When it comes to moviemaking, Sam Mendes has certainly been around the block. However, as the Oscar-winning director conceded: Making a James Bond movie is something else entirely.
Indeed, Mendes was an unexpected choice as the helmer of the newest Bond installment, "Skyfall." But, after the wince-worthy "Quantum of Solace," he was just out-of-left-field enough to renew the spirits -- and curiosity -- of audiences and critics. Here, Daniel Craig returns as the perma-suave agent who is charged with protecting MI6 and M (Judi Dench) from a ridiculously coiffed villain (Javier Bardem) hell-bent on revenge. Luckily for fans, the movie is already being heralded as the best Bond ever -- a fresh take on the franchise, with a nod to bygone tropes.
"I'm so happy," Mendes said of the response, smiling ear-to-ear at New York's Crosby Street Hotel. The director spoke to Moviefone about the roller-coaster ride of making "Skyfall," being compared to Christopher Nolan and why Bond is different than "The Avengers."
How dangerous is hype as a filmmaker?
[Laughs]. Big movies need it now. One of the things that struck me, not having been on this particular rollercoaster before, is that everything is reviewed. The trailer is reviewed. And then the story from the trailer. And then there’s another trailer and then there’s a teaser. And then there’s a snipit about the story and then the poster gets reviewed and then another one-sheet comes out. I mean, that’s what, for me, has been amazing. It’s so difficult to control the information about the film, and when you’ve got some major spoilers in the movies you go, "Christ, how are we going to hold onto these pieces of information?" Astonishingly, we’ve managed to do it.
How much did the negativity surrounding “Quantum of Solace” affect you?
It didn’t at all. One of the things that was nice about is “Quantum” is the second part of the “Casino” story so I knew that was done...We had this one really good stroke of luck -- which at the time didn’t feel like it, but now, looking at retrospectively was -- which was MGM bankrupting, because there was a nine-month hiatus and we just wrote the script. We just carried on working.
With a lot of these movies, the date’s announced before anything exists, let alone a script. The funniest letter I got -- they were sending [a packet for] “The Avengers,” right? For directors to pitch -- and I got a package, which was full of comic books, but no treatment; there was no script. But the cover letter said “Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ will be released on May 3, 2012” or whatever it was. That was the first sentence of the cover letter. Not, “We have the pleasure of enclosing the materials...” or “Here is the script for...” But the release date. That was the first sentence.
Is that when they were shopping around for a director?
Yeah. It was a few years ago.
And had you ever considered it?
No. I wasn’t interested. I mean, that’s not my world particularly. I’ll go see it, particularly with my kids, but I didn’t want to make it. But I was probably one of 50 that got sent it; they didn’t target me specifically.
When Javier first meets Bond, it’s far more, well, intimate than most introductory scenes. How was that to film?
Oh, a joy. We got the giggles a lot. But, also, a bit of tension because [it was] Javier’s first appearance, we all know what it means, and I pushed him hard to make Bond as uncomfortable as possible. I felt like that was his game. And I love all the homoerotic subtext in all the Bond villains anyway.
Did you ruin a lot of takes with giggles?
No, there weren’t many. But when he started unbuttoning Daniel’s shirt, we did get the giggles. [Laughs]. He was like “What the f-ck are you doing?” [Laughs]
Was any of that improv’ed?
Yeah. [The actors would ask] “Can I push it?” And I would say, “Yeah, you can push it further, push it further.” It’s not all that it seems, as well. He’s testing Bond, he’s pushing him to see whether he...he’s f-cking with him.
The Vanity Fair cover story on Daniel makes reference to a much coveted blooper reel...
Yeah, this is bizarre. There is a very long and funny blooper reel. But most of it’s Judi-related. Because she’s the funniest -- she’s the biggest laugher of the lot.
The legend goes that Daniel came up to you at a party and drunkenly offered you this job, true?
That’s basically true. He wasn’t that drunk and he didn’t really offer it to me, he suggested it to me. It was a conversation...And then it kind of went from there. I didn’t really have any doubts. Had I not gone to the party, I think someone else would have directed it. I think it’s true. And it may not have even, weirdly, occurred to me. I know it sounds crazy, but it was because someone said it to me and I thought, “Oh, what a good idea.” Because, it's not like "The Avengers," Bond movies don’t get sent around. You’re in a dialogue from early on, I think.
You’re getting a lot of comparisons to Christopher Nolan, how do you feel about that?
Well, he’s the man, isn’t he? I think he’s amazing. This movie would not have been possible, I think, at least in the way that it is, without “The Dark Knight.” We’re living in a world now where movies are either tiny or huge and there’s nothing in the middle. I mean, the movies that I made for ten years, I can’t make those anymore. I couldn’t make “American Beauty,” I couldn’t make “Road to Perdition”; they just don’t make those films. [Nolan] showed that you could make an A movie -- that is a world class movie, that has in it some sense of reaction, reflection of the world that we live in -- without being ponderous or po-faced or take itself too serious. And it had great acting, and I mean that. I mean, Heath Ledger, that is a great performance. That was a game changer for me, as an audience member. I just thought, “Wow. That’s a proper movie.”
In "Skyfall," you played around with the genre -- Bond didn’t order his drink “shaken, not stirred,” instead there was a bartender shaking a martini and he said, “That’s perfect.” How much of doing Bond is subverting Bond tropes?
That’s me having fun with the franchise a bit.The thing about those moments is the timing of it in the movie. You need to earn it. It’s just about good storytelling to me. It’s being able to keep the thread taut, the narrative, and then you can relax it for a bit. You let the audience just breathe and then you can start again.
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50. Aristotle Kristatos (‘For Your Eyes Only’)
A more serious direction for the series doesn’t mean the villain has to have such a boring get-rich-via-the-Cold War scheme, but that’s the case with this double-crossing informant. Being partly foiled because of a talking parrot makes him the worst main villain of them all.
49. Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves (‘Die Another Day’)
We’re not sure what the worst thing about this villain is: that he owns an ice palace, that he had impossible facial reconstruction, or that he created a cockamamie overdone plot to reunify Korea with the power of sunlight?
48. General Georgi Koskov (‘The Living Daylights’)
One of the many villains who is just a stooge working for another, more powerful figure. He also repeats the whole pretending-he’s-a-good guy angle. There’s so much that’s stale about this character and nothing to like about him.
47. Dominic Greene (‘Quantum of Solace’)
Among the many reasons the film was a huge disappointment following the first Craig installment is this screeching weasel of a man. He is one of the most cowardly of all Bond villains and has nothing to make up for it. He’s not even worthy of a good death.
46. Osato (‘You Only Live Twice’)
Not only does this henchman devise awful ways in which to kill Bond, he doesn’t even execute them himself. With such incompetence comes his own death at the hands of his employer, Blofeld.
45. Professor Dent (‘Dr. No’)
Bond movies are well known for villains trying to kill our hero with elaborate devices rather than simply shooting him. Dent’s (and really Dr. No’s) idea is even worse: slipping a tarantula, which wouldn’t even kill 007, into his room. Really, why not just stab him or shoot him or something else quick? After all, when Bond gets his chance, he’ll easily shoot you down in cold blood.
44. Kronsteen (‘From Russia With Love’)
SPECTRE’s man with the plan, but not only is he unable to make his plans work, he can’t convince his boss, Blofeld, that he’s not even the real one to blame. Also, nobody should ever be able to be killed by poisonous shoe spike.
43. Morzeny (‘From Russia With Love’)
He’s not given much, but this henchman comes back into the film late in the game, gets to kill a superior SPECTRE agent with a poisonous shoe spike and heads the climactic boat chase.
42. Helga Brandt (‘You Only Live Twice’)
She’s a failure at being a proper Bond girl by only pretending to be seduced by 007 and then staying loyal to Blofeld by trying to kill the secret agent. She’s a failure as a henchwoman because she doesn’t succeed in killing him. When you’re fed to piranhas by your evil boss, you’re just not good -- or bad -- enough.
41. Fiona Volpe (‘Thunderball’)
Similar to Brandt, Volpe allows herself to get some pleasure out of Bond before having him killed. If she enjoyed it, and it appears she did, she should have switched to 007’s side. Instead, she got to be used as a human shield by the secret agent, which is even worse than how he usually uses women.
40. Karl Stromberg (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’)
It takes a lot more than just being extremely wealthy, devising a world domination scheme and possessing a shark tank to be a Bond villain worthy of his own film. You also need a long-barrelled under-the-table gun that doesn’t shoot bullets that move slower than your foe. Stromberg also doesn’t have that. But he does have the henchman Jaws (who ranks a whole lot higher), so he’s not a complete fool.
39. General Orlov (‘Octopussy’)
By the time you find out the true nature of this Soviet general’s plot, you can’t help but think there must have been a simpler way to carry it out.
38. Elliot Carver (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’)
Similarly, this media mogul weasel goes way overboard with his plans to set off a major world war just for the sake of accruing broadcasting territory. He’s totally insane, and not in a fun, eccentric way like many of Bond’s other villains.
37. Stamper (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’)
Not much better than Carver is a henchman who would work for Carver. His strange senses that reverse pleasure and pain are a bit ridiculous, too.
36. Brad Whitaker (‘The Living Daylights’)
You gotta love Joe Don Baker, as bad an actor as he is. He’s one of those character actors who just exudes a villainous aura. But this true villain of Dalton’s first film isn’t in the movie enough to have too much of an opinion of him. Also, he has the worst Bond villain name of all time.
35. Gobinda (‘Octopussy’)
As Kamal Khan’s bodyguard, he’s basically a henchman’s henchman. He’s not a very memorable one at that, either. Mostly, though, he shouldn’t have been so loyal to his boss, especially when he knows his final fight against Bond atop a flying plane is a bad idea.
34. Miss Taro (‘Dr. No’)
An early double-crossing Bond girl, this secret employee of the titular villain is an attractive femme fatale but not a very fatal one. She’s so uninteresting that 007 just has her easily arrested after he has no more use for her.
33. Tee Hee Johnson (‘Live and Let Die’)
Didn’t anyone tell Tee Hee that metal arms, as cool as they sound, always bring certain doom? See Dr. No.
32. Kamal Khan (‘Octopussy’)
It’s hard not to like Louis Jourdan as the slithery exiled prince, but he’s hardly the true villain. And even if he were, the scheme for which he’s employed is so convoluted it doesn’t even sound like it would work.
31. Elektra King (‘The World Is Not Enough’)
It’s also hard not to like Sophie Marceau taking her role seriously as the first female Bond villain. She’s a neat twist on the usual bad-turned-good Bond girl to be friend before foe. But her oil pipeline plot is a bit much, making us think of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, and she’s the epitome of spoiled rich girls.
30. Miranda Frost (‘Die Another Day’)
As a double-agent who sides with Gustav Graves, her deal is basically a lite mash of main villains from “Goldeneye” and “The World Is Not Enough.” She’s gotta be crafty, though, to have had Bond locked up and tortured in North Korea for over a year. Too bad he doesn’t get to fight her in the end.
29. Katanga/Mr. Big (‘Live and Let Die’)
Fast food restaurants are decent covers for drug operations, but they’re also probably more lucrative in the long run if you don’t turn your customers into junkies by giving them free heroin with their fish dinners. And not just because it obviously ruins the front. He also had some of the sorriest henchmen and suffered the most embarrassing death in the whole franchise.
28. Hugo Drax (“Moonraker”)
He gets points for boldly going where no other Bond villain had gone before -- that being outer space, not his unoriginal plan for world domination. If he’s looking to repopulate the world with a master race, what’s he doing with a freakishly large henchman with metal teeth? Does he plan to kill the offspring of Jaws and Dolly? Not cool. There goes more points for him.
27. Boris Grishenko (‘Goldeneye’)
The nerdy computer hacker henchman has to be a staple of villainy these days, and in “Skyfall” the Grishenkos of the world actually get promoted to the main villain. You can’t go wrong with Alan Cumming, though the character himself is irritatingly cocky.
26. Renard (‘The World Is Not Enough’)
He’s one of the closest things to a superhero movie villain there is in the Bond movies, having a sense of invulnerability brought on by a bullet lodged in his head. And he kind of looks like a zombie Blofeld. Too bad that metal in his brain has made him crazy enough to work with Elektra King.
25. Col. Rosa Klebb (‘From Russia With Love’)
To be fair, she looks pretty badass for a woman who is technically a senior citizen. Yet she never really displays the proper brains or brawn to make her a worthy No. 3 or even any higher on this list. She underestimates Bond’s ability to seduce and his capability with a chair, both very basic among 007’s skills, and both enough to
24. Zao (‘Die Another Day’)
If creepy looks were all you need, this North Korean agent would be number one. But his deformity, having a face embedded with diamond fragments, is also too unbelievable to accept.
23. Dr. Julius No (‘Dr. No’)
He may be the first Bond villain on the big screen, but that doesn’t make him the first name in Bond villainy. His strong metal hands seem cool at first, but they wind up costing him his life. And he has the dishonor of being the first Bond villain to make the stupid mistake of not killing the spy immediately when he refuses to join S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Also, his evil plan to anonymously mess with U.S. rockets winds up being rather paltry compared with those that followed.
22. Emilio Largo (‘Thunderball’)
Like No, he’s just another henchman disguised as a true villain. He works for Blofeld and he’s tasked with a nefarious plot -- to extort the world through nuclear threat -- that is sort of laughable even without all the parodies it has inspired. The eye patch will always make him look awesome, though.
21. May Day (‘A View to a Kill’)
Some may not like this combination of henchman and Bond girl, but we think Grace Jones kills it. At last, they bring a female henchman back into play and she’s more frightening than the old ladies of the past while also serving as a love interest.
20. Dario (‘License to Kill’)
This henchman to the drug lord Sanchez is more notable now because actor Benicio Del Toro eventually went on to great things. He’s memorable, regardless, for taking no issue with shooting a woman in the back, cutting a man’s heart out with a switchblade or attempting to shove Bond into a grinder.
19. Patrice (‘Skyfall’)
An assassin who we barely get to know, he does at least give Bond a run for his money in the new film’s incredibly exciting opening sequence, in which, after leading a great chase, he also does pretty well at hand to hand with 007 atop a train.
18. Mollaka (‘Casino Royale’)
The chase Patrice puts on in the new film calls to mind the even better construction site chase at the opening of the first Craig installment. Parkour may be a joke to some, but the stunts this character pulls off are amazing.
17. Francisco Scaramanga (‘The Man With the Golden Gun’)
He would rank high just for being played by Christopher Lee, and he should rank low both for how cowardly he is in direct opposition and how easily he is killed. But this wealthy assassin is an especially enjoyable villain for all of his toys. In another life he might have made an interesting gadget-dependent superhero. He also earns points for killing his employer in order to take possession of the thing he’s hired to acquire. It’s not always cool being someone else’s minion.
16. Irma Bunt (‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’)
A vast improvement on Klebb, who she is obviously modeled after, this elder redhead henchwoman has none of her predecessor’s awkwardness. She also had the honor of killing Bond’s wife and, as far as we know, went on living in great health for decades to come with no mention of her death or capture in future films.
15. Nick Nack (‘The Man With the Golden Gun’)
Another henchman whose fate is unknown, though we like to think this diminutive assistant to Scaramanga wound up inheriting all of his boss’s wealth and toys and simply had no reason to be a bad guy any longer.
14. Baron Samedi (‘Live and Let Die’)
Is he truly immortal? This entertainer and cohort of Katanga/Mr. Big, who gets points for having one of the most distinct looks of all minor villains, could in fact be a voodoo god, as the end of his film indicates. Whether or not he’s the one supernatural villain in the Bond series remains up for debate after nearly forty years.
13. Max Zorin (‘A View to a Kill’)
There’s no denying he’s just a Lex Luthor wannabe with his earthquake-based real estate scheme, but it’s Christopher Walken. And man, is he ruthless with a machine gun. Given that Walken is the only real reason to watch the film pulls Zorin up a lot, but is he really one of the greatest villains or is this just one of the greatest performances?
12. Franz Sanchez (‘License to Kill’)
Latin American drug lord villains were a dime a dozen in Hollywood at the time, yet Robert Davi’s is one of the few to last in our memory. Regardless of any criticisms with the film, he is at least an interesting attempt at a non-cartoony, more three-dimensional villain.
11. Red Grant (‘From Russia With Love’)
In only the second film we have this character who is being bred to be Bond’s best match, a sign of things that would come many, many films later. And his mano-a-mano train fight against our hero is one of the best of its kind. He does seem a tad too cool, though, to be a henchman of a henchman, but at least he’s the best example of that classification.
10. Jaws (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’; ‘Moonraker’)
It was a bit cheeky to have a henchman named Jaws in a film that also involves a shark tank so soon after Spielberg’s film, and it might have been even cheekier had he been eaten by a shark. But test screenings led to the character’s survival, and he returned, for better or worse, in the next installment (another blockbuster ripoff). Since he turns good at the end of “Moonraker,” he may not qualify for this list, but he’s so popular that we’d be severely reprimanded if we excluded him.
9. Mr. Wint (‘Diamonds Are Forever’)
One of a pair of assassins who are so morbidly amused by the murders they commit that they almost make it look fun. They are the most interesting, intriguing, oddball characters in the entire series.
8. Mr. Kidd (‘Diamonds Are Forever’)
The only reason Kidd (left) is better than Wint (right) is his groovy appearance, and the fact that he’s played by jazz bassist Putter Smith.
7. Xenia Onatopp (‘Goldeneye’)
If you really want to put Bond to the test, you get a beautiful femme fatale who he can’t turn good because she’s just too darn sadistic. A nice foil for 007 and one of the many wonderful ways the film addresses the traditional Bond misogyny, even if not positively, she’s a lustful and dominating Bond girl. A step above May Day, she has to go so far as to crush a man with her thighs to get pleasure.
6. Auric Goldfinger (‘Goldfinger’)
A businessman with a seemingly logical scheme, to raise the value of his own gold by rendering America’s temporarily worthless, Goldfinger’s relevance has always been high, especially for working with the Chinese. And while his laser execution methods are a bit dated, it still might be the most frightening near-death for Bond. He also gets a lot of credit for employing the following character.
5. Oddjob (‘Goldfinger’)
Not only is Goldfinger’s henchman the archetype for many others to come, but this very strong and stocky manservant-of-all-trades is mysteriously short on words and quick on the kills. Whether he’s suffocating someone with gold paint or cutting them down with his razor-brimmed bowler hat, he’s one of the most iconically lethal baddies in all of cinema let alone the Bond films. It takes a lot to hurt him, more to kill him and even more to make him flinch with fear.
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (‘From Russia With Love’; ‘Thunderball’; ‘You Only Live Twice’; ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’; ‘Diamonds Are Forever’; ‘For Your Eyes Only’)
He is Bond’s Lex Luthor, his Voldemort, his Dr. Evil. The series arch-nemesis with a cat on his lap and a trick up each sleeve. His survival over multiple films gives him plenty of points, as do his knacks for staying hidden, changing his appearance, faking his death with doubles and keeping 007 in pursuit rather than in control. And especially when portrayed by Donald Pleasance with a scarred face, he’s downright creepy looking.
3. Alec Trevelyan (‘Goldeneye’)
If Blofeld is Bond’s arch-nemesis, Trevelyan is his counter-nemesis (his General Zod, perhaps). He’s like an evil doppelganger who, as a former MI6 agent, has all the same “powers” as 007. Also, his twofold scheme mixing revenge with robbery is impressive and well-rooted in tragic backstory. Recalling Pleasance’s Blofeld, he too has a scarred face, which is more meaningful if not as creepy.
2. Raoul Silva (‘Skyfall’)
It’s as if he’s a Frankenstein’s monster of Bond villains, something that has been built upon to his arrival. Most importantly, like Trevelyan, he’s ex-MI6, and so he makes another terrific match for Bond, even if he’s obviously not meant to physically appear his double. Okay, so he goes a long way with an elaborate scheme and then some just for seeking revenge on one person, but he almost seems to also just be doing it all to have some crazed, anarchistic fun, like the Joker but more brilliant.
1. Le Chiffre (“Casino Royale”)
Probably the only Bond villain to give us nightmares. Between his bleeding eye and the torture scene, which frankly could have been our hero’s end were it not for happenstance, this terrorist financier is the perfect balance of being strange yet not ridiculous.