A License to Pursue the Inner Bond
Interview with Marc Forster
By TERRENCE RAFFERTY
Published: December 9, 2007
“I can’t really remember what the first James Bond movie I saw was,” said the slim soft-spoken man on the sofa in a suite at the Waldorf Towers. In a slight German accent, he continued: “It must have been in the mid-’80s, because there was no television in my house,
It’s probably fair to say that nobody who saw “Octopussy” in 1983 or “A View to a Kill” two years later, the last two of the seven films in which Mr. Moore sauntered through his paces in the role of Agent 007, retains a vivid or a particularly happy memory of it. But the man’s statement is a little surprising nonetheless, simply because he is Marc Forster, the filmmaker who will direct the next installment in this long-running action franchise, for the moment imaginatively titled “Bond 22.”
Mr. Forster — whose second feature, the interracial love story “Monster’s Ball” (2001), earned an Academy Award for its leading lady, Halle Berry, and whose third, “Finding Neverland” (2004), picked up seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture — is in town promoting his sixth and most recent film, “The Kite Runner,” an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling 2003 novel about Afghanistan.
“‘The Kite Runner’ was such a hard film to make, emotionally and physically,” Mr. Forster said. “We were filming in a very remote part of western China, doing everything through translators because there were four languages — English, Mandarin, and two Afghan languages, Dari and a little Pashto. We were so far away from everything that there were constant delays in getting film stock and even food. And we were at extremely high altitudes, sleeping in yurts; it got very cold at night. The whole experience was very tiring.”
And the problems didn’t end with the shooting. Fears for the safety of the Afghan child actors involved in a pivotal rape scene forced the postponement of the movie’s opening until the boys could moved from Kabul. (They were, as of last week, settled in the United Arab Emirates.)
Mr. Forster may be one of the few available movie directors to whom the complex logistics of a James Bond picture could seem like a relief.
The next day, he said, he would be zipping down to Panama to look at possible locations for “Bond 22.” (A couple of weeks later, by telephone from London, he said that the trip eventually included a jaunt to Chile and a flyover of Brazil.) And he was hoping to get a new draft of the screenplay, from Paul Haggis, in a few days, before the Writers’ Guild was due to go on strike; at that time shooting was scheduled to begin in mid-December, a scant six weeks from the day we talked. The script did arrive, two hours before the writers walked out, and Mr. Forster was “very pleased.” he said. “It’s a script I can shoot.”
But it’s a complicated thing, being a Bond-movie director, which may be why for nearly the first three decades of the franchise only a select few were given the opportunity to try their hand at it. Between the film debut of Ian Fleming’s suave, licensed-to-kill MI6 agent in “Dr. No” (1962) and the helpfully titled “License to Kill” in 1989, the franchise holder, Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions, cranked out 16 Bonds, all but one of which was directed by Terence Young, Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert or John Glen; the lone exception, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969), was handled by Peter Hunt, who had directed the second unit on several previous installments. The Bond industry was very much a closed shop, or, to put a more sinister spin on it, a shadowy organization — like Spectre — whose secrets were not to be shared with outsiders.
A certain, let’s say, guardedness does still apply. For all Mr. Forster is permitted to say about the plot of “Bond 22,” you’d think it was covered by the Official Secrets Act. But the club isn’t quite as exclusive as it used to be. Mr. Forster is Swiss, which makes him, he noted with some pride, the first “non-Commonwealth” director to be honored with the sacred trust of guiding an Eon-produced Bond vehicle to its (presumably lucrative) destination. (Maybe the keepers of the 007 flame believe that Mr. Forster, like the bankers of his native land, can be relied on for discretion.) And he is, he freely admitted, “not really an action director.” In addition to “Monster’s Ball,” “The Kite Runner,” and “Finding Neverland” (which is about James M. Barrie and “Peter Pan”), his résumé consists of the self-reflexive Will Ferrell comedy “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006), and a pair of quirky psychological-horror dramas, “Everything Put Together” (2001) and “Stay” (2005).
The ability to generate suspense from some of the more aberrant emotional states may serve him well in his new assignment, because Bond, as played in his most recent incarnation by Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale” (2006), seems, Mr. Forster said, “very isolated, a man who’s damaged in some way.” Mr. Craig’s Bond felt to him like “a completely new interpretation of the character,” he said. “This James Bond is darker, more tormented. He’s humanized, in a sense.”
And that, he said, is the quality that will allow the franchise to go on. “In the ’60s and ’70s, when Sean Connery and Roger Moore were playing the role, a large part of the appeal of the James Bond movies was the travel to exotic locations, but that’s not such an attraction anymore,” Mr. Forster said. “People travel a lot more now, and with the Internet they’re more aware of what the rest of the world is like. In a way the most interesting place for a James Bond movie to go is inward — deeper into Bond himself.”
His mention of the ’60s and Mr. Connery was an abrupt reminder that, even more than Mr. Forster’s “non-Commonwealth” status, what really sets him apart from every previous Bond-movie director is that he is the first to have been born after the swingin’ heyday of the series. The canonical Connery Bonds — “Dr. No,” “From Russia With Love,” “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice”— were all history by the time Mr. Forster entered the world in 1969.
The cold war from which this debonair, impeccably dressed superhero-spy figure emerged did persist for another couple of decades, but Mr. Moore’s plausibility as the savior of the free world (he took possession of the part in 1973) was considerably less potent than Mr. Connery’s; and, for that matter, the fantasy value of 007’s potency was, by the time Mr. Forster saw his first Bond, pretty significantly diminished too. The rise of feminism tended to make the eyebrow-arching agent’s casual sexual hedonism, which had warped the psyches of so many young baby boomers, look a little suspect.
And that may have been the series’s single stubbornest problem: how to keep Bond sexy while acknowledging that women — even quite skimpily dressed ones — might have some purpose in Creation’s plan other than to supply bed partners for an unusually good-looking British civil servant. “When I first started watching the movies,” Mr. Forster said, “the filmmakers really weren’t dealing with that at all. I think when they tried to move away from the old-style prefeminist sexual attitudes, they just shifted the focus from the sex to the gadgets.”
When he was offered the job, Mr. Forster said, “I was surprised, and I had to think hard about whether I wanted to do it. I’m not sure I could have found a way into Bond before Daniel Craig reinvented him.” But his intuition told him, in the end, to accept the challenge, the kind of intuition that has so far resulted in a wildly varied filmography and that he admitted isn’t something he fully understands.
“I just get a feeling about something,” he said. “With ‘The Kite Runner’ the story moved me, and I wasn’t sure exactly why. The main character’s father wants him to be a doctor, and the father dies of cancer. And it wasn’t until I saw the movie that I realized that my father wanted me to be a doctor and died of cancer. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me until I was finished, but it must have had some effect.”
That he is the first director of a Bond movie who’s too young to remember the originals hadn’t dawned on him, either, until it was pointed out to him. That may be the most interesting thing about this not intuitively obvious marriage of filmmaker and film: After 45 years or so of 007 we’ll finally get to see what this dinner-jacketed warrior looks like through the eyes of a director whose points of reference are not “The 39 Steps” and “North by Northwest” but “Aliens” and “Die Hard.” (Those are the pictures Mr. Forster names as some favorite action movies.) How does James Bond strike somebody for whom the character is not merely mythic, but remotely mythic, like Beowulf?
But Marc Forster has another idea about why he’s the right choice for “Bond 22,” and why it’s the right movie for him. “You know, James Bond’s mother is Swiss,” he said. “That will make it all worthwhile.”
He seemed to be arching one eyebrow as he said it.
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