Nobody could have known when the title of Bond 25 was announced as No Time To Die – all the way back in August 2019, if you can believe it – that the name would become something of a punchline as the film was delayed again, and again, and again amidst the raging global pandemic.
How many jokes has director Cary Fukunaga had to endure about there being, well, quite a bit of time in the end? "So many," he says, his sense of humour just about intact. "There’s a lot of jokes you can make about the 'no time' thing, it’s an endless supply." The auteur behind Beasts of No Nation and the revered first season of True Detective came on board to direct Bond 25 after Danny Boyle dropped out, and now, finally, his spin on cinema’s most illustrious spy, and Daniel Craig's final chapter as 007, has arrived.
A week before the film's release, Esquire spoke with Fukunaga, as well as cast members Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux and Ben Whishaw – who play new villain Safin, Bond’s recurrent love interest Madeleine Swann, and his long-suffering quartermaster, respectively – to talk about the strangeness of the never-ending delays, witnessing the Craig era of Bond coming full circle, and who we might see returning to the franchise in the future.
Esquire: What convinced you to join the Bond franchise?
Cary Fukunaga: “I definitely stuck my hand up, probably not knowing what I was getting myself into. I had met with Barbara [Broccoli, the longstanding Bond producer] right after Spectre came out, then I found out in the summer of 2018 that Danny Boyle was dropping out and emailed her shamelessly, and said, ‘I’m still interested if you’d consider me’. That led to a meeting with Daniel and pretty soon we’re off to the races. Literal races, it was running non-stop for about 20 months.”
Rami Malek: “I’d be hard pressed to find someone in my line of work who wouldn’t want to do something like this. It’s a part of film history; to get to work with DC after all these years and do his final one, and the idea of working with a director I admire in Cary Fukunaga was more than appealing.”
Esquire: What can people expect from your character in No Time To Die?
Ben Whishaw: “Q is back working with James Bond and having to do so behind M’s back so that’s all quite naughty and exciting. We get to go into Q’s home life more, so much is usually off-limits about these characters so it’s really nice when you get to fill in a little bit of detail about their day-to-day life outside of work. Cary worked with Phoebe Waller-Bridge on Q’s scenes and there’s a little bit more humour and cheekiness to them. There is this glimpse into the fact that all of these people are just human beings who are living their lives whilst creating gadgets and saving the world. Between Q and Bond there’s a very nice conclusion to their relationship which I feel really proud of.”
Lea Seydoux: “We start No Time To Die with Madeleine and Bond right after Spectre, and they are happy together in Italy until she reveals a secret and everything from that moment is changed. This time we get to know [Madeleine] better and her background and it makes us understand her relationship with Bond more and have empathy for her. The women [in the films] used to be less developed but are portrayed very differently in No Time To Die.”
Rami Malek: “I think Safin is not someone who sees things in a black and white way. There are times where he might consider himself heroic, but at the same time I don’t know if he sees heroes and villains in his eyes. It’s more about who strikes first and who strikes harder.”
Esquire: How does No Time to Die disrupt the traditional idea of a Bond movie?
Cary Fukunaga: “I think it gets much deeper into the beating heart of him as a character. You have this shield that is created after Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale which is impenetrable. In Spectre it’s presented that Madeleine Swann is able to break through that, but it’s done so briefly that it required a deeper exploration of why those two are so deeply entwined, and how that will complicate the task that’s put before them.”
Ben Whishaw: “I think having Lashana Lynch as the first Black female 00 agent is a really remarkable, timely step forward. There’s also a kind of emotional vulnerability to this Bond and a need to have a relationship with a woman that is lasting and meaningful. I don’t know if you could make a Bond film now without addressing those things.”
Esquire: Are there any films, books or television shows you used as inspiration for the tone of the film?
Cary Fukunaga: “We ended up going back to a lot of the Fleming novels and short stories to draw inspiration from some of the fatigue that the original Bond character had after the war. It changed a lot once Dr No came out – he became a much more debonair, suave character – but the original Bond was I think much closer to how Daniel or [Timothy] Dalton played it: a rougher [character who had] definitely experienced trauma and had an emotional vulnerability.”
Rami Malek: “Cary definitely has an affinity with Japanese aesthetics and the influence of that we could see in the costumes. There’s a horror element to the film that I found quite unusual and refreshing. It’s got horror vibes, French noir film vibes, I wouldn’t know how to describe it even. I will say it’s different.”
Esquire: What was it like saying goodbye to Daniel Craig as Bond?
Ben Whishaw: “There was definitely a feeling of wanting to make this a worthwhile final chapter in this era of Bond films, and it was hard work at times for everybody. In terms of the story and how many characters from previous films reappear in this one, I think we’ve done a good job.”
Lea Seydoux: “I have great admiration for what [Daniel Craig] did with the part, he really changed the character. I think that’s why people love him so much because we have this empathy for his character because he’s not perfect, he’s not a superhero he’s a human being. That is something I think that we needed.”
Rami Malek: “You feel the importance surrounding it and you want to live up to it. When you feel a scene isn’t quite working it was nice to have everyone come together and say, ‘How can we make things better?’. That’s the tone that Daniel sets, it’s an extremely high bar and for me it was an absolute pleasure to see someone giving their all day in and day out. That guy is the first person on set and last to leave and the investment is palpable.”
Cary Fukunaga: “It was an honour to be given that challenge because it’s a lot easier to create intrigue in the first act of the story and it’s a lot harder to land it, to get to an end where all the threads that have been introduced are tied up in a satisfying way. I think we got there, I really do.”
Esquire: Were there any particularly challenging or scenes to shoot or memorable moments on set?
Cary Fukunaga: “The first thing we shot was on this set we built on a frozen lake in Norway. Rami gets there and its unseasonable warm, the lake is melting and the house is sinking into the lake. We can only have certain people in the house because it can be dangerous as it’s starting to go. It became a metaphor for the whole thing because it’s a race against the clock before everything collapses into the sea.”
Rami Malek: “We’re also shooting on film so anytime the magazine runs out someone has to quickly go grab another one. That’s as heightened as it could get. Then you’re in London and the same ice that they’re using has been shipped from the lake in Norway to recreate another scene that they had to do in a tank. That’s only on Bond.”
Ben Whishaw: “The stuff I really enjoy the most about making these films is being with the gang of people that Q works with, so I love the time I get to spend with Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Ralph Fiennes and Daniel. In this film there are scenes we all have together where there’s lots of rapid dialogue and events are unfolding very quickly. I love those scenes because it’s like doing a play with really great actors.”
Lea Seydoux: “It’s very technical because of the stunts and it’s such a big machine but you have to try and find a certain freedom. They are not the easiest films to make, they are very complicated and the emotional and physical investment can be exhausting on every level, but it’s really worth it.”
Esquire: Have you kept anything from the set or your character’s costume?
Ben Whishaw: “I’ve often wanted jumpers but never managed to keep any of them. I don’t wear glasses but I always love wearing Q’s glasses and often want to steal them, if that isn’t too strange a thing to say.”
Lea Seydoux: “I think a pair of shoes? Actually, Daniel gave me the bullet from his final shot on Spectre and I’ve kept it.”
Esquire: What has it been like to have the film on ice for so long?
Rami Malek: “Just watching it melt like in Norway… It wasn’t frustrating to be honest because I didn’t want to watch this on a small screen, I don’t think anybody did. It was an extremely hard time, still is, and you just have to be cognisant of that and know there are larger elements in play than your film. But now it’s time for No Time To Die.”
Lea Seydoux: “It’s kind of weird I have to say but I’m really happy it’s coming out and it will have a premiere. Once you do a film and have delivered your performance I feel it doesn’t belong to you anymore, [but] I think that people are craving it and I hope they will love it.”
Cary Fukunaga: “It’s almost like a compartmentalised memory, because when you work so hard on a project you have that immediate satisfaction of the release and people’s reactions of whether they like it or dislike it and it’s behind you. With this one because it was extended I had to put away my emotional attachment to it and move on with my life. Now it’s coming out again it feels like a ghost from the past but also it’s incomplete until it does come out.”
Ben Whishaw: “I personally am really grateful that everyone held off and that this film will be seen in a cinema because I do want to beat the drum for getting people back into cinemas. It seems like this year and a half has confirmed that we are creatures who need contact with one another and we go a little bit loopy if we are isolated for too long.”
Esquire: Is there any unfinished business in this film that might see you return to the Bond franchise?
Cary Fukunaga: “Apart from the movie coming out, none. If Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [G. Wilson, the producer] tapped me again and wanted to know if I’d take up the mantle of a new version of it, maybe, I think. If it was a different creative challenge, sure. I don’t know yet, we haven’t crossed that threshold.”
Lea Seydoux: “We will see because there will be a new Bond and it depends if they decide to do something completely new. I really don’t know but I’m curious about who will be the next Bond and how they will reinvent everything.”
Ben Whishaw: “I would like to believe there would be. Although it was very sad to say goodbye to her I like the way they gave Judi Dench’s M a really amazing conclusion. I’d secretly really like something like that, even if it meant I had to be killed. Just putting that out there.”
Rami Malek: I would say this… I think all villains in these movies never feel quite satisfied, do they?
No Time To Die is in cinemas 30 September
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