BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND — On the set of the new James Bond film, Daniel Craig and gang aren’t letting much slip about the plot of “Skyfall.”
This is what we know: Adele may or may not sing the theme song. Judi Dench’s character, spy chief M, may or may not die. There will be guns.
All will be clearer once the juggernaut that is Bond — the world’s longest-running movie series — rolls into cinemas Nov. 9 on a wave of interest rekindled by the 2006 arrival of Craig as the serious, brooding blond Bond.
But for now, prying details out of the cast is about as easy as prying 007’s Walther PPK out of his hand.
The juiciest nugget from Craig is that “Skyfall” will be laced with more comedy than his previous Bond outings, which were punctuated by seriousness (verging on sterility in the last film).
“I’m so camp in this one, I’ve gone quite far,” says Craig, who is wearing tight blue jeans, a gray sweater, white shirt and black tie. While he’s clearly buff, it’s easy to imagine the 44-year-old actor ducking into his local pub unnoticed, save for those piercing blue eyes and the nervous fiddling with his Omega watch.
We’re sitting in a ballroom at Pinewood Studios, about 20 miles west of London, which for self-defined Bond nerds is a kind of utopia surrounded by elegantly framed movie stills. The general store has a black-and-white stencil of Sean Connery on its window, and the largest stage is known simply as the “007 stage.”
“There is a lightness of touch in the writing, I think, that’s not been as evident in the last two, and I’m very excited about that,” Craig says.
Cue cringe-worthy flashbacks to the cornier days of Bond, as in “Die Another Day,” when Pierce Brosnan tells his fencing instructor, “I have been known to keep my tip up.”
A more light-hearted Bond would be a dramatic departure for Craig, whose first outing as 007, “Casino Royale,” is often talked about in the same breath as “Batman Begins” — a wildly successful reboot of a film series that returns to its origins with a darker, less sophisticated hero.
If critics are concerned about a wittier, funnier outing from Craig, well, he says, “you gotta take risks in this business.”
He is quick to deflect hard questions or even compliments with the kind of self-deprecating humor that seems fitting for 007, even a leaner, meaner one like Craig. And when the veteran Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, who is sitting next to him, comments that he is wiser than when he started, Craig teases her: “I’m still working with you. I can’t be that much wiser. You’d think I’d learn.”
Much is riding on this film, which was plagued by delays following MGM’s bankruptcy in 2010. The new studio bosses hope it will fill their coffers, and, for his part, Craig could use a hit. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was a commercial success, but several of his other recent films have bombed; a stellar turn here would help cement his longevity as Bond.
And “Skyfall,” to be released 50 years after the first Bond film, “Dr. No,” gave Craig a bigger role than that of lead actor, for it was he who put forward Sam Mendes’s name for the role of director, having worked with him in “Road to Perdition.”
Craig also cornered Spanish actor Javier Bardem at a fundraising party in Los Angeles and coaxed him into playing the chief villain.
Craig explained: “I just went: “Would you be in the next Bond movie?” and he said, “Yes,” and I went, “Great!” and that was it. . . . Nobody told me that’s how it doesn’t happen.”
Despite winning an Oscar for his portrayal of a hit man in “No Country for Old Men,” Bardem has such an aversion to violence that he said the Coen brothers, directors of that film, dubbed him “the Spanish ballerina.”
But there he is, on a recent day of filming on the 007 stage, in a thrilling action scene with Craig. The set has been transformed to resemble the deepest, darkest (and coldest) parts of the London Underground subway system. The ground is flooded with eight inches of water, dyed black to make it look deeper.
We watch a debonair Craig (clad in one of the 200 suits designer Tom Ford stitched for his character) fire his semiautomatic at Bardem.
“Not bad, James, for a physical wreck,” says Bardem, before triggering an explosion that rips a hole through a musty tunnel.
When asked to expand on the scene, Bardem says: “This is a James Bond movie; everything is top secret.”
The only seismic plot point the production company will be drawn out on — officially — is that “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.”
“More about her was written this time, which was very, very nice for me,” Dench says.
Less gregarious than her co-stars — she admits she is nothing like the “frankly bossy” head spymaster she has played since 1995 — Dench lights up talking about advances in technology or foreign affairs or her coming lunch with the former head of Britain’s domestic spy agency.
Of “Skyfall,” she says, “it’s been very well written, I think.” But she bats aside questions on the rumors that her character will be killed off.
During a morning of guided tours at Pinewood, we stumble on a few other tidbits: a sawed-off shotgun will play a prominent role, and Craig and Bardem’s characters first bump into each other in an abandoned city on an island near Japan. We learn that Bond will sip on a Heineken and will wear “tailored” swimming trunks (although it’s not clear whether he’ll do so while drinking the beer).
But while the cast members are coy about the meat of the story, they are brimming with confidence that this film has the ingredients to be the best Bond yet.
“We have a good story, we got a great cast, we got a great director,” says Craig, adding: “We are making something that’s exciting and that’s hopefully going to move people a little.”