The future has lately looked shaky for cinema’s biggest hero. The director of his latest adventure quit 14 weeks before shooting. The release date was pushed back. Not so long ago, the actor who plays him said he’d rather slash his wrists than reprise the role.
But there is one thing about which James Bond can rest easy: his manhood. In an interview, 007’s executive producer Barbara Broccoli ruled out any Doctor Who-style gender reinvention for Ian Fleming’s super-spy.
“Bond is male,” she said. “He’s a male character. He was written as a male and I think he’ll probably stay as a male. And that’s fine. We don’t have to turn male characters into women. Let’s just create more female characters and make the story fit those female characters.”
Broccoli, 58, is the daughter of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, heads Eon productions, and signs off on every key Bond hire and fire. It was she who tweeted the news Danny Boyle had left the 25th film due to “creative differences”. She who announced Cary Fukunaga was to replace him. And she who lured Daniel Craig back into the tuxedo.
Such leverage makes her perhaps the most powerful female producer the film industry has ever seen. It also makes her fiercely protective of the “family business”. Yes, she concedes, Bond cannot be considered a feminist property, but mostly because people tend to “reference those early movies. It was written in the 50s, so there’s certain things in [Bond’s] DNA that are probably not gonna change.”
“But look at the way the world has changed. And I think Bond has come through and transformed with the times. I’ve tried to do my part, and I think particularly with the Daniel [Craig] films, they’ve become much more current in terms of the way women are viewed.”
Broccoli’s close involvement with the series, starting aged 17, has been credited with keeping the set strikingly safe as a workplace for women.
Rosamund Pike has spoken of her good fortune in Die Another Day (2002) being her first brush with Hollywood. “I look back over my experience and think: ‘My goodness, Barbara Broccoli was way ahead of all this #MeToo movement,” she said. “There wasn’t an ounce of feeling uncomfortable while I was on that set.”
Says Broccoli: “I was allowed to — encouraged to — grow within the company and felt very supported by my father and my brother, Michael. So I always said what I thought if I didn’t like something.
“I’m acutely aware of what actors have to go through. They have to expose the most vulnerable parts of themselves. I think you have to create an environment where people feel free to experiment and not be ridiculed.”
When Bond 25 does start shooting at the start of next year, it will be Broccoli’s first time working with a male director in years; her last three projects have all been directed by women.
The most recent is Nancy, a drama about a vulnerable fantasist co-produced with its star, Andrea Riseborough, and which plays at the London film festival. The film, directed by Christina Choe, had a crew that was 80 per cent female and 50 per cent people of colour.
It was, says Broccoli, a “very different, nurturing experience”. It was also one of remarkable industry. “We would wrap early every day,” says Riseborough. “The multitasking was amazing.”
The actor was especially struck by the contrast once she returned to work on conventional sets, which average around 90 per cent men. “I went into something with Harvey [Weinstein] that was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had in my life on set.”
The project, a mini-series about Waco, which has since had Weinstein’s producer credit removed, featured Riseborough as a cult follower.
“I was playing someone older than myself so I’d asked them to make me look worse. I wanted to look tired and drawn and at the end of my tether. So I was invisible when I walked onto that set. It was a big shock.
“And it was all men. I said to the first assistant director: ‘Do you have any women on set?’ And he said: ‘You don’t like to hear this, but it’s a tough industry.’ And we did not make [finish on time] a day once.”
Riseborough has worked frequently with Weinstein — the mogul currently charged with multiple counts of rape and sexual assault, all of which he denies.
She’s still coming to terms with his downfall, she says. “You can’t quite believe how much you’ve put up with. And how much you’ve not followed your instincts on a very basic level.
“And it was collective. The people I admired also weren’t speaking up. It was a very confusing, horrible situation. That’s really all I can say about it: one of the hardest things I’ve been through.”
To clarify: in terms of personal experience with Weinstein or the wider fallout?
“The last year’s reckoning. Because when you are being undermined or disrespected, you’re not always aware of it. It’s confusing when you’re always getting awards. In one way you feel very powerful and in another way you feel like absolute [expletive].”
Weinstein’s actions were, she suggests, enabled by an industry imbalance. “As a woman I’ve often had a sort of primal fear on set. You’re surrounded by 19 men and you get this feeling inside: I might be overpowered. It’s an old, animalistic, very natural thing. And I had somewhat tired of being in rooms like that.
“You might be reenacting sexual abuse — and you’re surrounded by guys on a bedroom set. The whole thing can be re-traumatising.”
This atmosphere is not something from which you are insulated as a non-actor, says Broccoli. Has she too been the victim of sorts of ordeals now coming to light?
“Of course, all the time. Yes, there were some very major things in my life, but as Andrea was saying, it’s really important we all keep sharing our stories. That’s healing.”
Broccoli’s championing of female filmmakers extends to a substantial role backing the Time’s Up movement, established in the wake of the revelations about the conduct of Weinstein.
Broccoli says she hopes more films make both audiences and industry reconsider how women are viewed.
Yet she acknowledges how much power for change is in her hands. Wouldn’t hiring a female director — or screenwriter — on the next James Bond film send the strongest message?
“Yes, absolutely,” says Broccoli. “As a female producer, of course I’d like to do that.”