With the story of No Time To Die taking shape under the guidance of director Cary Joji Fukunaga and of long-time Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the producers and Daniel Craig also invited contributions from writer and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve), who brought her unique take on character and story, while also maintaining what Fellow producer Barbara Broccoli describes as Bond’s “essential Britishness”.
“The character development is very deep and the relationships are complicated yet interesting and emotional. I think the script has turned out great,” says Broccoli.
“Phoebe had a big impact on the script and we love working with her,” says Broccoli. “All the writers made a contribution and Cary tried to incorporate as much of everybody’s work as possible. The story is very complicated but it is told in a very understandable manner. The revelations are fascinating.”
Where once the James Bond films played as separate adventures, linked by characters both malevolent and benign, EON Productions wanted the Daniel Craig series to unfold as a unified whole. Quantum Of Solace (2008) picked up immediately after Casino Royale (2006), which had tracked Bond’s initiation into the life of a double-O agent.
Skyfall (2012) slotted into the series to reveal important aspects of Bond’s early life. Now, the 25th film in the EON series, No Time To Die, begins in the aftermath of Spectre (2015) where the film’s conclusion saw Bond (Craig) and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) drive away in the Aston Martin DB5.
With No Time To Die picking up the story immediately after the events of Spectre, Fukunaga says that the first part of the film “is tracking the honeymoon story of Madeleine Swann and Bond once he’s retired.”
Of course, things don’t always go to plan. “They end up going their separate ways,” Fukunaga continues. “We then pick up with him five years later and the world’s changed. The world’s moved on. The whole political landscape has changed as well.”
“There is a threat brewing that involves SPECTRE and some other outside elements, and Bond is drawn back in to helping MI6 prevent a diabolical weapon from getting out in the world. It’s a fascinating tale with such brilliant characters, new and old.”
Daniel Craig is back for his fifth and final outing, bringing to a close a journey that has introduced the world to a new, modern Bond. For all his excellence in certain fields, Craig’s Bond is not infallible. He is not the hero of myth and legend; he has much to learn. Bond is a multifaceted hero, a man whose success is tempered by occasional failures. He is a mixture of the light and the dark; if he delivers a pithy one-liner, it is often shrouded in menace.
Audiences have borne witness to this change. They have watched Bond learn to become an agent, to earn his licence to kill, and they have seen the toll it takes. He is a loner and yet he has learned to let people in. He has loved and he has lost. He lost Vesper Lynd. He lost M. And he wears those injuries for all to see.
“I started it like that with Casino,” begins Craig. “That was how we went in and that was a lot of what defined the way I have played this wonderful character. I wanted Bond to look like a killer and I wanted him to behave like a killer because that’s what he is, an assassin; that’s what he was written as. But I wanted a modern take on that.”
His journey throughout Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre and now No Time To Die has been constant. Big themes have dominated. And so it continues. “With No Time To Die, the themes are as big as you can go,” Craig continues. “That’s how it is with Bond. If this isn’t the time to use the expression ‘Go big or go home’ in a Bond movie, I don’t know when is the right time to use it.”
“I have always been very happy with the way the 007 films I’ve been a part of have turned out,” he adds. “It’s been a lot about the relationships and how those relationships affect him and how they change and steer his life. Whether it’s with the villain or whether it’s the people he works with, this movie has tackled that head on. And the biggest themes are love and trust. You can’t really get much bigger than that.”
“This is a Bond movie, of course, and Bond movies are action-adventure movies – we’ve got plenty of that – but to make action adventure movies work you have to have some elements of truth and you need a satisfying emotional journey for an audience to invest in the characters. So, in No Time To Die, there is this love story but it’s really, really complicated and, hopefully, it is fascinating to watch.”
“With No Time To Die there was a strong story to finish off, lots of loose ends to tie up,” says Craig. “I think we have managed to tell that story and get everything rounded up.”
Themes exploring secrets, betrayal and trust have stitched together the last four films and they propel the narrative towards its thrilling conclusion in No Time To Die.
After the heartbreak he suffered with the loss of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale, his fluctuating relationship with M and MI6, and the pain inflicted by the revelations imparted by Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), Bond has taken another risk, letting down his guard with Madeleine as he bids to try and love again.
“If Bond is going to commit to a relationship, this throws up so many emotional challenges for him,” continues Broccoli. “So trust is the biggest theme in this movie; making an emotional commitment with someone is very difficult because of his history with attachments, and then betrayal being a big part of the break-up of those attachments.”
Though he is committing to his relationship with Madeleine, No Time To Die begins with Bond having severed his longest-lasting relationship, his employment with MI6.
Associate producer Gregg Wilson notes that Bond’s retirement opened the filmmakers to a new reality.
“Bond being retired was a new place for us,” he says, “thinking what this man would be like if he didn’t have his day job. When you have devoted your life to the service, like Bond, what is the legacy that you leave behind?”
To tell this story, the filmmakers turned to visionary filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre, True Detective), who stepped in after the production parted ways with director Danny Boyle. Michael G. Wilson and Broccoli had long admired Fukunaga’s work as both a writer and a director and first met the filmmaker in New York shortly after the release of Spectre.
“When we met, Cary said he would love to do a Bond film at some point,” explains Broccoli, “So when Danny Boyle exited the project, we were looking for a new director and he reached out. It was amazing that he was available. His enthusiasm for the project and also his ability as a writer really came into it. It all worked out miraculously.”
Fukunaga is the first American to direct a Bond film.
“I think that all Cary’s films are incredible and he is able to work in any kind of genre,” explains Michael G. Wilson, “and he is also a wonderful writer.”
“He is great with characters and with actors and he brings a level of complexity to everything he does. He is a very international person. He speaks several languages, is very well travelled and is also a kind of maverick. He is young and enthusiastic and he is visually extraordinary. Cary is also able to make very complicated things understandable and that fit so well with what we wanted from this story.”
Fukunaga’s introduction to the Bond stories came when he went to watch Roger Moore’s swansong, 1985’s A View To A Kill, at his local cinema. “I remember loving the finale on the Golden Gate Bridge,” he recalls. “It seemed like Bond had crossed over into my world. It was just a cool film with Roger Moore kicking ass.”
As Fukunaga’s career developed as a writer, producer and director, those memories remained and he says that he always hoped to direct a Bond film one day and, like the producers, Fukunaga was particularly excited by Bond’s emotional journey across the preceding films. “When you’re coming after Casino, Quantum, Skyfall and Spectre, you have a good idea of the arc that Bond’s character has been going through,” he says.
“For us, this film comes five years after Spectre. The world has changed a lot since then and much of our discussion was around how we make this film feel of the time, but also of the universe of Bond, which is never really specific to a time. That was part of the very first conversations we had together with the producers and with Daniel. You also want to bring something new to the story and also you want to honour all the Bond films in terms of leitmotifs and expectations.”
Chief among those expectations is adventure and the associated danger. “Every Bond film has danger,” the director adds. “You take the scariest thing you can imagine facing the world, and then you have Bond to get in front of it and stop it. And what has been interesting in Daniel’s run is the added layers that he’s brought to that character.”
“There’s complexity, there’s damage, there’s also vulnerability that’s been covered up since the first of his films when Vesper Lynd died. His decision-making is interesting because of his ingenuity and also because of his flaws. I think his is a really interesting story.”
The Return Of Familiar Characters
Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, an intelligent and highly capable psychologist stands as the most significant other in Bond’s life. No Time To Die marks the first time that one of Bond’s love interests has featured significantly in two movies (although the memory of Vesper Lynd has of course cast a long shadow across all the Daniel Craig films).
Seydoux was delighted to reprise her role. “At the end of Spectre, Madeleine is happy she’s with Bond, and we think that they are united for the best,” she says. “But we’ll find out that they have problems to solve, and I think that in No Time To Die we learn more about their intimacy, in a way.”
While aspects of Madeleine’s private life were revealed in the last film — the SPECTRE assassin Mr White, first introduced in Casino Royale, was her father — audiences will learn even more about the character in her latest outing. “Cary wanted Madeleine to be more accessible and approachable this time around,” continues Seydoux. “He wanted to explore the relationship that she has with Bond and I think it’s a new aspect of the character that we will see on screen.”
Naturally, Bond has many allies and another key MI6 member always on hand to help him out is Q. With the performance of Ben Whishaw, the Q-Bond dynamic has shifted across Skyfall and Spectre; the classic relationship as defined by series legend Desmond Llewelyn (Q in 17 James Bond films beginning with the second film in the series From Russia With Love in 1963), with a fastidious Q often exasperated by Bond’s gung-ho treatment of his ingenious inventions, is no longer the default setting.
That said, there remains a friendly tension between the pair, with Q torn between his loyalty to MI6 and his friendship with, and admiration for, Bond. “Q’s always caught between Bond, who’s maverick, unpredictable and breaks the rules, and what he’s told to do by M,” says Whishaw. “Always his loyalty is with Bond; there’s a real affection there, which I think comes out in this film quite a lot.”
For the screenwriters, the pleasure was derived not only from Q’s discomfort with the invasion of his private space, but also from the incongruity of witnessing Bond in a domestic environment.
“One of the funniest moments is certainly Bond going round to Q’s house,” says Purvis. “Q doesn’t want Bond disturbing the life he has got now; it’s been quieter without him around. But the whirlwind will start again with Bond’s return so there’s humour with how uncomfortable Q is with this situation.”
Along with Harris and Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes also returns, reprising the role of M. Fiennes says that he was more than impressed with the story ideas on which Fukunaga wanted to concentrate.
“When Cary got on the phone with me and told me the story, I must say I thought it was very strong,” says Fiennes, who stars in his third consecutive Bond film. “M has compromised himself by developing a secret programme that he thinks will be for the good of the country.”
“But the scientist he’s filched from the Russians and engaged to develop this programme has gone rogue and turned it into something horrific and dangerous. M has unwittingly developed something that got out of hand.”
It is M’s questionable decision-making that sees him turn to Bond. He needs MI6’s best agent to return and help to right the wrong. The narrative helps develop a new relationship between Fiennes’ M and Craig’s Bond.
“To begin with,” says Purvis, “M doesn’t really want him around, he’s been too much trouble, so there’s a different dynamic.”
Fiennes, for one, relished these scenes. “I’ve had a few confrontational moments with Daniel in this context in the previous films,” he says, “but this felt the most live-wire as M is caught on the back foot, big time.”
Another long-serving MI6 employee who reappears in No Time To Die is Tanner, played by Rory Kinnear, who identifies the “family of MI6” as one of the important themes in the film.
“This film has a strong link, thematically, with those that have gone before, especially the ones that I’ve been involved in,” says the actor, who returns for his fourth Bond film. “There is that sense of tying up loose ends and there is a sense of family in many ways — that family of MI6, for one. The story looks at what loyalty requires of you, what it can take from you, and what it can do to your own personal life as well as your working life.”
“The friendships are cemented and solidified by the pressure that the characters find themselves under towards the end, and I guess that’s been the same over the last couple of films; they’ve been through a lot together.”
Also returning is the hero’s most famous nemesis Blofeld, who debuted on screen in 1963’s From Russia With Love, and whose first overt connection to the Daniel Craig’s films began in Spectre, where he provided important insights into Bond’s upbringing and the pain he has suffered from Casino Royale onwards. Christoph Waltz comes back for a second outing after the character’s incarceration at the end of the last movie.
“Blofeld’s story hasn’t been fulfilled,” says Michael G. Wilson. “He wasn’t going to sit quietly in jail. He isn’t that type of person and it certainly isn’t the end of the story when he goes to jail. He has Primo out there in the world, who can be the eyes and ears of Blofeld in prison.”
And Blofeld continues to poke at Bond’s emotions. “I love it when Blofeld says to Bond, ‘You were always so very, very sensitive,’” notes Barbara Broccoli. “All these men are all kind of sensitive.”
There is a far more positive emotional connection between Bond and another returnee, CIA man Felix Leiter, whose friendship with Bond extends back to Casino Royale in the Daniel Craig series. Actor Jeffrey Wright returns as Leiter once again in No Time To Die. “With Felix and James there is a sense of fraternal kinship,” says Wright. “They are almost like brothers in a very select circle.”
This is the character’s tenth appearance in the Bond series after he debuted in 1962’s Dr. No and he plays an important role in this film, reaching out to a retired Bond and drawing him back into the world of espionage.
“James has pulled back from the game but Felix has a mission that needs to be taken on and it just happens to be in the neighbourhood of his old friend,” reveals Wright. “For them there is a sense of familiarity; there is Felix’s bond with Bond, owing to who they are and what they do and the disparate places that they come from. The story looks at this love for one another and respect for one another. Also, I think, there’s a love for the game.”
The End Of An Era
Not only is No Time To Die a landmark film as EON’s 25th Bond movie, it also stands as the final chapter in the Daniel Craig era and, according to Barbara Broccoli, it is an intensely personal story.
“I think it is by far the most personal story, alongside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale,” she says. “It is a fitting and very emotionally satisfying conclusion to Daniel Craig’s character arc.”
Not surprisingly, No Time To Die proved an emotional project for all of those involved, especially for Craig himself. “When I stop and think about what we have achieved over five movies, it’s really very emotional; it’s been nearly 15 years of my life,” he says.
“And I felt with No Time To Die there was a story to finish off and lots of loose ends that we needed to tie up. I feel we’ve done that. I’m immensely proud of it and I am immensely proud of the huge collective effort that goes into making a Bond movie. Being just a small part of that has been an honour.”
The most emotional moment came with Craig’s final scenes, which, fittingly, were shot at Pinewood, the traditional home of the Bond films. Michael G. Wilson recalls the feeling on set: “It was late at night and usually people go home when they’re done but everyone came on set. It wasn’t a party atmosphere exactly but it was a special moment and people wanted to be there.”
“They called ‘Wrap’ and Daniel said some beautiful words and everyone was tearful and hugging. We were all sorry to see this era end; it was very emotional for the crew.”
The filmmakers remain extremely proud of what they’ve achieved across the last five films. “In these films, Daniel has brought a lot of humanity to Bond and developed a real character,” concludes Wilson. “That’s what he brings to the later films. He kept on developing that character and creating it. With his tenacity, understanding and tremendous talent, Daniel Craig has developed a version of James Bond that is unique.”
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had their first success in 1991 with the screenplay of the controversial drama Let Him Have It. The critically acclaimed film, directed by Peter Medak, was screened for Parliament and played a part in Derek Bentleys’ eventual posthumous pardon.
They have worked in a variety of genres with screenplays such as Plunkett & Macleane, starring Robert Carlyle and Liv Tyler, Johnny English starring Rowan Atkinson and John Malkovich. As well as writing the James Bond films The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, they wrote and co-produced Return To Sender for director Bille August and performed the same duties on Stoned for director Stephen Woolley.
For Casino Royale they received two BAFTA nominations as well as an EDGAR nomination from the Mystery Writers of America. They subsequently co-wrote Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall, which earned them a BAFTA for Best British Film, and Spectre.
They adapted and exec-produced Len Deighton’s novel SS-GB for Sid Gentle Films and BBC One starring Sam Riley and most recently adapted Jo Nesbo’s The Son for Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories, as well as a WW2 screenplay for GK Films. No Time To Die is their seventh James Bond film.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a multi-award-winning writer and actor, known for the BBC 3/Amazon series Fleabag, in which she starred, created and produced. Waller- Bridge won three Primetime Emmy Awards for the second season, including Best Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. She also won two Golden Globe Awards (Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy and Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy), two Critics’ Choice Awards (Best Actress in a Comedy Series and Best Comedy Series) and the Screen Actors Guild Award (Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series), in addition to a BAFTA Television Award for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Program.
As a writer and producer, Waller-Bridge is known for her work on Season 1 of the critically acclaimed BBC America series Killing Eve. She contributed to the script of the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, which will release later this year. On television, she has been seen in Crashing, which she also wrote, Broadchurch and Run, which she executive produced with Vicky Jones. On film, Waller-Bridge has appeared in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Goodbye Christopher Robin, and The Iron Lady.
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, her debut play “Fleabag” earned a 2014 Olivier Award nomination and a Special Commendation from the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 2013. In addition to the hit television series, the play spurred celebrated Off-Broadway and West End runs of the production (Lucille Lortel Award, Drama League, Drama Desk and Olivier Award nominations), and the publication of Fleabag: The Scriptures. Waller-Bridge has established her own production company, Wells Street Films, and serves as the Co-Artistic Director of DryWrite Theatre Company.