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Quantum of Solace - Marc Forster interview

Marc Forster directs Quantum of Solace

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MARC Forster talks about stepping into the spotlight as the director of the 22nd James Bond film Quantum of Solace, why he had to think long and hard about jumping on board and why he wanted to push 007 into darker territory.

He also discusses his prior knowledge of James Bond, his likes and dislikes, why he likes jumping from genre to genre with each film and what directing a Bond film could do for his own career.

Q. How is it having the focus on you with this latest Bond film?
Marc Forster: I guess last time the attention was on Daniel [Craig] and whether he was going to succeed as the next Bond or not. And I guess now, he’s proven himself. But they have chosen a director who isn’t necessarily an action director, so I guess that puts the pressure on me [laughs].

Q. Did you feel any pressure going into it?
Marc Forster: Oh yeah. One of the hesitations I had was because Casino Royale was the most successful Bond and the expectations were huge. I felt that to live for a year and a half under that kind of pressure and have everyone looking under the microscope as to what kind of decisions I would be making wouldn’t necessarily be joyful. It’s not as if I’d be waking up in the morning and saying: “Great!” So, it was a little tricky.

Q. But this is also a risky Bond in the sense that it’s not only following the most successful 007 adventure of all time, but you have to continue taking it forward and trying new things without alienating the fans…
Marc Forster: Absolutely…

Q. And in doing so, you’ve added some nice touches, or omissions, such as the fact that Bond doesn’t get to sleep with the main Bond girl this time…
Marc Forster: Yes, that was something I wanted to do… to create that mirror image between Bond and the girl.

Q. And he doesn’t get to say “the name’s Bond, James Bond…”
Marc Forster: I did shoot that. But we cut it out because the scene didn’t work. It was the only scene in the movie I cut, actually. I hope they put it on the DVD. I haven’t discussed it with them yet. But I think it would be a good idea.

Q. How far creatively were you allowed to go with Quantum of Solace?
Marc Forster: I must say that creatively it was really, really satisfying. At first, when I met the producers I thought they were going to hand me over the Bond bible of things I had to include in a Bond film. But it wasn’t like that at all. They gave me a lot of freedom and said: “Look, whatever you like or don’t like, just create the film you want to make.”

Q. And did you work closely with Daniel Craig?
Marc Forster: Very closely. He was one of the reasons why I finally said yes, because he was just inspiring. We collaborated very closely on the character and the script. We were both trying to create something that we both felt was the right way to go. We both come from independent cinema, so share similar sensibilities. I felt this always had to be a character-driven action adventure film and tried to focus on Bond at all times.

Q. You really push Bond to new lengths. But I imagine there was a danger that in becoming quite such a killing machine, he could also become unsympathetic?
Marc Forster: I wanted to go into that territory and wanted to push him slightly in that direction. I didn’t want to glorify him or anything. It’s important that there’s this sort of dark side to him that’s slightly unsympathetic. It used to be more during the Cold War where there were very clear villains and good guys. But now it’s much more overlapping between the villains and the good guys. In one sense, one of the questions for me was whether, for these secret service agents, their goal today is really to make sure their country is safe, or are they here to serve the interests of a few? I find that very interesting, especially with what’s going on in America with all the CIA and Guantanamo.

I also think it’s interesting to set Bond itself inside a structure that has a bit of realism. It’s not so much a political film but if you make the landscape and surroundings realistic, then it makes his character more believable. He’s more human. It wouldn’t work so well if Daniel were to play the character so realistic but would still have an invisible car. It would clash. So, I think the more realistic surroundings work better for his interpretation of the character.

Q. Would you have been interested in directing a Bond if it was still going the way that Pierce Brosnan was taking it, with invisible cars and such things?
Marc Forster: No, because it’s not so much my sensibility, so it wouldn’t interest me as much.

Q. When did you first become aware of the Bond franchise? And what’s your earliest Bond memory?
Marc Forster: The first Bond I saw in the movie theatre was the Timothy Dalton one, The Living Daylights. And then I saw Licence To Kill. The thing is, I saw it, I liked it but didn’t love it. But before Goldeneye came out, I watched them all to that point and really loved the early ones: Dr No, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the one with George Lazenby. I just love that movie. I think it’s so interesting. I was also drawn to From Russia With Love. So, when I did this one I felt that I wanted to create a bit of a throwback, retro feel as well.

Q. And there are deliberate nods as well, such as the Goldfinger reference. Was that a fun one to film?
Marc Forster: Yeah, I loved doing that.

Q. And Gemma Arterton was ready and willing to be covered in oil?
Marc Forster: When I cast her, I said: “Look, I think you’re great but there’s one scene that we should do some tests on!” [Laughs] But she said “sure”.

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of directing the film?
Marc Forster: The most challenging was pretty much to shoot in as many real locations as I could, and shoot as little as possible on stage. So, to shoot in six countries around the world and to co-ordinate everything, so that it’s all done the way you want it to be done and have all the details there and making sure everything is perfect, was very intense.

Q. Did filming The Kite Runner, which was also shot in different countries, help to prepare you logistically for Bond?
Marc Forster: Yes, but with The Kite Runner there was also a lot of pressure on me because the book sold 8 million copies and every second person I ran into said: “Oh, this is my favourite book; don’t ruin my book!” It was almost as though they were in love with that book, so it was very, very intense. But The Kite Runner was much harder emotionally and psychologically to do than Bond; Bond was a much easier to film to make.

Q. Were you surprised at how easy the action scenes were to put together?
Marc Forster: What’s difficult with the action sequences is not the shooting of them, because I make my film in pre-production. Everything that you see on screen is pretty much planned step by step. It’s like Swiss clockwork when I get on the set – everybody knows what to do and I just go there and shoot it. It’s the first Bond film that was finished on time. It was scheduled for 103 days and it was finished in 103 days. But I never went over-time on any of my films. It’s very much like a Swiss clock [laughs]. But what’s difficult with action is not the execution, it’s the writing. That was really, really hard because it was crucial.

Q. And the editing? I gather you like a lot of time to edit, and yet you only had half the time to do it on this?
Marc Forster: I usually have 14 weeks, but I only had six with this. I hired a second editor. Basically, after I finished shooting at night I went to my laptop and had to look at things they cut, renew my notes and re-cut stuff. I love editing. I love that world, so it was very intense.

Q. So what does having directed a Bond film mean in terms of your career? Does it put you on a different playing field?
Marc Forster: It depends how it does commercially. It if’s successful, it means I can make other big Hollywood blockbusters, which I’m not that interested in. But if it fails, then it really affects my entire career and also the small movies.

Q. How do you feel about the Bourne movies and the comparisons that are often made? Because arguably the success and style of the Bourne films did enable Bond to develop in the way that he has since Casino Royale? So, is it a love-hate relationship?
Marc Forster: I think Bourne is great. I like the first and second ones very much. They were my two favourite ones. But the third one is a little too fast for me.

Q. Would you like to do another action film?
Marc Forster: Yes, maybe one day. Not the next Bond film. Barbara offered it to me, but I like switching genres and I’ve done this now. It would mean I’d start competing with myself. If they come and it’s a phenomenal script then never say never again [laughs].

Q. What would you like to do next? Have you got anything planned?
Marc Forster: No, nothing. But something small.

Q. When did you know you wanted to start making films and how easy was it to do so?
Marc Forster: Basically, when I was a teenager it became very clear to me that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a storyteller. I grew up without TV pretty much, so I saw my first film in the theatre when I was 12 or 13. And then after that, I got the urge and started watching all these old movies. When I finished High School, I said I was going to study journalism in Zurich. But then I read in a paper about NYU, so I applied and got in. But then a friend of my parents… my parents couldn’t afford it, but this friend of ours, I wrote 30 letters to all the relatives and friends of the family, so one said: “OK, I’ll pay for the first year and if you have any talent I’ll pay for the second…”

Q. What is the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from the Bond experience?
Marc Forster: It’s just basically that it doesn’t matter how big the budget is. Ultimately, it’s all character driven. If you don’t connect to the lead character, you can’t connect to anything. The action sequences would be empty if you didn’t connect with Daniel as Bond, so it’s always about that. That’s one of the great things about being able to work with a character like Bond, because you get a lot of sympathy from the audience for him. With another movie, if you started it with a car chase you’d then need some time to actually build and explain the character and win the audience over. But with Bond you don’t have to; you can just go on this rush and stay on it. You couldn’t really do that with another character.

Read our review of Quantum of Solace