time to Die. (Universal distributed the film internationally.) “She also [was behind] creating really fantastic female characters. That’s been done with a meticulous eye toward a more balanced franchise, while the brilliant casting of Daniel Craig kept all of the charm and elegance and fun of the character.”
As for Craig, who has worked with the producer on five Bond films beginning with 2006’s Casino Royale through No Time to Die, he sees Broccoli as very much in charge but willing to allow others to share in the decision-making.
“She is very powerful in the best kind of way,” says Craig. “She handed a huge amount of responsibility to me. I mean, I kind of asked for it, but she said, ‘OK, right, you’re going to be involved, and you need to be involved.’ Her confidence in me was incredibly surprising. I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in myself when I first started doing those movies. But she basically said, ‘OK, you’re going to have to lead from the front on this.’ She is incredibly generous and inclusive and a leader, first and foremost. But she is a supreme collaborator.”
Born in Los Angeles to American parents but raised in London, Broccoli, now 61 and a mother of two, had a very British accent as a child, “but it’s kind of morphed into a strange Mid-Atlantic thing,” she quips. She was schooled at Lady Eden’s in Kensington and Marymount, the latter’s most famous alum being Mia Farrow. “Another extraordinary woman,” Broccoli notes.
As the youngest of four children in a mixed family — she and Wilson, 79, have the same mother but different fathers — she toggled between living in London and visiting exotic Bond locations.
Her first fully formed recollection of being on an 007 set was in Japan when her father was producing the Sean Connery-led You Only Live Twice. She was about 6 and recalls being mesmerized by the elaborate tea ceremonies and the beautiful women in traditional costume. “It was just such an extraordinary experience for me that it really stuck with me,” she says. “Otherwise, I was at school and just doing what normal kids do at school.
“I’m boring,” she insists. But her upbringing was anything but. Most people can’t boast of childhood memories involving Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, like Broccoli can. Or visiting the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Broccoli describes her father as “very down to earth.” She adds, “He grew up on a farm on Long Island and never put on airs and graces. He was someone who could mix with anybody. He had a great sense of humor. He was a very special human being. Really irreplaceable.”
But it was her mother who instilled in Broccoli the importance of leaning in. “They say, ‘The woman behind the man …’ She was the woman beside the man. She was the one who made all the business decisions with him. He always consulted her on everything. She was a 100 percent equal partner with him. It was a real love affair.”
Wilson played the role of the groovy older brother. (“It was the ’60s and ’70s, so he was kind of a cool looking guy with a beard, long hair.”) But the elder Broccoli was already beginning to lean on his stepson for Bond legal advice.
“Michael was working as a lawyer and my parents relied on him for a lot,” Broccoli remembers. “Then, he started to write with [early Bond screenwriter] Richard Maibaum. They worked together in working out very complex plots. They started writing together, and it turns out he was a very good writer.”
With 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, which starred Roger Moore and featured the Carly Simon classic song “Nobody Does It Better,” Broccoli officially began working on the Bond franchise, captioning stills for the publicity team. After graduating with a degree in communications from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, she jumped headfirst into a full-time job working alongside her father. “He was a great teacher. I adored him, worshipped him,” she says.
But as her father’s health began to deteriorate in the early ’90s, Broccoli stepped up to the plate as a full producer during a pivotal juncture in the franchise’s history, 1995’s GoldenEye, the first chapter in the Pierce Brosnan run.
“There was a lot of pressure around that time because my dad was not well and wasn’t working on the film,” says Broccoli. “It was also a time when the [Berlin] Wall had come down and the press was saying, ‘Well, the world’s in a safe place, and who needs James Bond?’ The world has not been in a safe place since then. I don’t know if it’s ever been in a safe place.”
With a woman at the helm, the franchise that often glorified the motif of male dominance suddenly became more equal. James Bond finally had a female boss with the introduction of M, played by Judi Dench. And the Bond beauties began to evolve from one-dimensional stereotypes into fleshed-out characters like Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies and Halle Berry’s Jinx in 2002’s Die Another Day.
“I think one of the successes of Bond is that it hasn’t been afraid to change with the times,” Broccoli says. “Sometimes it got a little stuck in the time, but the books were written in the ’50s, the films started in ’60s. I mean, the world has changed dramatically since then. We’ve just had to constantly reinvent him, and we’ve had the opportunity with each new actor to recalibrate the series.”
Perhaps Broccoli’s biggest coup was the recalibration that took place when Craig became Bond, elevating the series into a box office juggernaut that reached its zenith with 2012’s Skyfall, which earned $1.1 billion worldwide.
The groundwork for Craig’s casting was laid during a chance encounter at the 2004 funeral of U.K. casting director Mary Selway. Craig, who was a pallbearer, remembers his first meeting with Broccoli vividly.
“She is a legend and was a legend back then, but I couldn’t really put a face to the name,” he recalls. “And this very attractive woman says, ‘Hello, Daniel.’ I was like, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ I had no idea who she was, which probably just amused her. But she knew who I was, and she had been looking out for me for a long time.”
Once again, the Bond franchise has reached an inflection point. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the cinematic experience is murky. And with Amazon’s acquisition of MGM set to close in 2022, there may be additional pressure to prioritize streaming revenue and expand the Bond brand. But Broccoli seems unfazed by external forces.
“We knew that the studio would eventually be sold and Amazon was always one of the [companies]that was being considered. So, our feeling is that we do what we do and we’ve been told that things are not going to change,” she says. “I’ve never spoken to Jeff Bezos. We haven’t really had any discussions, and we probably won’t until next year when the sale is approved. But as far as we know, [Bond 26] will be an MGM film under an Amazon banner.”
Regardless, studios and executives come and go. With Bond, Broccoli is in it for the long haul.
“Michael and I are very protective of [Bond],” she says. “My father used to say, ‘Don’t have temporary people make permanent decisions,’ and I think that’s always been at the forefront of our minds. Studios can have tremendous turnover, and over the years we’ve had lots and lots of different people. So we’ve had to kind of maintain a consistency of leadership in order to keep an eye on the longevity of the franchise.”
With the Craig era coming to an end with No Time to Die, Broccoli is poised to recalibrate again. Some fans are calling for a Black Bond or a female 007. Broccoli would be open to the former but not the latter.
“I think it will be a man because I don’t think a woman should play James Bond,” she explains. “I believe in making characters for women and not just having women play men’s roles. I don’t think there are enough great roles for women, and it’s very important to me that we make movies for women about women. He should be British, so British can be any [ethnicity or race].”
In fact, she has little interest in discussing the next Bond. “I want to let this film play and really celebrate Daniel’s incredible achievement that he has done over 16 years,” she says. “People always ask, ‘Oh, who’s the next James Bond?’ It’s like asking a bride as she’s going up to the altar who’s her next husband going to be. I don’t really want to think about who is going to be the next person until I absolutely have to.”
Still, she’d be game to bring back No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga. “We love Cary. He’s done an exceptional job,” she says. “I don’t have any idea whether he’d do another one. I think he did this because he wanted a challenge, and he sure pulled it off. But I’m not sure if he’d do another one. We’d love to work with him again.”
For his part, Fukunaga says collaborating with Broccoli and Wilson was like nothing he had experienced before. “I’ve never worked with producers that were so creatively involved,” he says. “But I also knew that going into it, I knew this is their baby. So I came into it very much with the perspective of how can I do my part to try to make this a good film. From the very beginning, we would sit at this round table at the Eon offices on Piccadilly, and Barbara would be getting coffees and teas and food and making sure everyone was fed and at the same time is completely running the meetings with 17 ideas thrown up against the wall.”
One thing is certain: Broccoli will be reteaming with Craig in the spring with Macbeth on Broadway (Ruth Negga also stars). She also is collaborating with her close friend of 35 years, Whoopi Goldberg, on the Emmett Till drama Till, which just wrapped production in Georgia.
“It’s something we’ve been working on for many, many years,” she says. “The Emmett Till story has never been made as a film, which is pretty surprising considering it is one of the most fundamental stories within the modern civil rights movement. Fortunately, we got an agreement from Orion and MGM to finance it.” Goldberg co-stars as well.
Broccoli’s former husband, Frederick Zollo, is a producer on Till (“We’re divorced, but we’re very close,” she says of her ex, a major theater producer whose productions include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Angels in America.) “I haven’t really thought about remarrying,” she says. “I’m very happy as I am.”
Their 29-year-old daughter, Angelica Zollo, has followed her parents’ lead. (“She directed her first feature in 2018. She just shot a pilot. She’s doing another movie. She’s definitely headed for a film and writing career,” Broccoli adds.) She also adopted a 16-year-old boy. Now 32, Michael is focusing on music after dabbling in acting.
On this late November afternoon, Broccoli is bracing for some serious alone time. She just learned that a passenger on her recent flight from New York to London had COVID, so she’ll begin quarantining. After all of the COVID-related tumult on No Time to Die, she has earned the right to relax.
“I like to cook, watch movies, go on the Peloton bike when I’m feeling energetic,” she says. “That’s pretty much it. Really, I’m boring.”
This story first appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.