It’s a Wild Business: Michael G. Wilson on Everything or Nothing and Skyfall

The producer of thirteen Bond movies (and the screenwriter of five) talks about the changes made to the franchise over the years.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

In conjunction with the Epix documentary “Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007,” I got to interview the two people currently in charge of the franchise. First was Barbara Broccoli, son of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.” When I got connected to Michael G. Wilson from the EON Productions offices in England, their hold music was “A View to a Kill.” Perhaps if we’d been connected later, I would have heard “Live and Let Die.”

“Everything or Nothing” is airing throughout October on Epix.

CraveOnline: I love that your hold music is “A View to a Kill.”

Michael G. Wilson: [Laughs] Well, you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s a little music roulette there.

“Everything or Nothing” just made me think, I love the recent serious Daniel Craig ones and I also love the silly Roger Moore ones. Is it great that Bond movies don’t have to be just one thing?

I think that’s the lesson you take away from seeing that documentary when you ask yourself how come it’s still going on for 50 years? I think it’s because whoever is the leading man who takes on the role kind of shapes the course of the series.

I was also fascinated to learn that Columbia turned Bond down originally. Is it ironic that they became the partner that distributes them now?

I know, isn’t that something? It’s a wild business and I guess if you stick in it for 50 years, anything you could imagine and more so will happen.

You started writing scripts for Bond movies with For Your Eyes Only. Had you been involved earlier?

Well, I came on during the split up of Harry [Saltzman] and Cubby so I started working for them in ’72. Then I was involved in the settling of the issues with Harry. Then I worked on The Spy Who Loved Me in ’75 and Moonraker in ’78 and ’79. So that was my involvement with the Bond series except for that little sojourn I had to Fort Knox in Kentucky in 1963, where I worked for the summer for two weeks on the picture [Goldfinger].

Timothy Dalton says they were beginning to work on a movie after Licence to Kill. Were you writing a script for a third Timothy Dalton movie?

Yeah, what happened was after Licence to Kill we were going to start another film with Timothy, but MGM sold out to Peretti and then within three or four months they declared bankruptcy. So we sued them because we felt that the sale was made to allow Peretti to loot the company. That lawsuit went on for five years, four and a half years, so that was the problem.

So had you started writing anything?

Well, we were writing on and off but then we got involved in the lawsuit.

What would that film have been?

Oh, I can’t remember. They all evolve into something else. I’m sure whatever ideas we had, they got evolved into something later.

Is Felix Leiter too happy at the end of Licence to Kill? I know they got the bad guy but he’s still in pretty bad shape and his wife’s still dead.

Oh yeah, he was in terrible shape, wasn’t he?

They seemed pretty happy catching up at the end.

Well, that was the decision the director made. I think he wanted to not have too heavy an ending. It’s a tough picture all the way through.

Are some of the maybe sillier entries like Moonraker, A View to a Kill or The World is Not Enough underrated?

I think everything finds its own level. A lot of those pictures did extremely well. The public loves them. So it’s hard to argue with them.

It’s the stuff the fans love to debate endlessly.

Oh yeah, some people bemoan the fact that some of the films are more serious because they like the lighter ones. Other people said, “Oh, you ruin it with the lightness. It should be straight thriller.” So I think it’s been probably a lot to do with the success of the films that they haven’t been too much of a one note series.

It was funny in the documentary that Pierce Brosnan couldn’t even tell his films apart after Goldeneye. What did you think about that?

[Laughs] Yeah, I thought that was funny. I can understand because Goldeneye was a big turning point in his life and it stands out vividly.

Now you have a new director for each film but it used to be that the same director would do five in a row. When did that become the new direction for the series and why?

Well, I think you’re right about that and I think it’s probably helped the series to bring a different creative approach from one film to the next. I think it worked very well with Pierce and it’s worked out really well with Daniel. So I guess it’s just something that seems to be working for us. Of course Martin [Campbell] did both Goldeneye and Casino [Royale] so he’s managed to introduce the two new Bonds.

Is it something where you can’t have sort of a company director anymore these days?

I suppose we could but I’m not sure we want to.

It was interesting to hear how the fame really got to Sean Connery on the set of You Only Live Twice. How do you deal with that now when there’s even more access to your talent?

I think Sean had a particular reaction to that at that particular time in his life, so it got to him. That combined with feeling disgruntled about, as you know from the documentary, not being paid enough, about feeling like the producers didn’t value him enough. I think those were the elements that seemed to get to him.

But there were the stories of fans harassing him.

Yeah, I know. All that publicity is hard to take and hard to live with. He was a young man and it got to him after a while. That’s why he just didn’t want to do it anymore.

Is it not more invasive now?

Well, I think the actors have learned to compensate for it better and to control it more. Different people react to it in different ways. I know Daniel certainly likes his privacy but he still likes doing the work.

Were Sean Connery’s audio interviews new in the documentary or culled from previous interviews?

Nothing was new. They didn’t get a chance to interview him.

When I talked to Barbara Broccoli, I couldn’t ask anything about Skyfall because everything I thought of was a spoiler. Is that an unusual concern with a Bond movie that there are spoilers?

No, I don't think so. I think we’ve always had issues about spoilers. On Casino, of course people could read the book and get a pretty good idea what was going to happen, so were we going to change it where she didn’t die at the end? People could read a book then but we did want to keep everything as a surprise. I think we like to keep it as a surprise and let people enjoy it. A lot of people want to go to the theater and not know what’s going to happen. As much as people are interested on the internet and everyone seems to get on it, some people intentionally don’t read the spoilers because they want to be surprised. So we respect that.

Does that Adele song have some spoilers in it?

[Laughs] I don't think so, why? Is there something you can think of?

I’m piecing some things together so I won’t listen to it again until I see Skyfall.

[Laughs] Okay, maybe so.

I do love some of the trailers where there are a lot of shots where Daniel Craig does a very suave pose in very dangerous situations, like when he lands on the train and adjusts his tie. Were those sorts of things Sam Mendes’ idea?

I think that was Daniel’s idea and Sam decided to go with it. Those things are done in different ways so you can just jump down and move forward, or you jump down, shoot your cuffs, move forward. It was done in different ways and Sam made the decision to go with that one and it was Daniel’s off the cuff improvisation.

Is it true you’re hoping to keep Daniel Craig for 8 total movies?

8? I don't think so. I’d love to have him do 8 but I haven’t heard that before.

It seems like when production on Skyfall began, there was a little bit of retroactive Quantum of Solace bashing. Daniel Craig commented that he knew it was in trouble all along. I actually think it’s underrated but were there really feelings on the set of that movie?

No, I think as you’re making the movie you’re hoping for the best. We’re all optimists. We didn’t actually think we were making a bad movie when we were doing it. [Laughs]

Do you have any regrets about that one?

I like the movie myself. I think you have to see it in relation to Casino Royale. You see them back to back, they’re continuations so it kind of resolves that whole issue for Bond.