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"He's totally morally ambiguous - but I don't judge him..."  -Daniel Craig on playing James Bond
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It’s not often that a major studio will bring a script writer to Sydney for a media tour, but having Robert Wade as one of the five celebs at the Sydney press conference was just one of the surprises of the Die Another Day event also attended by stars Pierce Brosnan, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune and director Lee Tamahori: 2) it was held at the Opera House, and 3) it was moderated by a journalist – Andrew L. Urban. He filed this report. (Photos courtesy David Morgan)

Studios have always had an uneasy relationship with writers: they were the slave labourers of the old studio system, and some studio executives wish they still were. There's certainly no budget to fly writers around the world on junkets to promote a film. That’s what the stars are for, and maybe the director. And if you’ve got the stars AND the director, who needs the writer? 

"a couple of surprises"

This time, Twentieth Century Fox surprised us all, putting Robert Wade on the tour. What’s more, it’s for the 20th in the James Bond series – Wade is hardly the original creator. And the local Fox team added a couple of surprises of their own: let’s hire the Opera House … and let’s get a working journalist to moderate the press conference. 

This is what happened.

Facing 80-odd media seated stadium style in the Sydney Opera House Studio theatre, writer Robert Wade sat at the end of the guest table, his reddish hair slightly out of control, alongside director Lee Tamahori, whose short white hair and black outfit exuded power. In the middle was Pierce Brosnan in a pale gray suit - incredibly well cut, superb cloth, over open neck shirt, could have been a Bond special. But it was Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan, not Bond, James Bond on the podium; there was no sign of Bond-ish quips, none of the jocular banter that characterises 007, no sardonic verbal shots.

Next to him sat the English rose, Rosamund Pike, looking the most comfortable – her parents are opera singers, and not even Sydney’s iconic Opera House could intimidate her. Rick Yune, sans diamond pellets in his face, was at the opposite end to Wade.

Predictably enough, Wade was asked the fewest questions – and most were from the moderator (your reporter, more on that later).

But first, Pierce Brosnan declared not only his delight at playing James Bond, but his commitment – he’s already said ‘yes’ to the next Bond film, the series’ 21st and his fifth (Die Another Day 2002; Goldeneye 1995; Tomorrow Never Dies 1997; The World Is Not Enough 1999) but he wouldn’t speculate beyond to a sixth. 

And while nobody actually asked them, Brosnan and Tamahori clearly had a terrific professional rapport, judging by their meeting backstage prior to the press conference. Milling around waiting for everyone to arrive (entourage included), Tamahori was talking about his home base still being New Zealand, when Pierce Brosnan appeared at the end of the corridor. “Here he is,” said a beaming Tamahori, “off the plane and straight into it,” and the two men grinned and hugged each other as if they hadn’t met since bonding on the set, which they hadn’t. 

To the first question for Robert Wade: Is the script – story and character - still the most important element in a Bond script– or has action taken over, Wade suggested that “the action branches out from the characters . . . it grows from them.” Wade, who co-wrote the screenplay of both Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough with his writing partner Neil Purvis, explained how the process worked: “Neil and I go the producers with an idea and they say no… then we adapt it until they don’t realise it’s the same idea and we change the names … that’s how it evolves really,” he said with his quiet, understated and dry Englishness.

"to keep Bond fresh," writer Robert Wade

Tamahori took over the story of the script, explaining how many re-writes it went through, and how it kept evolving and changing. Another question to Wade probed how hard it was to keep Bond fresh. “Don’t try to make the explosions bigger, that’ll naturally happen,” he said. “Try and push the character and make him go through a test.” Ian Fleming, said Wade, had created a character with great resilience and possibilities. And hence the part in Die Another Day when Bond is captured and tortured. “To show Bond is human…” 

But most of the media was mainly interested in Pierce Brosnan – and how he found working with Halle Berry. “She was a great woman to work with,” Brosnan stated matter of factly, leaving no room for smirks and nudges or wink winks. He killed stone dead any notion of playing with the sexual innuendos linked to their on screen sex. “We got on very well together. I have great respect for her work.” Brosnan hadn’t actually seen any of her work, he admitted, until two weeks into the shoot, when he watched Monster’s Ball. “And I thought, my God, this is the woman I’m going to be up against.” 

And no-one asked what she was like to be up against.

As for playing Bond, Brosnan said he tried to find the reality in the character; “and I thought it was extremely well written – it has Bond taking chances, chances that haven’t been taken before, and allow some element of performance and character you haven’t seen…” And as Tamahori added with a welcome sense of humour, “great bonking…” 

"he needed a good bonk" director Lee Tamahori on Bond

Tamahori confronted the history of Bond’s sexual activities over the years and found them a tad too tame. Even though he had contracted to make a PG film. “he’s been in prison for a year,” he quipped, “so he needed a good bonk.” Brosnan agreed and we all laughed. “He came under the covers with the camera,” Brosnan added descriptively.

To general amusement, Urban Cinefile’s Louise Keller shot a question at Tamahori, asking what it was like directing John Cleese. “What you have to realise about John is he’s joking all the time, but it’s such a straight, deadpan comedy that you actually think he’s winding you up. He’s brilliant to work with; we had him for two days, and he doesn’t so much create a riot on the set as just making jokes all the time, but people are walking around quizzically, wondering ‘was that a joke…?’ …And he actually takes direction very well, and he’s really thorough. It’s difficult stuff but he makes it look easy. And he makes my job easy.”

My curiosity was unleashed on Rosamund Pike, wondering how her somewhat classical theatre and tv background, with opera singer parents, prepared her for arriving on the set of a James Bond action movie? “Oh it was the best most exciting thing…it turned everything else on its head. [Previously] everyone had been teasing me about working up to the 20th century decade by decade [with the roles I’ve had] and then suddenly along comes Lee and Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [Wilson] the producers, saying, we’re going to give you this chance. It was absolutely fantastic.” 

"to play a Bond girl for a day" Rosamund Pike

Actually, she quips, what they really said was “don’t you f*** it up!” This came after a “terrifying screen test,” she said. “A screen test is usually a video camera in a room, but this was the whole giant set, the crew, the producers . . . it was a big deal. It felt like I’d won a kid’s prize to play a Bond girl for a day, so even if I have to bow out now, that was a pretty good experience.” But pretty quickly after that, Rosamund Pike was signed. She plays Miranda Frost, aptly named villainess.

“I can tell you why we picked her,” jumps in Tamahori. “We were looking for a fresh and exciting, very British actress, someone unfamiliar to the audience. We had Halle and we didn’t want to overload it with actors well known to the audience…we already had the familiar retinue …. Judi Dench, John Cleese and so on. And Rosamund came in and knocked the part dead, so it was a fait accompli.” Career launched.

Rick Yune, who plays Zao, the deadly right hand man to the evil Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), had a similar career launch in 1999, when Australian director Scott Hicks cast him as Kazuo, the young fisherman accused of murder, in Snow Falling on Cedars. Until then, he had been a male photo model and investment trader. He said he couldn’t see himself 20 years on and $150 million richer as a trader. He got into modelling, but the break came when his agent asked him to audition for Hicks. “I said sure…the reason why I originally got into trading was to try and take as much risk as I could. That’s the only real way to test yourself. And I think being an actor – especially for a man – is the greatest risk you can take. As you know, men don’t like to look inside at their own emotions…and that’s what we have to do on an everyday basis. And Scott Hicks was fantastic.”

On a less personal but more commercial note, Brosnan was asked if he was comfortable with the level of product placement in the film. Brosnan’s demeanor and carefully chosen words implied that the subject had been ‘frankly discussed’ amongst the filmmakers. “But product placement has always been in the world of Bond,” he said. “Look at the books; he wrote about the Bollinger, the shirts, the cigarettes, the watches, the cars…so you know, the die was cast back then. It’s one of the things you have to make peace with.” He paused and added, “And I have.”

And finally, someone popped the question, how was it working with Madonna. Anticipation rippled. “Does that question have fish hooks in it,” quipped Tamahori. “We got on really fine, but it was tough because she was so busy, working in the West End. We booked her for two days but in the end she only had eight hours she could give us – and we did it in eight hours. She was great. She wanted to be involved more than just sing a song. So I told her there wasn’t much left, except a small role as a lesbian dominatrix fencing master….” which got a laugh, “and she nodded, ‘yes I can do that’.”

"you just have to please yourself" Pierce Brosnan

And indeed, so could Pierce Brosnan say, ‘I can do that’ : as he said at the end of the press conference: “It’s such a fantastic role that you can get intimidated by it trying to please everybody, but at the end of the day you just have to please yourself.”

Published December 12, 2002

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Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike in Sydney (Photos courtesy David Morgan)


(L-R) Rick Yune, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, Lee Tamahori, Robert Wade

Director Lee Tamahori

Writer Robert Wade

Pierce Brosnan

Rosamund Pike

Rick Yune

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