Everyone loves a baddie and they don't come much bigger than a Bond villain. Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who plays James Bond's bleach-blond adversary in Skyfall, released on Friday, October 26, talks about his character's distinctive look, taking Daniel Craig on and behind-the-scenes action.
By Susan Griffin
Looking every inch the debonair spy, in a navy suit with gold pocket handkerchief, Daniel Craig seems as proud as punch.
And no wonder - he is promoting the launch of the latest Bond movie Skyfall, the 23rd instalment in the longest-running film franchise of all time which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. The stakes could hardly be higher as Craig dons the iconic tuxedo once again.
"I love playing Bond, it's an honour and I get a big kick out of doing it," says 44-year-old Craig.
It's his third outing as the legendary secret agent, following Casino Royale in 2006, which saw the actor bring a dramatic depth to the MI6 man, and Quantum Of Solace two years later.
"I had an opportunity when they gave me Casino Royale to sort of wipe the slate clean, because they said we were starting again," says Craig.
"Bond's a soldier, a person who tries to hide his emotions and be in control all the time, and playing around with and pushing those boundaries is interesting."
As a huge fan of the franchise, Craig insists he's always wanted to bring back certain elements that the films are famous for - and what better time than in its golden anniversary year?
The result is an epic movie, laden with glamour in the shape of the mysterious Severine (Berenice Marlohe) and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris), a brilliant villain in the bleach-blond vision of Silva (Javier Bardem), a sprinkle of kitsch, plus gadgets galore thanks to the welcome return of Q, played by the king of geek chic, Ben Whishaw.
And of course, Bond wouldn't be Bond without a streak of droll humour, something that's been missing in Craig's two former outings.
"I love Mike Myers but he really ruined it for us [in the spoof spy Austin Powers movies] because he took the best Bond gags," says Craig.
"But I always maintained that if we could get really good writing then the jokes would come, and they have in this."
The laughs are never to the detriment of Bond's emotional journey though, in keeping with the visions of Sam Mendes, the Oscar and Olivier-winning director who helms this gargantuan movie.
"I put everything that I ever wanted to put in a Bond movie into this movie," says grey-haired Mendes, 47, looking relaxed in jeans and a jumper.
"There were times when I thought this is no way to make a living because the pressure never seemed to let up, but it's like childbirth. You get to the end of it and think, 'Oh, that wasn't so bad'!"
There is no bigger Bond fan than Mendes as far as Craig's concerned.
It was at a party in New York in 2009 when the pair, who first worked together on the gangster movie The Road To Perdition, first talked about collaborating again.
"I was picking his brains about the next Bond movie because I respect him as a director and I think he has great ideas," Craig recalls.
"As the conversation went on, we said the things we loved about Bond and I ended up offering him the job, which isn't my job to do," he adds, laughing.
The timing couldn't have been more perfect for Mendes. "I wanted to come back to England to make a movie. I wanted to make a big-scale movie, to work with Daniel again, and I needed a challenge," he says.
But unlike the film's protagonist, the road to Skyfall has been far from smooth as financial problems at the MGM studio sparked doubt as to whether Bond would ever return.
In hindsight, this proved advantageous as it gave the team more time to hone the script.
"It's possible for a man to be on a personal journey and for there to be an awful lot of action at the same time," says Mendes.
"In this movie Bond's pushed to the limit, it kills him in a sense, brings him back and he's a shadow of his former self.
"He has to work himself back to who he is, and even the audience don't know what stage of rehab he's reached when Silva says to him, 'Look at you, you're barely held together by your pills and drink'."
And so to the mysterious Silva, who's sure to be anointed one of the franchise's most memorable villains.
"Javier brings this mischief and relish to the table," says Mendes of Spanish-born Bardem.
"When I shot the first scene between Javier and Daniel, I could feel the fun they were having with it and wanted to encourage more."
The scene he's referencing, laden with all sorts of tension, is already proving a talking point.
"It's a seven-minute dialogue scene in which two people barely move, but those who've seen it are as thrilled by that as they are with an action sequence, and that for me was the great challenge of this movie," says Mendes.
Bardem, 43, who won an Oscar for his dark role in No Country For Old Men, was surprised by the relaxed environment on set.
"Sometimes it felt we were doing a very low-budget independent movie," he says. "We were messing with the scenes, playing around, getting it wrong, getting it right and it was a delight and that was all Sam."
It was Craig who first approached Bardem about being part of Skyfall. "I've been a fan since I was a kid but that's not the right reason to do something.
"It's really about the material and whether you can bring something to a role," says Bardem, wearing slacks, a shirt and brown corduroy jacket. The blond mop he sports in the film is long gone.
On reading the script, the actor found there was a lot to play with.
Describing Silva as "an angel of death", he says: "In this case, there is a man suffering, a man full of pain and frustration who simply wants to fix the situation.
"Silva has a very personal objective; he's not trying to destroy the world. He's a man seeking revenge and within that journey there was room to be funny or aggressive."
Bardem wasn't so keen to throw himself into the stunts. "I had a glimpse of it but I'm a great believer in stunt doubles," he reveals, laughing. "I saw Daniel doing it himself and it was crazy."
But as Craig puts it: "I love the fact Bond takes a lot of battering, and so he should - he's an agent."
Even when that agent's middle-aged, it seems. A running theme throughout Skyfall is that Bond's getting on a bit.
"Well, he is," says Craig, smiling. So it begs the question, how old is too old?
"I'm contracted for another two Bond films and that seems a fair number, but I'm not going to make predictions, because people need to go and see the movie and until they do we can't make another one.
"But I'm not going to outstay my welcome. Someone else can have a crack at this."
Extra time - Behind the scenes on Bond
:: M's house is the former home of the legendary Bond composer John Barry who passed away in 2011.
:: The toughest scene to shoot was on a single train track in Turkey: two hours would pass between each 20-second take.
:: The power of Bond meant Whitehall in London was closed down one Sunday morning for filming. "I thought it was going to be carnage but it was a dream," says Mendes.
:: It took nine weeks and 250 crew to build the underground MI6 headquarters on the 007 sound stage at Pinewood Studios.