"Doesn't this remind you of those streets we used to see in all those wonderfully gritty espionage thrillers like 'The Spy Who Came in From the Co" Timothy Dalton asked.
The hard-lit Vienna street was where the showpiece "Ludove Konzervatorium" (Lenin Conservatory) faced a grimy-gray apartment block bearing a giant yellow hammer-and-sickle and storefront signs for the "Dom Sportu" (Sport House) and "Kvety" (Flowers). It's all a simulation of Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, for the currently shooting "The Living Daylights."
But, as everyone knows by now, Dalton is the new James Bond, replacing Roger Moore, and "Living Daylights" is the latest entry in the surpassingly escapist 007 series. So this set must be an aberration, right? And, more to the point, Dalton's talk of grit must have limited applicability.
Well, yes--and no.
True, "Living Daylights" once again seats Bond behind the wheel of an Aston Martin (the DB5 of "Goldfinger" is now a Volante), and it's been outfitted with more, frequently lethal technology than you can shake a radar detector at. There are also two eminently road- and stunt-worthy Audis in the movie.
And the director is John Glen, who piloted the last three Bonds and, as second-unit director, was responsible for the thrillingly kinetic parachute-jump-onto-a-ski-slope pre-credit sequence of "The Spy Who Loved Me." He has already shot the "Daylights" opener, for which Dalton volunteered life and limb as he navigated the Rock of Gibraltar.
As well, there's a 25-minute land-and-air-battle finale set in Russian-occupied Afghanistan and due for shooting in Ouarzazate, Morocco. (Other filming sites include Italy, Tangiers and Pinewood Studios in England, where the $28-$30 million production will wrap in February in anticipation of a summer 1987 release by MGM/UA.)
Despite all this, there is some evidence that "Living Daylights" may take the series in a new and at least marginally more realistic direction.
For one thing, the impressive automobilia aside, everyone involved seems to agree that the Michael G. Wilson-Richard Maibaum script on which it's based is less hardware-dependent than recent Bonds. "We wanted to go for a story of intrigue and mystery rather than potential Armageddon," said Wilson, who is also co-producer with Albert R. Broccoli.
Furthermore, the "Bond Girl" here is rather unlike the majority of the Ian Fleming superspy's past playmates. According to Maryam D'Abo, the 25-year-old French-raised English-Dutch-Russian blonde who plays her, "she's a very natural character, totally honest, with a great passion, which is the cello. She's Czechoslovakian and is involved with Koskov (the film's KGB-general villain, played by Jeroen Krabbe) because he helped her secure a place in the conservatory. However, she's apolitical. And she's got a brain; she falls for Bond totally, but not in a stupid or naive way."
But the key to the new approach is Dalton, even though he was cast after the script was written and relatively few changes in it have been made to accommodate him.
Citing his "rugged physicality" and "dry wit," director Glen said Dalton will be a "more ruthless" Bond than Roger Moore. Moore, it must be said, became increasingly spoofy as he became better-upholstered, finally verging on the Teddy-bearish.
Producer Broccoli, responsible for six of Sean Connery's seven Bond outings, George Lazenby's solo flight (in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service") and all seven of Moore's 007 epics, came right out and said it: "He has more of a Sean quality." (Interestingly, Broccoli said that Moore suggested Dalton as his replacement.)
Dalton himself expressed a particular admiration for the Connery-Bond in the 1963 "Dr. No," the first 007 film and the one that he--like many a Bond purist--feels is closest to the spirit of the Fleming novels.
"You could see that everyone involved in the making of that film had been reading the books," said the actor who re-read all of them and re-saw all the films before shooting on "Daylights" began. Azure-eyed, dark-haired and lean (6-1, 180 pounds), the 40-year-old Dalton is fairly close to the Bond that Fleming described. Dangerously ferrety in repose, his features soften into accessibility when he smiles and a chin dimple comes into play.
"And while," Dalton continued, "what I'm doing has to be reconciled with the fact that we're making a film in 1986 that is the product of a long series of movies, I'd like to come back to something like that. As you go through the books underlining various bits and pieces, the essential quality you see in Bond is that he's a man who lives on the edge.
"The man chain-smokes," Dalton laughed ruefully as he lit another cigarette himself, "he drinks, he likes driving fast. The man is a gambler, he likes and uses women"--though, the actor thought, Bond's putative male chauvinism "is very much in the eye of the beholder. The man kills --and therefore his own life is at risk; he himself can be killed at any time.
"I guess you could say that some of these are not very attractive qualities," Dalton acknowledged. "But when you combine them with a man who is fundamentally fighting for what we believe to be right, a guy who is on our side, he becomes very understandable and very human."
What we are supposed to believe is right in Fleming and in the early films is somewhat politically to the right--they partake of the anti-Sovietism of the Cold War era from which they sprang.
"But," said Dalton, "as soon as detente happened and Bond also began, theoretically at least, serving a Labour government, he was not fighting the Russians so much as this other entity called SPECTRE, which represented all that was evil and corrupt in the world."
Though SPECTRE doesn't figure in "Living Daylights," and Bond is now theoretically serving a Conservative government, the film won't revive the anti-Russian bias of its earliest predecessors. Its international cartel of arms dealers, which represent all that is evil, etc., includes an American (played by Joe Don Baker) as well as Koskov.
Dalton's serious speculations may seem a bit out of kilter with playing the movies' quintessential action-adventure hero. But seriously, Dalton said, is the only way he can work.
That applies equally to Shakespeare (he and Vanessa Redgrave did "Taming of the Shrew" and "Antony and Cleopatra" in alternation for 10 weeks last spring in London), to such high-intentioned films as "The Lion in Winter" (his screen debut) and "Agatha," and to his forays into fluff.
Dalton's fluff includes the upcoming "Brenda Starr," in which he plays the black-orchid-growing, black eye-patched Mystery Man to Brooke Shields' newsgal. Last year there was "Sins," the Joan Collins fashion show/miniseries, and in 1978, "Sextette," Mae West's disastrous swan song and Dalton's first made-in-Hollywood project.
Actors must work, but why did Dalton decide to do "Sextette"?
"Hollywood! Shooting at Paramount! Mae West! Come on , if someone called you with an offer like that, you'd have to be fascinated, you couldn't let that one go by. It was . . . one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had in my life." This was followed by a volley of eight gut-busting ha-ha 's.
"Most of us actors start our lives without much money," continued Dalton, who had earlier groused--justifiably--about the $160 cost of a dinner for two at a Vienna hotel restaurant. "We can't afford taxis, and so we ride on buses or underground railways. And the more successful you become and the more money you earn, the more, step by step, you remove yourself from the street.
"The ultimate irony--which I will do everything to avoid--is to be riding around in a white Rolls-Royce with tinted windows while you're making movies about salesmen and insurance brokers and detectives."
And what about the press--and their readers' curiosity about the private lives of those who impersonate popular heroes? Dalton seemed vaguely uncomfortable answering questions about his youth. (He was born in Wales, raised in Manchester and the North Midlands; one set of grandparents were in show biz, as was a great-grandfather, while his parents were not.)
How will he respond to the inevitable--in fact, already asked--questions about his romantic life, which the usual knowledgeable sources in British and American film circles have long assumed includes the highly political Vanessa Redgrave?
Before good-naturedly (though, again, noncommittally) citing the pundit who noted that the first three letters in assume spell ass , Dalton said: "Everybody--everybody in the world--understands the terms personal life and private life." He added: "Quite apart from the fact that when you talk about (these subjects), someone is always hurt, I find that I lose respect for people who do so. And in a way that they're probably not aware of, so, too, I think, does much of the public, even though their interest is ostensibly being satisfied."
The new James Bond went on in this vein, generously and optimistically assuming (there's that dicey word again) that a class act might transform inquiring minds into gentle readers.