screenwriters behind Die Another Day talk
about playing rough with 007 even as they honor
his franchises double anniversary.
Purvis and Robert Wade are still beating up on Bond.
prolific British duos first James Bond screenplay,
for 1999s The World Is Not Enough,
added drama and gravity to the landmark spy franchise
mostly by piling misfortune upon its hero.
We really pulled out all the stops, admits
Wade: In addition to saddling Bond with a painful
shoulder injury, We had him fall for a girl
and then kill her in cold blood, and we blew up MI6
at the start. And then we had to start all over again
with this one.
one is Die Another Day the
fourth film in the series to feature Pierce Brosnan
dodging bullets, guzzling martinis and bedding improbably
named women. It hits screens Nov. 22 and its
not particularly nice to its hero, either.
one thing, Bond is denied female companionship after
being thrown in a North Korean prison; then, after
hes freed during a prisoner exchange, hes
suspected of having cracked under torture and
so the master spy has to clear his name. Along for
the ride are returning castmates Judi Dench and John
Cleese (taking over for the late Desmond Llewellyn
as Q), plus Reservoir Dogs vet Michael
Madsen as an NSA agent and Oscar-winner Halle Berry
donning the Bond-girl catsuit.
addition to their self-proclaimed mission to create
a dramatic starting point in terms of the character
of James Bond, Purvis and Wade also had to honor
an unprecedented double anniversary: Die Another
Day marks the 20th film in the Bond series
and 40 years since Dr. No launched the
such a venerable character fresh can be a daunting
task even for two men who may be the hardest-working
screenwriters in show business. Consider the raw stats:
The duo broke through in 1991 with their script for
the British true-crime indie Let Him Have It,
and followed it with a draft of Disneys 1994
sci-fi saga The Puppet Masters. In 1995,
they apparently lurched into some sort of caffeinated
overdrive cranking out a staggering five screenplays
in 1995 (including a version of An American
Werewolf in Paris) and four more in 1997 (including
the swashbuckler Plunkett & Macleane.)
they got involved with Bond after which, to
hear them tell it, they worked even harder. We
didnt realize wed been taking it easy,
both Purvis and Wade were born in 1962, the year the
007 movies were launched. They first met in college
in the early 1980s and their earliest collaborations
were musical, not cinematic. We were put into
shared bunk beds at university, against our will,
Wade deadpans. Neal left after one term, but
wed formed a band in that time
bond. So we kept in touch for the sake of the music.
To subsidize the band, we started writing screenplays.
So really, Bond is just a sideline for us.
Heres what Purvis and Wade had to say about
honoring the Bond legacy, handing the reins to a new
Q, and what its like when your Bond girl wins
the Best Actress Oscar during filming.
what kind of music did your band play?
Robert Wade: Well, we were kind of heavy twang.
Neal Purvis: The music we played was similar to the
Bond theme. Twang, of a sort.
RW: We played Bond as if Link Wray had done the Bond
theme. In between films, we try to get the band together.
We were very good musically, but we could never come
up with a name.
the space of about a decade, you two have gone from
writing a gritty, true-crime drama Let
Him Have It to writing two films in what
is essentially the ultimate fantasy version of good
guy/bad guy moviemaking the Bond series.
RW: Well, a good storys a good story. I think
all films should be humorous, even if theyre
about really serious subjects. So in a way, writing
a Bond film is maybe a little bit more an obvious
channel for humor but its still about
finding a story thats interesting.
we actually believe that what weve brought to
the last two Bond films is a dramatic starting point
in terms of the character of James Bond. People from
the outside sort of look at the Bond series as a sort
of fantasy, and obviously thats right. But you
do have to give the actor playing Bond some sort of
emotional reality to look for.
your first Bond film, The World Is Not Enough,
you had Bond injured for the entire film.
RW: Yes, that was one of our earliest thoughts. Because
the enemy of good storytelling, in terms of trying
to achieve some sort of identification with the hero,
is if hes some sort of superhero. So although
Bond is obviously able to look after himself, the
thing that were trying to show with these stories
is that hes a mortal man who can be injured,
and has this sort of vulnerability as well as being
you make him vulnerable in Die Another Day
by cutting him off from MI6, correct?
RW: Yes and hes distrusted. It means
hes not just fulfilling Her Majestys pleasure
hes got something to prove. Hes
got to reclaim his identity as Bond, in a way.
sort of hearkens back to Licence to Kill
another film in the series where Bond is disconnected
from his regular duties.
the difference is that in Licence to Kill,
he did it for personal reasons; he voluntarily kind
of went out of the system. It was about revenge. But
in Die Another Day, he has to prove himself.
This is more of a quest to find out whether theyre
right to distrust him to find the traitor in
their midst, and to prove that hes still James
Bond and that he didnt crack under torture.
So in a way, its more of a rear-guard action
read an interview with director Lee Tamahori where
he said that, in this film, James Bond gets the best
sex of his life.
RW: Well, thats more Lees contribution.
What we did is we created a situation where Bond hasnt
had sex in quite a long time; hes been incarcerated.
And therefore, when he does, you read in between the
lines that its quite a moment. And so Lee decided
to sort of shoot it that way.
NP: Its possibly the biggest explosion in the
RW: Well, the biggest bang and that happens
to be with Halle Berry, so
did Halle Berry win Best Actress during filming?
RW: Yeah, she did. It was a fantastic moment. And
she came back and we thought, Well, wed
better give her a few more lines now.
NP: Rob, werent you there when she came back
on set, having come back with the Oscar?
RW: Yeah, thats right. And also our sound man,
hed also gone there and picked up the Oscar
for Black Hawk Down. And so there were
two Oscars on set. And everyone gave Halle an ovation
and then she got back into the red leather
catsuit and carried on working.
NP: While being strapped onto the laser table.
RW: Yes, while being strapped onto the laser table.
It was fantastic.
was Berrys entrance in the film which
evokes Ursula Andress bikini-clad entrance in
Dr. No your idea?
RW: Well, what it said in the script was that she
was swimming naked. And Lee was the one who decided
to have her coming out of the water in a bikini.
NP: Yes, we were disappointed that she was wearing
RW: See, in the novel of Dr. No, Ursula
Andress character was in the nude and
when she sees that Bond is on the beach, instead of
covering up her privates, she covers up her nose,
because its broken. But thats Ian Fleming.
film brings back some classics like the Aston
Martin and the bikini entrance. What drives those
sorts of self-conscious choices?
RW: Well, this is an anniversary film and it
was right to celebrate it. I mean, it is a bit indulgent,
but films are so self-referential now anyway. It was
just fun to draw on all the knowledge.
also, this is the film in which we have a transition
to a new Q. We sadly lost Desmond Llewellyn. And so
we thought, Its a nice tribute to him
and also sort of goes along with the 40th anniversary
to get a lot of the old gadgets and sort of
show another side to the Q labs. And so weve
got the very first gadget that Q gave Sean Connery,
which is the briefcase, and Bond sort of handles it
a little bit.
NP: And so its the actual briefcase from that
film, isnt it?
RW: Yes, it is. One of the things that Neal and I
are interested in is trying to ease in elements from
the Ian Fleming novels because it just adds
a little bit of texture. And so in introducing the
new Q [John Cleese], we started with Bond calling
him Quartermaster, which is the origin
of the name Q hes the quartermaster
of the Secret Service. And only by the end of the
scene, wheres hes been won over by Qs
gadgets, does he call him Q. Obviously,
a Q scene has to be a fun scene, but we wanted to
just seed in the idea that he earns the endearment
did you approach writing John Cleeses dialogue
differently than Desmond Llewellyns?
RW: Well, some of its very similar. But just
as ones grown up with Desmond Llewellyn, ones
equally grown up with John Cleese. So we sort of wrote
it with his qualities in mind, and then sent it to
him and he had his own suggestions about what
he would actually say in that situation. And John
Cleese is no mean writer, and he knows what hes
good at so youre not going to argue with
him too much.
does director Lee Tamahori bring to the series?
RW: Well, he was very keen on making a fast-moving
movie. And also he was keen on actually sort of upping
the amount of action in it, and the scale of the action.
NP: There was also a bit of inspiration in choosing
Christian Wagner as the editor hed worked
with John Woo and Tony Scott. It was really clear
that this was going to be a very contemporary action-adventure.
talk about some of the ways this new film deviates
from previous Bonds. A fairly edgy actor, Michael
Madsen, has a part in this film.
RW: Hes an NSA agent, and the American agents
in the Bond films have, on the whole, been very wholesome.
NP: And we wanted a real friction between Bond and
this NSA chief.
RW: And we wanted to have a little friction between
England and America.
never thought thered be a movie with Dame Judi
Dench and Michael Madsen. Do they have a scene together?
RW: [laughs] They do, actually.
NP: It was this massive conflict between these two
styles of acting. Judi Dench has got these laser eyes,
and looks right at you and fixes you and Michael
Madsen is the complete opposite. I mean, you didnt
really know what he was going to do from take to take.
guys have done an astonishing number of films together.
[Purvis and Wade laugh.] I mean, you wrote five screenplays
together in 1995, and four together in 1997.
RW: We do work hard. I guess our output has dropped
a little bit because Bond films are extremely demanding.
NP: Our method is to plan things out break
the film down into scenes and then we split
it up and do about five pages each a day, then join
them together. We work with laptops sitting in cafes,
and then e-mail it using mobile phones to the other
person. And then you just re-write the other person
and gradually it comes together. We meet two
or three times a week, I suppose, towards the end
of the day.
drink lots of coffee during the day, and then we have
to go to the pub at the end of the day so the alcohol
can bring us back down.
must have been a nice invention for you guys.
RW: Were hoping it will get better and better,
and well never have to see each other again.
Bond films are interesting in that they almost evoke
the classic Hollywood system of the 30s and
40s, where one producer (or producing family)
controls the material and a shifting array of talent.
Were you two approached with a story?
NP: No, thats the strange thing that people
seem to think happens. All we have is a blank page.
RW: You know, its extremely daunting. We got
the job of writing the third James Bond with Pierce
Brosnan just after Tomorrow Never Dies
opened and those first two films took in about
suddenly youve been told to turn up and write,
in discussion with the producers, a film thats
got to take the same in again. And its got a
release date, and nothings been agreed yet about
what the storys going to be. So then its
just a matter of brainstorming and coming up with
lots and lots of ideas a few of which will
be good enough to make it into the movie.
much input does Pierce Brosnan have into the writing
RW: Well, he makes it very clear what he wants
that he likes to have stuff to play, that he wants
scenes, that he wants a character.
NP: He appreciates that youve got to have the
action, but he wants the drama and he wants to act.
RW: Its motivating because he wants you to give
him stuff and then when the script finally
turns up, he makes you work that extra bit harder.
Because in writing a Bond movie, the thing thats
more important than anything else is to make James
Bond look good. The other people are icing on the
cake but its a sort of celebration of
this man, and this character, who has an effortless
kind of style and way of doing things.
strikes me that the producers are actually having
a bit of a globe-trotting James Bond adventure themselves,
dealing with all these governments as theyre
trying to make this film.
RW: Yeah. I think they had quite an experience making
Tomorrow Never Dies. The DMZ between North
and South Korea is kind of a thematic playground for
this movie but that was something that we couldnt
really deal with. So its been re-created elsewhere.
Its too much of a hot spot to actually film
NP: I dont want to go to North Korea.
RW: And weve got a sequence set in Cuba, but
we werent allowed to film there.
the producers come up with action sequences and ask
you to fill in the blanks in between, or do you conceive
them out of whole cloth as well?
RW: Its a bit of both, really. I mean, if theyve
got an idea or a stunt man says, Ive got
this really great
NP: But not on Die Another Day.
RW: No, thats right. On Die Another Day,
the concepts came from us and the producers just talking
but I suppose we suggested doing some surfing
stuff and a hovercraft chase and a minefield and
NP: We outlined the action sequence and the concepts
ourselves and it comes down to what the stunt
team and the director and the second-unit director
feel they can do and how they can push the envelope.
you guys ever written a stunt sequence so fantastic
it couldnt be filmed?
RW: Yes. In fact, the original concept of the hovercraft
chase [in Die Another Day] was unfilmable.
It was just too dangerous. In this film Lee came in
with action ideas as well.
NP: We have a chase on the ice around this ice palace,
and Lee said, since they were building this enormous
palace, Why cant we have the chase inside
it? So they had to redesign the palace so it
could take the weight of cars going down the corridors.
RW: And stuntmen are always coming up with ideas.
On The World Is Not Enough, someone had
found those helicopters that dangled saws, and the
producers asked us to think of a way to work that
into the story. They werent our idea
but having a caviar factory that they carve up was
back over the entire series, whos your favorite
RW: My favorite is Hugo Drax in Moonraker.
You know, it was a kind of out-there film, but the
actor, Michael Lonsdale, was very good. He had the
best lines: Look after Mr. Bond. See that some
harm comes to him. You know, Id probably
say something else if I had another pint in me.
bald albino fellow in the Die Another Day
trailer looks cool. Whats his story?
RW: Hes had a bit of bad luck. He encountered
James Bond and got hit with flying shrapnel
and then the second encounter with Bond actually resulted
in his being rendered an albino. So hes a bit
unfortunate, really. Bond gets out of a North Korean
jail because hes been traded for this other
guy and in a sense, that is a dishonor to Bond,
so hes got to go and get that guy, and he ends
up holding the answers to all his questions.
you think youll write a third Bond film together?
RW: Yeah. I think that could be a likelihood.
NP: But its early days; you cant presume
that will happen.
RW: But weve got plenty of ideas left. But at
the moment were doing some other work.
NP: Weve got Johnny English coming
out in March in America. Its a comedy about
a bumbling British [intelligence agent] in the vein
of Inspector Clouseau. And weve also got The
Wicked World of Brian Jones the story
of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and the last
few weeks of his life.
RW: Its been in the works for about eight years.
Weve been working on it longer than Brian Jones
was in the Rolling Stones. Thats a very interesting
movie its probably the antithesis of
Bond. Its set at The House on Pooh Corner, which
is where he was living when he died.
English sounds like it was an opportunity to
work out some demons from the Bond series.
RW: Yeah. [both laugh] We were scrupulously trying
to steer it in a Graham Greene direction rather than
an Ian Fleming direction. After Sept. 11, because
it was comedy, the producers wanted to make sure it
didnt have any controversial elements in it.
We werent available to work on it so
a writer called Will Davies came in on it, and he
sort of made it un-controversial.
or do you two ever work apart?
you worry at all that up-and-comers like XXX
and even outright spoofs like Austin Powers
could steal Bonds thunder?
RW: No. I think Austin Powers has stolen
the outrageous names
NP: And XXX is its own thing. The problem
for any other sort of film is how they keep going.
RW: Yeah. Ill be surprised to see Austin
Powers 20. But the other thing is, this is the
original; if youre doing something sort of adjacent
to Bond, youre not necessarily going to try
so hard you can come up with a Bond-type plot
and itll be sort of generic. But of youre
doing the actual Bond, you have to try and think of
something new, because its already been done
in Bond. You cant just say, What the hell
well steal a nuclear weapon and hold
the world for ransom, because youve already