Tom Zielinski caught up with them on the links at the Stoke Poges Golf Club outside of London during the Ian Fleming Foundation Gala in June. They agreed to an exclusive interview for HMSS, and we are very happy to present their insights into the world of James Bond, interspersed with no small amount of wit.
HMSS's only disappointment: neither seemed to have a clue as to the huge cultural impact of a certain 1960's American sit-com.
Neal Purvis was born opposite Hampton Court, just outside London, "which is as English as it gets, excluding royalty". Neal studied at PCL in Central London, and received a Film & Photography degree.
Robert Wade was born in Cardiff, South Wales, and attended a "tough public school" - the same school in fact, as past Bond villain Christopher Lee.
The two met at University of Canterbury. Neal was studying Philosophy; Rob, English. They put in to share a university room, and bunk beds. Neal left soon after, and Rob switched to Film Theory degree, but the two stayed in touch because they had formed a band while rooming together. After Rob graduated, he wrote a rough movie script, and Neal collaborated with him on the second draft. The script went down well, and brought the two to the attention of agents, etc., so they have carried on the writing team from there.
Interesting note: Purvis and Wade's band eventually disbanded, but David Arnold allowed them to lay down a smidgen of guitar on the Die Another Day soundtrack.
HMSS: What is the last good film you've seen? Novel you've read? What kind of music do you listen to?
Neal: Film: Donnie Darko. Novel: "Dirty Havana Trilogy" by Pedro Juan Gutierrez Music: The Stooges, Sonic Youth, Bernard Hermann, Mahler.
Robert: Film: Black Hawk Down. Novel: "Carter Beats the Devil" by Glen David Gold. Music: Jon Spencer, Massive Attack, The Stones, and some soundtracks: Morricone, Barry, Arnold, Holmes, Armstrong.
HMSS: Tell us about your experience with both the literary and cinematic series. What is the first Bond film you saw? Novel you read? Which is your favorite Fleming novel?
Neal: First Film - Diamonds are Forever. First Novel - "Doctor No." Favorite Novel - "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".
Robert: First Film - You Only Live Twice. First novel - "Thunderball." Favorite Novel - "From Russia With Love."
We are both lovers of film, and so of course had seen all the movies, and as normal healthy British males, had read all the books in our youths. Since getting involved with the Bond world, we've read them all a few times more
HMSS: What is for you, the quintessential James Bond "moment"?
Neal: Bond lighting a cigarette at the exact moment the EXPLOSION goes off at the start of Goldfinger.
HMSS: How did you get the Bond writing gig?
Purvis & Wade: Just before Tomorrow Never Dies was released, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson happened to read and like a screenplay we had written - Plunkett & Macleane. It ended up on their desk through fortuity (i.e., it was not sent in), perhaps because it was British, humorous, character-based but possessed of some quite imaginative action moments. We are still proud of that script, although it was subsequently re-written and didn't turn out too hot as a movie.
We got on well with Barbara and Michael, and they took a leap of faith
HMSS: How do you explain the series' 40-year success?
Purvis & Wade: The films are a two hours' window into a world you wished you lived in. That's probably even truer now than it was in the sixties. At its best: smart crisp dialogue, amazing visuals, beautiful lively people, living and loving in luxury. And lush sounds.
HMSS: What were your initial thoughts on approaching the James Bond character?
Purvis & Wade: Put him through it. Hurt him. Test him. Let him shine.
HMSS: Can you share a little about the process involved in developing a James Bond screenplay?
Purvis & Wade: For us, it's been four people sitting in a room, talking about what's interesting any of us at the time. What's in the newspapers? What's in the scientific press? What's in the air? What's stimulated you recently? Places that should be on film? (We had wanted to put Bond in Havana for the pre-titles of The World Is Not Enough, but finally got it in on Die Another Day ).
It's a very loose process, and by the end it becomes very hard to remember where, or in who's mind an idea originated. And at the same time, the Fleming books, and non-Bond books, flit in and out of the conversations.
This part is a lot of fun. The world is your oyster.
Gradually, certain ideas and themes seem to solidify as others fall by the wayside. Once the characters start to feel like they're going to bring something interesting out of Bond, we start a treatment.
It builds slowly. Much re-writing.
Then a script. Much re-writing.
Then it's five people in a room, and only one of them talking and that's the director. (Joke!)
HMSS: There are elements of the novel "Moonraker" in Die Another Day, which take advantage of some of Ian Fleming's best work. How/why was that decision made? And whatever happened to the wonderful Fleming moniker, "Gala Brand"?
Purvis & Wade: It's a book that we all love, and wasn't exploited in the film of that name. Just as Drax and Graves are the enemy hiding in plain sight, our story is almost "Moonraker" hiding in plain sight. It just goes a bit further afield than Kent. It wasn't planned as such, but occasional similarities did emerge: Blades, for example, but with fencing rather than bridge. We originally had Graves cheating, but that was over-egging it. You could also say the Virtual Reality shooting range is a nod to the 'cutting edge' shooting test at the start of the novel.
Gala was a very interesting character, and we liked her brittleness, especially as a foil for Pierce. But what defines Gala is that she ultimately rejects Bond. Although we played with this in early drafts, we found the character evolving in a different way, and so decided it was inappropriate to use that name.
HMSS: The Ian Fleming work "Casino Royale" is now property of EON. Might we ever see it on screen?
Purvis & Wade: Some of it. A starting point maybe. We tried to evoke the torture scene with the garroting chair in TWINE, which then led in an early draft to the line 'the bitch is dead' after he has killed Elektra - i.e., an allusion to the shaping of the character in Casino Royale. But of course, that was just an early draft. The cinema-going public expect so much more action from a Bond film than would be in a straight translation of Casino Royale.
HMSS: What do you see as the most important changes you have brought to the character/series?
Purvis & Wade: We hope we've toughened him, given him adversaries that have made him dig deep to discover his resilience. We've probably plunged him into a slightly murkier world. Hopefully he's a bit more restrained in the pun department. And with Die Another Day, a glimpse of the larger than life that we just had a slight taste for at the time. Sometimes you want cheddar, sometimes camembert. This one is Stilton. But less smelly, one hopes.
HMSS: A different take on a clichéd question: How is your James Bond the same as the James bond of Goldfinger?
Purvis & Wade: In Goldfinger, he had nothing to prove. In the last two movies he's had to prove himself at several levels. Perhaps that's why he has less time off, less chance to luxuriate in his world. But in fact, it's not the same world. The audience expects things to move fast nowadays, and so the leisurely atmosphere that helped create the special world he inhabited is denied the Brosnan character.
HMSS: OK then, a clichéd question How is your Bond different from Richard Maibaum's?
Purvis & Wade: He's more ruffled by life. He's battered. His cool is hard-won.
When Maibaum was writing, it was an inbuilt, natural assumption that any hard-boiled hero had been through the war and seen and done his share of killing and internalized it but knew that many others, men and women, civilians, had been through as bad. It was just that somehow, Bond was the only one who hadn't gone back to normal life, and was now caught in a murky world. That man could kill and not break sweat, and yet not seem like a comic-strip character.
Fleming was a bit more romantic (melodramatic, really) with the drink and drugs and appetite being an anesthetic to his distaste for the things he's done.
But writing now, without that hangover of the war (where unquestionably good vanquished evil) you couldn't have Bond as a remorseless killer without it seeming comic-book. You have to give him some kind of emotional involvement in the killing.
HMSS: We've found it a bit amusing that Judi Dench's M has been more than once shown as someone who enjoys her drinking. Is this a conscious trait written for the character?
Purvis & Wade: Well, she just doesn't look right with a pipe. But it gives her a human side, makes her less up-tight. It's a nice point of contact between her and Bond. The liver.
HMSS: John Cleese is inspired casting to replace Desmond Llewelyn's Q. How was the transition planned?
Purvis & Wade: The director Michael Apted was at Cambridge with John, and similarly, Anne Bennett, Eon's head of publicity, and John's good friend Iain Johnstone, who was around doing the 'making of' book - they all went way back. So it seemed to happen naturally.
HMSS: Pierce Brosnan's James Bond is depicted as more introspective than the rough-and-tumble one that Sean Connery brought to the screen, or the lighter Roger Moore. Do you feel that way? How do you write that into the script?
Purvis & Wade: Bond does not externalize his feelings, but Pierce has an ability to convey a suggestion of pain or conscience which makes his Bond seem just a bit more human The only writing you can do for a character that doesn't externalize is provide an emotionally-loaded context for him. The drama or just plain fun of a situation stimulates the actor - or you've failed.
HMSS: While writing The World Is Not Enough, did you know you would be doing the next James Bond picture, and if so, did you plan an evolution of the character?
Purvis & Wade: As our involvement with TWINE came to an end, we were invited back. But even if we'd known beforehand, we'd have approached it in the same way; you cannot write a movie script without planning some kind of evolution of the central character within that movie itself. Otherwise, what's the point in that movie?
HMSS: Has there been any indication from EON that you will be doing "Bond 21?"
Purvis & Wade: Dr. No comment.
HMSS: What other projects are you working on?
Purvis & Wade: A re-write of a Michael Douglas production which he will hopefully star in - a sophisticated, slightly quirky thriller set in the art world.
Plus, the finishing touches to a long-in-the-works psychodrama about the collapsing world of Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones, as he and his builder play mind games at the House at Pooh Corner, where AA Milne wrote the books, and where Brian drowned. We are co-producers on it, and it should shoot in the summer of 2003 with lots of sex and drugs.
HMSS: Final question: Ginger or Mary Ann?
Purvis & Wade: ?
HMSS: Never mind. Thanks guys.
Copyright © 2002 Her Majesty's Secret Servant Magazine