“We all knew that the script wasn’t quite right.”
After nearly 25 years of writing James Bond movies with screenwriter Robert Wade, Neal Purvis still recalls the worrying thoughts he and his writing partner shared when it came to scripting the challenging story for Bond 23, which would eventually be titled Skyfall. It’s easy to sympathize with the writers’ feelings at the time, given that the massive production — and Daniel Craig’s third Bond movie — was dealt a body blow early on in the development process, when studio MGM’s bankruptcy issues put the movie on pause for ten months.
From there, the industry press speculated with one doom-and-gloom story after another about whether this indefinite stoppage would be the end of James Bond. thank you Skyfall and its tuxedo-clad hero would survive this very public financial setback by opening number one at the North American box office on Nov. 9, 2012, with $88.4 million — the biggest debut yet for a Bond movie. Skyfall is also the highest-grossing entry of the Craig era, earning over a billion dollars (another Bond first). As Skyfall Turns ten this week, Wade and Purvis celebrate the anniversary by taking The News84Media behind-the-scenes of the making of one of the most iconic Bond films in the franchise’s 60-year history.
At the time of release, the Bond franchise was barreling towards its 50th anniversary. Purvis and Wade — along with longtime Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson — were very mindful of not only delivering a movie in time for the 50th, but also one that was worthy of that considerable milestone among the fans.
The first writer on the project was Peter Morgan. After jettisoning most of his early treatment for Bond 23which reportedly carried the temp title of Once Upon a SpyWade and Purvis worked with director Sam Mendes and Craig on fine-tuning the story, which would not only introduce Bond staples Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), but kill off Judi Dench’s M.
“[Killing M] was a given back when we started Quantum of Solace,” Purvis tells The News84Media. “And I wouldn’t say it was a throwaway scene or anything [in Quantum] Because it was still emotional — but it was a very sudden thing that happened roughly in the middle or two-thirds of the way into an early draft of that story.” The filmmakers on Quantum of Solace ultimately decided that if the movie was going to do something as massive as that, then it would have to be done “properly,” Purvis says, “with the right amount of emotional depth that that movie just didn’t seem to have the time.” or room for. We did write that scene, but thankfully it was cut.”
How to address M’s demise and its aftermath came up in the duo’s first meeting with Mendes and Craig to discuss the movie’s story. “When we first saw Daniel and Sam together in New York, we talked about ‘what if we see her funeral?’ We talked about a new M taking over.’”
M’s departure from the franchise — the first time the character was ever killed on-screen in a Bond movie — paved the way for a new M, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Purvis and Wade’s iteration of Fiennes’ M — who was originally named “Mallender” in their early script and was at one point considered to be the film’s Big Bad — was among the topics to come out of that New York story conference as well. It was also at this meeting where a key piece of Skyfall was put in place: The villain, Silva (Javier Bardem).
“Daniel wanted someone who was equal to Bond,” Purvis explains. Ironically, the writers had long been fascinated with Bardem and wanted to see him lend his unique acting talents to the world of Bond.
“When we wrote Jinxthe spinoff movie from Die Another Day [which would have featured Halle Berry reprising the title role]we called the main character ‘Javier’ in the hope that we could pitch to the actor,” Purvis remembers.
“Javier” was also the name of Skyfall‘s villain written in the early film treatments, as if to will the actor into accepting the role. Mendes knew Bardem personally, so the Oscar-winning actor was really the only person that the director ever considered for the spy-turned-cyberterrorist who used to work for M before she left him out in the cold. However casting Bardem led to Purvis and Wade having to create a backstory to justify how and why a man of Spanish descent would find himself to be employed under M and Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
“Most of this didn’t really make it into the final movie, it’s quite complex, but what we came up with was that [Silva] was a spy working for the British,” Wade explains. “He was a British spy working in Macau, so it was all about M having assets or agents everywhere, being a web spinner. [of intelligence]. He was just one of her operatives sort of in the field that she let get burned. He went beyond his brief, got arrested by the Chinese, and was sacrificed by M for the greater good. And [his] pain, all that hurt that comes from her choice, that’s almost part of his plan. His motivation for what he does in the movie.”
What Silva does is force Bond to chase him throughout and underneath London, culminating in an intricate and explosive third act that takes place at Bond’s childhood home — a dark, isolated estate in Scotland named Skyfall. (Skyfall’s elderly gamekeeper, Kincade, played by the late Albert Finney, was named Gilly in an early draft). It was Wade who initially came up with Bond’s abandoned homestead as the location for the inventive finale that subverts expectations for Bond fans — instead of Bond battling the villain at their volcanic lair or base, Bond lures the villain onto his home turf.
This locale for the third act’s climactic set piece also sparked some of the writers’ anxiety about the quality of the movie’s script, especially with the scenes set at Skyfall being a last-minute addition.
“It came out the eleventh hour for us, in our process,” Wade says. “We had been working with Sam for nine or ten months, and that idea didn’t exist yet within the film. And we knew we had, like, two or three weeks before we had to hand in the script to MGM. All this work had been done, but at that time we didn’t have that [key part]. No one had had that idea until we had it very late in the process.”
Purvis adds: “Rob had the thought to kind of make it like a western, where [the hero] draws the baddies to them and you have a kind of final shootout. Placing it at Skyfall, it just seemed ideal given what the character’s arc was. We wrote that whole part of the movie in maybe two weeks — starting with Bond taking M to his lockup [garage] in London, and taking the [Aston Martin] DB5 to the loch in Scotland.” (Purvis and Wade originally scripted that the DB5 would have a small arsenal in the trunk, or boot, and it was Mendes who desired that the car have an ejector seat, machine-gun headlights, and be more like the tricked-out, gadget -filled car that Sean Connery’s Bond drove in Goldfinger.)
It wasn’t until Purvis and Wade homered in on Skyfall‘s third act addition that the script began to form a solid foundation for the final movie.
“There was an agreement, perhaps unstated, among all of us that [the script] wasn’t quite right,” Purvis admits. “Michael was very good [with us] when we were having trouble with the ending. To their credit, Sam, Barbara and Michael said: ‘Well, just go for it.’”
It was Wade who also first coined the film’s title, another idea that came about at the last minute.
“We were just about to hand in the script, at like 8 AM or something like that,” Purvis remembers. And we are on the phone to each other.”
Wade adds: “We came up with the name of the house, it was always called Skyfall. But one of our ideas for it was to call [the house] Green Mantel or Mandalay. And I was literally looking out of a window, I was in the countryside, and it was just snow. There was just snow falling and desolation, and I said on the phone: ‘I was thinking of calling the movie. Skyfall.’”
“And I thought ‘that sounds about right,'” Purvis says. “Later, Michael and Barbara told us they were going to call it Skyfall. And it wasn’t until some years later, I was watching the Glastonbury on the BBC, and there’s everyone singing the song with Adele. That’s when you see how these last-minute choices sort of have this huge impact in the world.”
Wade and Purvis’ impact on nearly the last quarter-century of Bond movies is not lost on them, especially given that their films starring Craig have upended and reinvented so much of 007’s mythos. Their creative choices behind “the Craig-aissance” do not speak to some impulse to spice things up just for the sake of it, but rather to Broccoli and Wilson’s desire to find what best serves the franchise — with the producers’ approach being nowhere near as rigid as some fans and critics have speculated it to be over the years.
“That’s a totally unearned reputation that some have cultivated about them,” Wade insists. “They are not stingy or limiting.”
“We sit around with them talking ideas for ages,” Purvis adds. “And they want ideas that will challenge them, and the character, and they will come up things that also challenge them. And when a director comes on board, they are incredibly supportive of that person’s way of wanting to do things.”
The process is always about pushing both Bond and the franchise forward, according to the writers. And whether or not the writers will be there to push the franchise further following the game-changing events of No Time to Die (RIP Craig’s Bond) remains to be seen. The screenwriters tell THR that neither Wilson nor Broccoli have tapped them yet to convene on next steps for another turning point in the franchise that they have arguably been the unsung heroes of since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.
But wherever 007 goes, with or without Purvis and Wade, they are quite satisfied with where they took him in. Skyfall.
“It’s a very emotional story,” Wade says. “We’re extremely proud of the movie. Barbara and Michael have managed to be so successful with the series because of taking swings like this one.”
Check the latest Hollywood news here.