John Glen interview: on 50 years of Bond on the big screen

As the first James Bond movie reaches its 50th anniversary, we caught up with director John Glen to talk about his classic 007 work…

October marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, the first James Bond film from Eon Productions. It was released on October 5th 1962, and October 5th 2012 will mark Global James Bond Day, ahead of the release of Skyfall, the new film with Daniel Craig, on the 26th. Ahead of all that, there’s been a Bond 50 Blu-ray release, marking the anniversary by collecting all of the Bond movies on Blu-ray for the first time, with special features and contributions from the filmmakers who put it all together.

One such luminary of the franchise is John Glen, who started working on the Bond films as an editor and second unit director for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. After reprising those duties on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, he directed five of the movies, through to the end of Roger Moore’s tenure as 007. He also took on both of Timothy Dalton’s outings. He spared us some time for a quick chat, too…

The Bond 50 boxset is released today – are you excited about seeing all of those films, especially the ones that you worked on, presented in high definition for the first time?

Absolutely. The thing is, I have to go out and buy a Blu-ray player now. I was promised one, some time ago, when I did the Blu-ray thing in Las Vegas, [January’s CES 2012 trade show] but the quality that I saw there was fantastic. 

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Of course, they’ve all been re-mastered and they’ve taken out all the defects, little blips and blops, and any scratches and things that have happened, because the original negatives are very old now. Fortunately, we had the foresight to do  black and white masters of the films so the negatives could be rebuilt at a later date. That must have been a great plus for us because the quality is superb. In fact, I was so surprised. I was looking at Octopussy the other day, and I could almost say it was as good as the original negative print that I supervised when I made the movie. 

It’s interesting – the strange thing about my films is that, aside from the odd bell-bottom trouser, they don’t seem to have dated at all. I think that’s in part due to the kind of film it is – people have very fond memories of the older Bonds, let’s face it, and a lot of it depends on your age group, and how old you were when you were first introduced to Bond. Almost invariably when I talk to fans, their favourites are always from around about when they were 12 years of age.  

Looking back at your time working on Bond, you started out on Bond as a second unit director and editor, and then became a director with For Your Eyes Only and several subsequent films. So, as the director, you’d also have to oversee the film as whole, from that point on. How did that transition affect the way that you directed the action sequences?

Well, obviously, you know, I am known as an action director, and being a film editor previously had been a great advantage for me as an action director. You know, it’s possible for an editor to break down a dream, if you like, into its components and being able to shoot the wide shots in sunshine, when the weather was at its best and you know, we would get sort of almost a 3D effect sometimes if you chose the right time of day to shoot the thing. 

And when the weather is bad, you can do close shots out of continuity, you see – it was a great advantage. I was never one for multi-cameras, my approach was always… I always considered there was only one place to be to do a shot. There were occasions when we were doing a stunt that couldn’t be repeated that I used multi-cameras, but generally it was always a single camera operation. 

Tell us about your approach to working with Roger Moore, who was already firmly established as Bond when you took the director’s chair.

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I think I was very fortunate that I’d worked with Roger Moore on quite a number of films, apart from the Bond films, prior to directing For Your Eyes Only, so we already had a very good relationship, and I appreciated Roger’s sense of humour on the set. 

When you shoot a film, it takes six months, and it’s very important keep the morale of the crew up top, all the time, and keep them on their toes, and keep them enthusiastic. With Roger, it was essential, and everyone on the set just loved him, though he’d cost me half an hour a day with his little practical jokes. [Laughs] 

It was well worth it, for the enthusiasm of the crew. Every day was a pleasure, and I feel very fortunate that my first time as the main director was with Roger. For a while, it didn’t look as though it was going to be Roger – my first firm instruction was to find a new James Bond.

I think Roger was a little bit hurt by this, because it got back to him that I was testing other people. Of course, it turned out to be a bit of a poker game, because although our producer, Cubby Broccoli, and Roger had a very friendly relationship, they both played their cards very close to their chest. 

Is that why For Your Eyes Only almost seemed to have been written with a new Bond in mind?

I wrote the pre-titles sequence, and having worked on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the one where Bond got married, and then his bride was savagely killed, I was very keen to keep the continuity of Bond in mind. So, that’s why I wrote in the scene in the churchyard, where he’s putting flowers on his wife’s grave and then the helicopter shows up, and we have the intriguing remote control helicopter ride.

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While I was testing new Bonds, I was working on the film and developing the action, and that was why that scene is what it is. But it was such a good idea that we kept it; Roger came back into the role, but it was done to introduce a new Bond, so that was how it was written. 

It seems to me that you actually gave us a dark Bond, along the lines of Casino Royale, but 20 years before it all went back to the origin story. Do you see the influence of Timothy Dalton’s Bond on Daniel Craig’s portrayal, in the rebooted version?

I think it’s a continuation of that more serious element that we were doing. In my films, you know, Roger had that wonderful sense of humour, and he was not as physical a Bond as Sean Connery was, or Daniel Craig, or Timothy Dalton. 

But of all my films, I think Timothy was probably the best actor, per se, certainly the most accomplished Shakespearean actor, with wonderful stage work. And we all felt that we had to tailor the script for him, in a much darker, more dramatic direction. With humour in it, but more sardonic humour and less obvious humour. 

Looking at the latest Bond movies, and to the future, would you personally prefer it if the films lightened up, and perhaps had some more of the humour that typified Roger Moore, or continued with a darker and more vulnerable version of Bond?

They’re very fortunate with Daniel Craig – a wonderful actor in the role, and the public love him. Women love him, and think he’s wonderful. I did think that the last one [Quantum Of Solace] was lacking in humour, and presumably they will fix that with Skyfall.

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Are you looking forward to Skyfall? 

I’m looking forward to it very much – it’s got a fantastic cast, and it’s a far more sophisticated approach, probably, than any of the other Bonds we’ve ever made. But it’s been going in that direction, I think, since Daniel took over the role, and I wish them the best of luck with that.

John Glen, thank you very much.

Bond 50 is out now on Blu-ray. 

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