Cary Joji Fukunaga: The next James Bond needs to offer something different to Daniel Craig (exclusive)

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No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)
No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)

No Time To Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga thinks it would be foolhardy for the next James Bond to try to emulate Daniel Craig.

53-year-old Craig is stepping down from the role after sixteen years and five films as 007, and Fukunaga says that — although the blonde Bond 'modernised' the character with his mix of brutality and sensitivity — whatever comes next in Bond 26 must deviate from that mould.

"I think [Daniel Craig] modernised Bond," Fukunaga tells Yahoo. "I think when he came in with Casino Royale, he was a Bond that people definitely didn't expect, and he brought a level of sheer masculine brutality mixed with vulnerability. He was like a bull in a china shop.

Read more: Actors who could be the next James Bond

"And he could still pull off the suave, cuff-arranging moments, while walking away from danger. But he had that extra dangerous component. And that's something we haven't really seen before in Bond. 

No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)
No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)

"And I don't know afterwards if anyone should try to do that, you know? It's got to be different somehow."

Before attention turns to the next generation of James Bond though, Yahoo spoke to Fukunaga about No Time To Die (in cinemas from 30 September), how the story developed when Phoebe Waller-Bridge came on board, where the title came from, what to expect from the new characters and how the pandemic impacted the release.

Editor's note: Yahoo had not seen No Time To Die at the time of the interview.

In a recent interview you said you met with producer Barbara Broccoli before you were hired for No Time To Die, and you spitballed potential actors who could be the next James Bond that must have been fun?

MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA - APRIL 25:  (L-R) Producer Michael G Wilson, cast member Daniel Craig, producer Barbara Broccoli and director Cary Joji Fukunaga attend the
(L-R) Producer Michael G Wilson, cast member Daniel Craig, producer Barbara Broccoli and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

It was great. It was right after Spectre came out, so it was years before even I came on board for this particular iteration. Spectre had come out, I'd asked to have a meeting with her, we went to this restaurant I know in New York, and they gave us a room in the back, so we can speak privately, and really just talked about all the actors who are out there and who could potentially, replace Daniel [Craig as Bond], and I think after about 45 minutes of chatting, and getting to know each other, and talking about all the potentials, I walked away from the meeting thinking 'there's no one really yet, that's obvious'. No-one that felt like it would be as exciting as another one with Daniel.

Read more: The best James Bond films, according to its biggest fans

So cut to like three years later and I’m in Barbara's house, in a townhouse in the Upper East Side. And here we are now three years later after that, with the fifth Daniel Craig film. I'm very pleased that I got to work with him; that I got to work with his version of Bond.

When you officially signed on, what was the state of the script, that already been written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade?

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Screenwriters Robert Wade (L) and Neal Purvis attend the world premiere of BBC One's SS-GB at the May Fair Hotel on January 30, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images )
Screenwriters Robert Wade (L) and Neal Purvis, 2017 (David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

No, that's actually not true. So Danny [Boyle's] project was over, and [the producers] just wanted to start from scratch. 

So then, I met with Robert and Neal and we just started from scratch again, and re-outlined a new idea, including a new villain, new threats, and a new set of circumstances that set up the obstacle course for Bond’s journey in the film, and then outlined for about eight weeks, and then went away to write a screenplay that then became the first act of a larger story.

And you've got writing credit, along with Robert and Neal and also Phoebe Waller-Bridge as well. So I wondered how did bringing Phoebe help the story?

Phoebe Waller-Bridge arrives at the BAFTA Los Angeles Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge arrives at the BAFTA Los Angeles Britannia Awards, 2019 (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

I mean, it was pretty critical at that point, because I was writing alone by the time we were going into production, and I really needed support. I really needed to figure out... there are parts of the story yet that hadn't been cracked.

So I had a meeting with Phoebe, actually on Daniel's suggestion. And I had this amazing meeting with her at EON on Piccadilly. And she just brought in fresh air, a lot of ideas to the characters, to the situations we're playing with you, even within the scenes, how to up the game between the two characters within a scene.

And it was really great just to have her go away — because she was working on her one woman show in New York at that time period — and she’d come back every now and then with different ideas for different sequences, and just really start plugging and playing and figuring out how to fully flesh out the story.

What was the origin of the film’s title?

Daniel Craig is returning for the fifth and final time as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007, and judging by this poster he's tooled up and ready for action. (Universal Pictures)
Daniel Craig is returning for the fifth and final time as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007, and judging by this poster he's tooled up and ready for action. (Universal Pictures)

There was trying to go back into old Fleming stories and older Cubby Broccoli projects to really try and find the right title, to strike the right tone, the right kind of wordage.

The Fleming way of doing titles… it's always a bizarre combination of words, right? So the contemporary one, the completely invented contemporary version, it always sounds like it's a copy rather than an original Fleming title so it's a pretty tricky exercise to try to get to something.

You mentioned that going back to Fleming, did you also go back to the film's as well?

I pretty much watched all the films again and then read a bunch of the books and short stories and, this was in the development period, so it was spending the days at Eon, story iterating and throwing postcards on a wall and pitching ideas that I'd had overnight next morning about characters and their motivations. 

From the James Bond archives (MGM/Eon)
From the James Bond archives (MGM/Eon)

And when you're in that kind of period of massive creation, everything becomes an inspiration. So going back to the original Ian stuff was extremely important, not just for like little things that Bond says to himself and his inner monologue, but also just words, themes, locations, characters, they all seeped into the final material.

Someone who seems to be an entirely new character is Nomi. What do you think fans will find most surprising about her when they finally see her in action?

No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)
No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)

Lashana is an amazing young actor, and I think like Bond, she has many facets. She can be brutal and effective as a Double O, but also has that sense of humour always under the surface.

She’s young and ambitious and ready. What are the surprising things about her? Well, you have to see the film, then you'll be surprised.

Onto another top secret classified piece of information: Safin. You've got Rami Malek, obviously one of the greatest actors of his generation. What did he bring to the character that wasn't already on the page?

Rami is a really smart guy who looks at things with a level of detail. And especially I think, when he's trying to form the character and create rationale inside of his brain inside of his emotional core, about how to embody, how to understand the motivations for the character.

No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)
No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)

This is where the writing process and the logic process have to really be, in a way, bulletproof because someone like Rami can find a hole, and then open it wide open, and expose that issue.

And, thankfully anything that came up, we're able to sort of explain how things are working and why they're the way they were, and how Rami’s character was becoming the person he becomes in this film.

But Rami brought a level of depth to it that was extremely important. I think you have to understand the villain, you have to sympathise with him to make them a really effective villain.

The film has been delayed many times - but you stated that you haven’t been back to make any changes. Were you not tempted at all?

No. There was like one VFX shot that got a couple weeks or days of loving care. But otherwise, the story was completely done in the can. 

The score was done, sound mix, the picture edit. And I think by the time we got to the end, we'd had a pretty intense editorial process and review process, and I don't think there's anything I would have really changed even with more time. I felt done. I was satisfied with where we got to.

Is it something you would do again?

Maybe, I mean, right now, I can't see it. But I also would never say never.

This is a franchise that is based on this 60-70 year old character how has this film evolved to suit modern audiences?

No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)
No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)

I don't know if it's evolved to suit the audience, I think the people making it are aware of the world we're living in. We're a product of the world we're living in and we react to it. And our creativity stems from the conflicts that are existing on a geopolitical level, as well on a personal level.

I think that a story like Bond and a character like Bond, that is contentious in some ways through a current lens of white male privilege, could have a lot of criticism. But if you're making a story that only responds to criticism, then you're not really creating another story, you're just creating an argument.

And that's just nothing any of us wanted to be really bogged down with. So I think there's a nod to it. There’s an understanding of it without necessarily feeling like you're a prisoner to that response.

How much this film is about tying up Daniel’s story to give it a fitting ending? Is it referencing back to his previous four films, did you have to make sure everything was linking together?

Daniel Craig and Eva Green in Casino Royale (Credit: MGM/Sony Pictures)
Daniel Craig and Eva Green in Casino Royale (Credit: MGM/Sony Pictures)

Yeah, I would say a majority of the film is driven by where we're left off in Spectre. But there is a large percentage devoted to tying up loose threads and characters and storylines that needed to be addressed to make it feel like it's a satisfying final chapter for the Casino Royale Bond.

James Bond films come with a certain amount of iconic tropes. You've got the music, you've got the cars, you've got the title sequence, which for you was the most exciting part for you?

The most exciting part? I mean, they're all fun, right? Figuring out what the new gadgets that Q’s gonna give him is fun.

The cars... we brought in some classic cars, so there's not necessarily new cars. And it's always fun reaching into the vaults of history… the V8 Vantage, for example, that was a real fun one to bring back. It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous car.

The four Aston Martin's set to appear in No Time To Die. (Aston Martin)
The four Aston Martin's set to appear in No Time To Die. (Aston Martin)

The title sequence is a lot of fun, because it's like, how do you make a title sequence that would excite you, and with a song that you feel like would leave an indelible mark. And I think all those things were really enjoyable. Just knowing that whether people will like it or dislike it, that was your choice to try and get in there and make a statement.

This film is coming out a very critical time for the box office, all eyes are on Bond. Is this pandemic the biggest challenge that the Bond series has faced yet, do you think?

I think the pandemic is probably the biggest challenge all of cinema has faced in a really long time. The fact that it’s literally a danger to gather in groups, especially for the unvaccinated.

I don't know what the effect is going to be yet on our release. I'm sure in a world where the pandemic didn't exist we wouldn't even consider that conversation about whether people go to cinema to watch it.

No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)
No Time To Die hits UK cinemas on 30 September (MGM/Universal Pictures/EON)

Synopsis: In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help.

The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

No Time To Die is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, from a screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, with a story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga.

No Time To Die will be released in UK cinemas 30 September. Watch a trailer below.

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