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Just imagine what would happen
if a British film director famed for his visual elegance
and sophisticated storytelling were to turn his hand
to the most iconic British action series of all time.
# Let the sky fall
# When it crumbles... #
Well, the world is about to find out.
Because the new Bond film, Skyfall,
is directed by our very own Oscar-winning Sam Mendes,
the man behind Jarhead, Revolutionary Road
and, of course, American Beauty.
# We will stand tall
# And face it all together
# At Skyfall. #
Sam Mendes directing a Bond movie is a bold and exciting prospect.
-Actors love working with him.
-Can you get into a better position?
And he's renowned for getting award-winning performances out of them.
Sam has great lucidity and he has great perception,
and he has a great sense of humour.
Sam is very good at steering everybody
in the right direction all the time.
He put great people together and he gave them the freedom
to bring what they had on their minds
and work with it in a way that maybe in a movie as big as this,
is not very usual.
You feel that he's completely in command of it.
And he did say very early on,
"I won't settle for anything if it isn't what I want."
But the Bond franchise has its own set of rules.
The epic action, exotic locations,
flash cars, gadgets and girls
are all strictly non-negotiable.
So, what surprises lie in store with a Sam Mendes Bond film?
And how did this former theatre whizz kid
end up in the Bond hotseat in the first place?
-Sam, welcome to the Culture Show.
-Thank you very much.
Tell me your first memories of seeing a James Bond film.
It's very clear, actually.
I went with my dad to see Live and Let Die.
I mean, if you watch it now, it is quite a bizarre movie.
Of all of them, it's one of the most bizarre.
In that the women literally have no clothes on at all
for absolutely no reason. And there's all that voodoo stuff.
But the voodoo stuff really scared me and the boat chase thrilled me.
And I remember quite vividly the great song and all of those things.
It was the first Bond film I saw, too.
I remember sitting in the cinema thinking, "It's got everything."
It's got action, it's got adventure,
it's got stuff that shouldn't be in a film that I'm allowed to see.
I don't remember the story at all.
The movies start as thrillers
and then you get to a point around Moonraker where it becomes
a travelogue in a way, an action adventure story.
You can feel them thinking, "Where haven't we been?"
"We haven't been to Rio, we haven't been to Venice."
"Let's do Rio and Venice and a cable car. How can we get a cable car?"
"Now we've got to join them up. How can we join them up?
"Oh, I know, Bond."
And Bond becomes the glue in a sense.
And he ceased being the story around that time.
And I felt one of the brilliant things Daniel did with Casino Royale
was that he became the story again. He became the centre of the movie.
By which I mean he had a journey.
That was something I was very conscious to try and do.
It's a huge franchise which has certain things built into it.
And yet this feels like your film.
There are givens with a Bond movie and you have to acknowledge that.
It's like being handed the furniture and then told to build the house.
It's, "Right, OK, here's all..."
And if you're not careful, you get a pretty ugly house.
So for us, it was all about pretending
we didn't have the furniture for a long time.
"What if we didn't need those things?"
"What's the story we want to tell about Bond?"
And then trying to ease those elements into the story in a way
that didn't affect the central story.
Take the shot!
I said take the shot!
I can't. I may hit Bond.
Take the bloody shot!
In a sense, Bond dies.
He comes back to find the world utterly changed.
Nothing he knows is the same.
And he...through challenging every element of his life,
and also, you know, by inference,
MI6, what's the point of the Secret Intelligence Service,
what's the point, therefore, of Bond,
he gets himself back to the centre of it again,
surrounded now by an entirely new team.
That was a very clear early idea.
What about the fact that Bond movies
open with an extraordinary action sequence.
Every director who has come to Bond goes,
"OK, this is the mountain to climb."
It's definitely the albatross. You know what I mean?
I think we probably spent 50% of the time working on the movie
simply working on the first ten minutes, you know.
For me, I loved the idea of a series of Russian dolls.
You think it's this action sequence and then it becomes something else.
Which Bond movies do you remember in terms of their opening sequences?
Being absolutely honest with you, way the finest is Casino Royale.
That's the thing that haunted me most on this movie -
the brilliance of that opening sequence.
And I think that set the bar high for any movie
that considers starting with an open-air action sequence.
What we have that perhaps they didn't have
is something much more story based.
He starts off in a car being driven,
there's a crash, there's a shoot-out in the market square,
there's a bike chase across roofs.
He gets from the bike to the top of a train,
there's a fight on the train.
-There's a digger holding the train together.
-Yes, the digger moment.
The key is that we're dropped down in the middle of something,
basically in the middle of an event that has gone wrong.
And so everything is...You're having to play catch-up as an audience
and try to figure out what the story is within that, as well.
And so all of those things layer it in interesting ways.
Skyfall sees Daniel Craig reprise the role of Bond for the third time.
Bond, James Bond.
Alongside Judi Dench's M and a tantalising supporting cast
featuring Javier Bardem as a bouffant blond Euro villain
and Ralph Fiennes as an ambiguous government official.
-Did Daniel Craig bring you to the Bond movie?
He was doing a play on Broadway and I said, "When are you doing the next Bond?"
He said, "I don't know." I said, "Who's directing it?"
And I had no ulterior motive. I wasn't fishing.
And he said, "I don't know. Do you want to do it?"
And about a second later, I found myself saying yes.
I had a feeling in my stomach.
I think the next day, he thought, "Hang on a minute.
"I'm not allowed to offer Sam the job. It's not my position."
But if Daniel hadn't said it, I wouldn't have done it.
I think of Daniel Craig as the best Bond.
I think he is the best embodiment of Bond.
Daniel is now the top of the first division.
It takes a certain kind of woman to wear a backless dress with a Beretta 70 strapped to her thigh.
He's probably the hardest-working
and the most committed actor I've ever met.
I've never watched anyone have to bear the burden of a movie so much as he.
In every respect, not just the fact he's in almost every scene,
he's physically challenged all the time, that he's, you know...
The movie makes no bones about the fact that he's in his 40s
and, you know, I don't think any Bond's had to hear so many times,
"You're too old. Stop. Give up."
So he had to allow himself to go into that territory.
The Bond girl at the centre of this is Judi Dench's character.
It is actually almost as much about her as it is about Bond.
That seemed to me to be a very Sam Mendes touch.
Yeah, that was very deliberate.
I felt from the beginning that M was the central character.
I'm going to find whoever did this.
One of the things I love about Bond is that
there's never a sense he's trying to make excuses for himself or explain his actions.
And the one person who understands that is M.
And the one person who understands him is M.
You have that kind of wisdom with Judi Dench
that can bring that kind of texture to a story.
And so that was something I really wanted to try and find a way in.
For Bond's soul and the one person who can see it.
Tell me about how important it is to have those supporting roles
played by people you trust as actors?
Well, it's very important, but the most important thing
is writing roles good enough for them to say yes to in the first place.
-For me as a director, I'm only as ever as good as the actors.
I love actors, I love working with them.
I've spent my life doing it.
And they are my chief creative relationships.
And with the actors, I'll develop the character.
Here, we probably did invent quite a lot, particularly with Javier.
And took it beyond what was on the page at the beginning.
The creation of a classic Bond villain is not something that's formulaic.
And we've seen it done wrong.
The interesting thing with this is
you do feel that is a three-dimensional,
genuinely worrying, twisted villain.
Did she send you after me knowing you're not ready? Knowing you would likely die?
Mommy was very bad.
Tell me about the character.
Well, he was the one person who didn't say yes straightaway.
He said, I love the package, I love the rest of the cast,
I like the script very much, I like you,
but the character doesn't quite do it for me yet.
Tell me where you think we can go with him.
And so I said, Look, I think we can push him in certain areas
and I think it's going to happen the moment you come aboard.
-And so he came aboard on trust, in a way.
Not bad, James, for a physical wreck.
A lot of those things, he developed.
Like, for example, the way he looked and his hair colour.
-You caught me.
Ah! Now, here's your prize.
The latest thing from my local toy store.
It's called a radio.
All those things, when he suggested them, I thought wouldn't work.
And we screen-tested him and all of them worked.
I do hope that wasn't for me.
But that is.
What about the fact the film sets up a relationship with Ralph Fiennes' character
based on the idea that at first, we don't trust him and don't like him?
One of the most difficult things we had to achieve
was to give him in very few scenes a journey.
That's when you need somebody like Ralph.
Three months ago, you lost the drive
containing the identity of every agent
embedded in terrorist organisations across the globe.
Every scene you learn something new about him,
you see him in a different light.
And you watch Bond react differently to him, as well.
I only have one question. Why not stay dead?
And that's the skill of Ralph. That's why you need somebody like that.
It took five scenes. You know, so much of film acting is about economy.
It is all about how much you can put into the smallest amount of time.
And good film actors can do that.
Getting great performances out of actors is second nature to Mendes.
Before moving into film, he was celebrated as the wonder kid of British theatre,
directing both Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes onstage when still in his 20s.
When you first started working in theatre,
did you see that as where your future lay,
or were you always thinking theatre and cinema?
I think it's fair to say that when I started in theatre,
I wasn't thinking about the cinema.
I definitely had a couple of moments at university in the cinema
and they became touchstones when I decided to try and make a movie.
Paris, Texas and Repo Man and My Beautiful Laundrette.
And there were key moments in that era of film making
that really woke me up to the possibilities of film.
Theatre has always been where I felt most comfortable, most at home.
And that's where I started and that's probably where I'll end up.
You have a history with Judi Dench. You first directed her when you were in your 20s,
which must have been fairly worrying. It's Judi Dench!
It was a bit. I was 24, in fact.
Somehow, I got up and made a speech on the first day of rehearsals about Chekhov.
I have no idea what I said. I'm sure I would...
It would bring me out in a cold sweat if I had to listen to it now.
But she was immensely generous.
Next stop for Mendes and his precocious talent
was the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden,
a struggling theatre that he completely turned around.
What was it about you and the Donmar that was so particular?
What I remember most profoundly about it was
it was attracting the kind of reviews that blockbuster movies did.
Why was it so important?
I had to bring in audiences to the space.
We had no funding, we had nothing at all.
So I really fought for it.
But there was a sense in which I had to create
a kind of pseudo-commercial environment inside the theatre.
So name actors were important.
And a kind of working outside of the classical repertoire,
you're working modern revivals.
And so that bred what I've described in the past
as a pop-art atmosphere about the place.
One of his first big hits
was a totally-revamped version of the musical Cabaret,
starring a captivatingly salacious Alan Cumming.
# I do the cooking
# I make the bed... #
The production would eventually move to Broadway,
where it caught the eye of Steven Spielberg.
He then approached Mendes with an unexpected film offer.
What do you think Spielberg saw in Cabaret
that made him think you can helm films?
I actually said that to him. I said, "Why do you think I can make films?"
And he went, "Oh, it's fine! You'll be fine."
He was always very...certain.
And his certainty kind of rubbed off.
Spielberg entrusted Mendes with American Beauty.
The film starred Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening,
with Spacey playing a depressed suburban father
who decides to turn his life around
after developing an infatuation with his daughter's friend.
I really enjoyed that!
-Congratulations, honey, you were great!
-I didn't win anything.
-Hi, I'm Lester, Jamie's dad.
In terms of thinking of myself as a film director,
it's taken me a while because I felt a fraud.
Early on, when you call, "Action," you think, that's silly. It's such a cliche.
"Cut!" you know.
In the early stages, I felt like an interloper.
There's a story that the first stuff you shot for American Beauty,
-you had to redo because you messed up. Is that true?
It was appallingly bad.
It was two days' worth.
But that was the scene in the burger restaurant.
It's a drive-in restaurant in the movie, but it wasn't when we first did it.
Smile! You're at Mr Smiley's!
One of the great strokes of luck for me
about those first few days of my first picture
was that it was so clearly wrong
that I went back and said to the studio, "Can I do this again?
"This is exactly what I don't want to do." And they said yes.
And from that moment on, they were relieved because they knew I'd say if I thought it was bad.
When you see that scene in the movie, it's a totally different location,
totally different costume, performances, everything.
-Er...Buddy, this is my...
We've met before.
But something tells me you're going to remember me this time.
Whoa! You are so busted!
What was it about it in your mind that worked?
I think there's a patch of 10 or 15 minutes
in the centre of the film, right in the middle,
that is still one of the best things I've ever done.
Which starts with them watching the plastic bag in the wind,
then shifts to the row around the dinner table in which Kevin Spacey throws the plate of asparagus.
And then goes upstairs, in which there's a scene between Jane and the mother.
Then she walks to the window and starts undressing
and sees the Wes Bentley's character opposite her in the window.
And it flips three or four times, but it absolutely works.
Visually, it feels like it has a sort of grace and beauty
and a mythic scale that it almost didn't deserve.
As well as its unforgettable cinematic moments,
when American Beauty hit the screens in 1999,
the film's exploration of sexual obsession and American gun culture
all felt particularly timely.
There were a number of cultural obsessions going on at the time.
One of them was older men and younger women in the era of Clinton.
I did not have sexual relations with that woman.
One of them was the post-Columbine obsession
with what's the person building in the garage next door?
The sense that you can be close to someone and somehow,
literally be inches away and not know them at all and not know...
That suburbia was a breeding ground for that kind of thing.
Spacey's performance as a man in full-blown mid-life crisis
won him an Oscar for Best Actor,
one of five the film was awarded, including Best Director for Mendes.
It was a spectacular debut, but for his next movie,
Sam would try something completely different.
2002's Road To Perdition was a gangster drama
set in Depression-era Chicago
with Tom Hanks cast against type as a mob enforcer
seeking vengeance for the murder of his family.
Can you give Mr Rooney a message for me?
What is it?
The film saw Paul Newman in his final screen role
as mob boss John Rooney,
father of the man Hanks is hunting.
What you are asking me is to give you the key to his room
so you can walk in, put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
And I can't do that.
For me, it's my favourite movie that I've done.
There was something about the beauty of the States
and the winter and that city.
I just love it. I love the places that we were.
And I love how it looks on film.
I'm very, very proud to have made Paul Newman's last film.
Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.
I think Tom Hanks in the middle of it is very underrated.
I think it really grows as you watch it, that performance.
It's just the whole thing. I feel like that was what I meant.
It was also Mendes' first collaboration with Daniel Craig.
I was looking for someone to play Paul Newman's son.
And there were certain demands that the role had.
One of them was being kind of, you know, a coiled spring,
somebody dangerous and unpredictable.
The other was the blue eyes. Those were the two things.
Which scenes particularly stay with you?
Um...well, I think I'm most fond of the scene
where Tom Hanks kills Paul Newman,
where Sullivan kills Rooney at the end,
which happens in almost silence.
And it was something that I kept reaching for
and I couldn't get that scene right.
Two days before the end of the mix,
which is really two days before you finish the whole movie
after a year and a half, two years, I said, "Let's try it without the sound."
And it worked.
I think that one's enjoyment of what one does is, you know,
as a general idea, just doesn't make sense.
Most of the time, it's hard work, it's 5:00am.
And then you have these sudden moments
where you are able to step back and you think,
"This is great. What a fabulous thing to do with your life.
"How lucky to be in this position."
Firefights, or more precisely, the lack of them,
was one of the main themes in Jarhead,
Mendes's film about a US Marine unit
and their wait for direction action in the Gulf War.
Jake Gyllenhaal starred as a frustrated sniper
who never gets to fire his weapon.
-What the...frequency are you on?
-We got air.
What did you learn from what happened with Jarhead?
I remember at the time, you were very honest, you said,
"We ran out of time. The film wasn't finished the way we wanted it."
You made a commitment that you wouldn't be put in that position again.
Jarhead was really interesting.
I think I got lost in Jarhead, in a way.
Looking at it now, I was aware that I was making
what was fundamentally an art-house film, but for a lot of money.
And I think if you get trapped in that position, it's very difficult.
Because you feel a kind of loyalty
to the people who are paying for the film
and to try and make a film that an audience will come and see.
But at the same time, in spirit, the film
has got more in common with Beckett than it has with Oliver Stone.
It's a completely existential war film.
Suggested techniques for the Marine to use
in the avoidance of boredom and loneliness.
Re-reading of letters from unfaithful wives and girlfriends.
Cleaning your rifle.
You came off the back of Jarhead and we have Revolutionary Road and Away We Go,
which are both pieces which concentrate on relationships,
but they do seem to me to be a pair of films.
Yes, I think so.
I didn't have a very good time making Revolutionary Road.
Because I felt I was always reaching for the book.
It's a book I admire greatly.
And I felt like we were always aspiring to be as good as the book.
-Have you been to Paris?
-I've never really been anywhere.
Revolutionary Road was an adaptation of a cult novel by Richard Yates.
I'm going back the first chance I get, I tell you.
With Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
playing Frank and April Wheeler,
a charismatic young couple whose relationship begins to unravel
under the suffocating suburban conformity of 1950s Connecticut.
It was all the more intense because Mendes and Winslet
were themselves married at the time.
It was very well received. It was nominated for significant awards.
And there are scenes in it which really do zing.
Oh, I think the performances are fantastic.
The actors, I think Kate and Leo are amazing.
I made, I think, the bad decision to shoot it in a real house.
And it was unbelievably hot and very, very small.
But what was great was it led to a pressure cooker.
So by the time they explode at the end, Kate and Leo,
it really happened for real.
So now I'm crazy because I don't love you. Right? Is that the point?
No, wrong! You're not crazy and you do love me.
That's the point, April.
But I don't.
I hate you.
There was something really visceral about that.
When the lid finally did blow off and we did, I think, find a style
to match the power and the material,
which was in the last 15 or 20 minutes of the movie,
I felt very proud of that.
Mendes presented a much more playful view of relationships
in his followup to Revolutionary Road, Away We Go,
a comedy about a couple in their 30s expecting their first child.
You're leaving a month before the baby is born?
You're moving 3,000 miles away from your grandchild?
-I think it's more than 3,000, isn't it?
-I think so.
They set off on a road trip around the States
to find somewhere to bring up their baby.
Oh! God! Look at you!
You're only six months in! Jesus, you're huge!
And so Away We Go was a way of letting off steam.
It was like writing a book of short stories
after trying to write a novel. Trying to write an important novel.
It was the first time I felt completely relaxed on a film set.
Where I just felt like, "What if we want to do this scene outside rather than inside?"
You got lucky, sister.
There was an improvisatory quality to it
that just freed me up a little bit.
The low-budget rom-com was a world apart
from the James Bond juggernaut that was to come next.
Mendes was forced to adapt his usual methods when directing Skyfall.
Directing's a very, for me, quite a private process.
Particularly with actors. I like peace and quiet
and I like not to be listened to or watched.
And most of the time in movies,
you can achieve a little bubble with a core crew.
Bond, forget it. Just forget it.
You have to shout all the time. Not in anger,
just in order to be heard and communicate, you know what I mean?
It's the first time I've had to grab a megaphone out of hands of my AD.
"Give that to me!" Shouting at 400 extras, "Move over here!"
Or you're giving detailed direction to Daniel Craig,
but the only problem is, he's 300 feet away on the roof of a train.
The pressure on Mendes to deliver a classic Bond movie has been huge
because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise.
1962's Dr No saw Sean Connery
make his famous debut as 007.
I admire you a lot, Mr...?
In the decades that followed, we've had an Aussie bond,
a smooth Bond,
a thespian Bond,
an Irish Bond
and today's incarnation, a roughly-hewned blond Bond.
Bond remains a part of popular culture in a way his creator,
author Ian Fleming, could never have imagined.
One of the things I think the film achieves is it has a modernity to it.
But there is something about it which refers back to the classic era of Sean Connery.
Did you feel that yourself?
Yeah. That was very deliberate.
I mean, when you talk about the 50th anniversary,
there are a couple of moments in the film where I myself
make a nod to the 50th anniversary.
Also, there's the presence of the Aston Martin DB5
in a story that is about the old and the new, effectively.
I wanted, I had a very particular vision
that the third act of film would be set in a world
where there wasn't any technology.
From the moment you see the DB5 to the end of the picture,
there is nothing in it that is anything younger than 50 years old.
In tune with a career that's always been full of surprises,
Sam's next project is a stage musical version
of a Roald Dahl classic.
Rather than going onto another movie,
-you're going to do Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
Well, my thing has always been to, um...
By the time I finish any movie, let alone this movie,
I'm desperate to get into a rehearsal room again and do a play.
Why Charlie And The Chocolate Factory?
Well, it's a little bit like, "Why Bond?"
I have kids now and I want to do something my kids can see.
But also because Dahl is just one of the greats for me.
And again, a little bit like Bond and Fleming,
dates back to my childhood.
It was probably the first children's book I fell in love with.
At the end of that, I'll want to do a film again.
And I'm very lucky at the moment
to be able to go back and forth between the two.
While they still pay me to do things like that, I'll carry on doing them.
-Sam, thank you very much.
-Thank you, Mark. A great pleasure.
# Let the sky fall
# When it crumbles
# We will stand tall
# Face it all together at Skyfall
# Let the sky fall
# We will stand tall
# At Skyfall. #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd