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Daniel Craig, Cary Joji Fukunaga salute Bond heroes: the producers and ... Mike Myers?

Daniel Craig and director Cary Joji Fukunaga on the set of 'No Time to Die.'
“It has great stunts, amazing locations, looks amazing, but it’s grounded in pretty good storytelling,” Daniel Craig says of “No Time to Die,” here on set with the film’s director, Cary Joji Fukunaga.
(Nicola Dove / Danjaq LLC and MGM)
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All they had to do was what no supervillain ever had: End James Bond.

Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “No Time to Die” proved a box-office smash despite the pandemic and made it onto five Oscar shortlists — more than any other movie. What separates it from other Bonds? It’s Daniel Craig’s final entry, the culmination of the first continuing story in the franchise and the longest Bond film at 2 hours, 43 minutes. Its length affords breathing room to emphasize character and relationships. Concluding the story means less exposition and more resonance from previous films. As Craig and Fukunaga say in a Zoom chat with The Envelope, that emphasis was by design — and out of “passion.”

You’ve taken on adaptations before but never a sequel, much less such a consequential sequel to one of the crown-jewel movie franchises. What did you want to add to that tapestry?

Cary Joji Fukunaga: What was most intriguing to me was the idea of executing a satisfying conclusion. There are a lot of directors and storytellers who can create intrigue and a great first act. A lot of them can’t make an ending for the life of them. If my biggest criticism about stories is not landing the ending, let me turn that mirror on myself and have that be my creative hurdle for this particular project.

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Was making the film feel more like a drama with action, than an action movie per se, by design?

Daniel Craig: When we concentrate on the emotional through line — honestly, my brain doesn’t compute any other way. We’ve gone for purely action levels — maybe “Quantum” [2008’s “Quantum of Solace”], because of the writers’ strike, we had to make it just an action movie, but ... I think it still works. But I found the more we came back to the emotion [in “No Time”], it grounded the movie.

It has great stunts, amazing locations, looks amazing, but it’s grounded in pretty good storytelling. I mean, if we’re not telling good stories, we’re failing. I’m a massive fan of movies of this size. I love Marvel movies. If there’s a moment in those Marvel movies I get moved? [Slaps the table] F—ing winner! Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

It’s like, with this one, we can do it all. Let’s make it as big as we can, as emotional as we can, the characters as interesting … pile together the best actors you can find, get a great director. I’m very passionate about it. There is [room] in this world for movies of this size to have emotional impact.

If you can keep too many hands out of the pot.

Craig: This is true, this is true. We’re very lucky to have two incredible producers on Bond. They often say of Bond movies, they’re the biggest independent movies in Hollywood. The studios get involved at their peril. Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [G. Wilson] keep a locked ship. “Keep away; we know what we’re doing.”

If we’ve got a big decision to make, they will make it. And that’s very different from most movies. It’s incredibly freeing. I feel, “OK, then I can be more b—-to-the-wall about this.” It allows Cary, every department, to do it. If we have to change something, compromise, it never feels we’re taking the lesser route. I always try to say, “How can we make this better?” and on a Bond set, that’s a real conversation.

Was their attitude what allowed you to make a tentpole movie of this length that takes the drama seriously?

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Fukunaga: Absolutely. I only have this experience with them, but I can compare it to my experiences with executives on other projects who make decisions out of fear, who follow what they think is the safe bet and speak a language of lowest-common-denominator storytelling. Barbara and Michael — they’re a family, they’re very different people. When they talk about story, when they talk about world politics, it’s a debate. It’s a discussion. It’s vital.

Craig: I’ve been involved in a lot of movies where the talk is big. “We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this.” As things go along, people lose their nerve. Barbara and Michael don’t lose their nerve.

Can you talk a little about the film’s evolution?

Fukunaga: We played a lot, in the second half of the film, trying to figure out [Rami Malek’s villainous] Safin’s relationship to SPECTRE. What’s the mythology there, how does it all connect? [Bond’s] gotten out of so many impossible situations, what is the thing he can’t get out of?

Craig: It had to be truly diabolical, didn’t it? It had to be something — there was no going back from it.

Fukunaga: We had very different things — at one point, we had rocket ships. A Russian mission ...

Craig: Oh, Christ, that’s right; there were so many stories!

Fukunaga: The Pompeii Opera at one point —

Craig: Was it flooded? Was there a flooded section?

Fukunaga: A whole flooded Russian Orthodox church they’d taken over.

Craig: That’s right. There’s five or six scripts lying around somewhere. Easily five or six scripts. There could be 10 or 15, complete scripts. People talk to me all the time about, “I’ve got some good ideas for Bond.” I try to be as nice as I can about it, but any idea anybody’s ever pitched to me, I go, “Yup, thought of that. Thought of that. Thought of that .…”

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What were some things you had to get into this final chapter?

Craig: I went into this saying to myself, “I want to have no regrets.” I look back at the four movies I did before this and think, [sighing] “I wish I’d done this ....” But I look at this movie and say, “That’s the best we could do.”

Fukunaga: We spent a lot of time discussing how Bond has been copied and parodied, using the formula. One of the most common things is a diabolical plan with a diabolical monologue at some point that Bond is sitting there, listening to. That’s something we didn’t want to do.

Craig: Sometimes you want to fall into traps. You want to lean into the Bond-ness of it and take pleasure in it. But when I did “Casino Royale,” it was at the height of Mike Myers and “Austin Powers.” He’d exploded every myth. I had a kind of Austin Powers claxon: “Wanh-anhh! We can’t do that, because he’d run the gag dry.” But at the same time, I kind of wanted to rip it out of Mike Myers’ hands.

The secret hero of your James Bond run is Mike Myers!

Craig: Ha, I’m sure he’ll take that.

Daniel, any favorite Easter eggs in the movie? I mean, you got to actually do the gun-barrel shot in this one.

Craig: Happy accident. Cary looked at it and looked at me and went, “This is low-hanging fruit, but …” I said, “Yeah, but we’re gonna do it!” [Laughs]

OK, lightning round — 3 quick questions, 3 quick answers. Best Bond theme?

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Craig: I mean, it’s hard not to say Billie [Eilish’s “No Time to Die”] right at this moment, isn’t it? [laughs]
Fukunaga: I love Billie’s song. I’ll second that with “We Have All the Time in the World” [from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”].

Best Bond villain, including henchmen?

Fukunaga: I love Grace Jones [in “A View to a Kill”].
Craig: Grace Jones, that’s a pretty great choice.

Best line, by any character?

Craig [in his best Roger Moore]: “There’s no point in going off half-cocked” [from “Live and Let Die”].
Fukunaga: I liked when Moneypenny said, “You always were a cunning linguist” [in “Tomorrow Never Dies”].

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