No Bond film is complete without the Bond girls and “Skyfall” is no exception. In the 23rd adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time, Cambodian-French actress Bérénice Lim Marlohe plays the exotic Severine who has all of the classic components of a Bond girl: voluptuous, sexy, a woman and not a girl, a mystery and a survivor. Naomie Harris plays the strikingly beautiful Eve, a brilliant MI6 field agent with a lot of sass who’s very independent, intelligent, witty, fun and courageous, and not afraid to stand her ground with the legendary James Bond 007 (Daniel Craig).
At the press day for the film, Harris and Marlohe talked about their characters, what it meant to play a Bond girl, what made it an interesting role, why their characters represent a new generation of Bond women, how the casting process unfolded, how Bond’s relationship with women has evolved over the past three films, how it was working with Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, what it was like to be lit by one of the world’s great cinematographers, Roger Deakins, and what they learned from the experience of making “Skyfall.” Harris also revealed her favorite Bond film and how she would love to return for the next two Bond films.
Q: What did the notion of Bond girl mean to you before you were cast in “Skyfall” and what did it come to mean to you after playing one?
Bérénice Lim Marlohe: For me, when I thought about a Bond girl, what excited me is that mix of male attitude, power, danger, and a very glamorous, feminine figure or woman. And also, my point of view of that was to play with animals to create her because they are colorful, theatrical characters that are bigger than life, like any character in the Bond movies. I could sense that I would have a lot of freedom on set. And, after the experience, I was happy I could have in the script too those iconic scenes in the casino that you find a lot of times in the Bond movies. For me, they are very meaningful in the history of the James Bond movies so I was very happy to have a chance to get to be in one of them.
Naomie Harris: For me, I had very set ideas about what it meant to be a Bond girl. It’s about being sexy, being alluring, being beautiful, elegant, and that, for me, felt quite constraining because I don’t usually play roles like that. In fact, I don’t know what role I’ve played like that before, so I felt very confined and constricted by all those set ideals. But then, a friend of mine gave me a great piece of advice, which was just forget about all of that and imagine that you’re part of a low budget movie. You can do whatever you want with this role and just make it your own. And that, ultimately, is how I came to see Bond girls. I don’t think any more in terms of the Bond girl terminology. I think that we’re just women who are in Bond movies, and women now in Bond movies can be anything, so you’re totally free to create, and that’s what makes it an interesting role.
Q: Historically, James Bond’s attitude towards women has been something less than enlightened. Did that play into your thought at all or did they make it clear to you that this is a new generation of Bond women?
Harris: They certainly said that to me when I auditioned. They said we want you to create a modern woman that women can respect and admire and look up to, and this is something that we’re creating that is new and different, and that was one of the reasons why I was so exciting about taking on the challenge of this role.
Q: And can we still say Bond girl or does it have to be Bond woman now?
Marlohe: (laughs) You can still say whatever you want.
Harris: (laughs) You can say whatever you want.
Q: There’s a very strong theme of old versus new, contemporary versus classic, in this film. When it comes to Bond’s relationship with women, do you think he’s still a “love them and leave them” guy or do you think he’s kind of evolved in these last three films?
Marlohe: We don’t get to see a lot of the relationship between Severine and Bond, but I do hope if my destiny would have been something else that a huge love story would have begun between him and I. I think he’s a real human being and you can see that through his relationship also with M and this sensitivity. It’s truly summed up with M. They have a very pure and beautiful relationship and very human and moving.
Harris: I think you see that in “Casino Royale,” his first movie as Bond. You see that he is capable of falling in love and he does, so his attitude to women, I think, right from the start, it does shows that it has changed and that he is capable of feeling these things. But also, you see in this movie and in that movie that there’s something damaged about him which prohibits him from forming these really deep attachments because of this first loss that he had which was the loss of his parents. You feel like he’s open to it, but you also feel like he’s a Bond with issues. He needs to go through a bit of therapy before he’s able to make deep, meaningful attachments. I think what’s great about that exploration of him and his relationship with women now is that you’re seeing women who are much more an equal to him, so it’s a much more interesting journey, rather than just having women who are arm candy. There’s a real potential for a much more interesting journey and maybe that’s what we’ll see in the next two movies that he’s got planned. Let’s hope.
Q: Berenice, the scene with the shot glass on your head is so harrowing. What was it like shooting that with Javier Bardem and Daniel Craig?
Marlohe: First of all, it was very exciting as an actress because this is the scene where I get to be in front of two of the most talented actors, so this is like a fantastic opportunity that you don’t have every day in your life to get to interact with these actors. And then, as a human being, it was very intense and wonderful because I got to connect with a lot of areas in my past, things I don’t know about the history, what moves me in general as a human being, and the injustice. There are a lot of things that I get to connect with in order to serve the scene. I get to have a lot of discovery also, so this scene was absolutely intense and moving for me to play.
Q: How long was the audition process for each of you and was it hard to keep this a secret from friends and family?
Harris: For me, the audition process was that I was in a play at the National [Theatre in London] directed by Danny Boyle called “Frankenstein,” and Sam Mendes came to see it and so did Debbie McWilliams (the film’s casting director). I had no idea that they were in the audience, but afterwards, I got a message through my agent saying they were considering me for this role in Bond and would I like to come and meet them. I had two auditions, and the first two, to be honest, I just thought were a bit of a … I didn’t really take it seriously, because I never saw myself ever as a Bond girl, so I wasn’t really very nervous at all. I know that they audition hundreds of girls. They go all around the world, and I thought this is right at the beginning of their casting process. They’re not going to cast me. And then, it wasn’t until the third audition when Sam said “It’s down between you and just two others” that I realized wow, this is actually serious. This could actually really happen. And then, that was the first time where I got really nervous. Thankfully, I got the role, largely because of Danny, I think, because Sam Mendes called Danny Boyle and said “What’s Naomie like to work with?” and he gave me a glowing report thankfully. So I have a lot to thank Danny for. I got the role and then it was two months before the announcement of the roles, and so, for more than two months I had to keep it quiet. It was very difficult keeping it quiet, especially because you’re so happy and you just want to tell everybody and tell all your friends and family. But thankfully, we’ve had celebrations since and the premiere was an amazing celebration night with 28 of my family so it’s been amazing.
Marlohe: During the audition process, I was living in France and I was fed up with not having auditions and work there, so I came to L.A. one year before the movie would start and I heard that they would do a James Bond movie in one year. So, this is the info I kept in my brain and one year later I came back to Paris and a friend of mine, just by total chance or was it destiny, told me some friends of mine are doing an audition for the movie. You should try to audition for that. And I felt so connected with the Bond universe that I spent two days in front of my computer trying to send my reel and trying to find the contact for any people that I could possibly find on the internet. I even found Sam Mendes’s agent’s Facebook account, and then I found the casting director, Debbie McWilliams’ email, and I was so happy she would like my reel and audition me in Paris for “Skyfall.” And then, they called me back in London and I auditioned again with Sam Mendes and then I did the third audition with Daniel and Sam and I got to meet Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson. And then, Sam told me I was chosen, and as I always love to play very bad jokes at the worst moment, I said “Oh no, I’m not sure I want to do that now.” Thankfully, he didn’t believe me. (laughs) I felt extremely peacefully and I had a huge feeling of happiness, but everything in the stomach, because I’ve felt very connected with the Bond universe and the Bond music for so many years. It was as if I never knew if they would take me but I felt very connected with that. So I called my father and I called my family and they were very proud and happy.
Q: One aspect of being a woman in a Bond film is you may not make it to the last page of the script. Was there a moment after you got the script where you flipped through to see how far your characters got to go?
Marlohe: Well, for me, I didn’t have to do that because I just had to realize that my fate was written very soon on the pages. (laughs) So I was like “No! Why? So cruel.”
Harris: Sam gave us a very clear idea at the auditions as well about what was going to happen to our characters before we were even offered the roles, so we knew our characters’ journeys.
Q: What did both of you learn from doing the Bond film? What did you come away with from the experience of making “Skyfall”?
Marlohe: So many metaphysical revelations, it’s hard to explain. I really wanted to create a real human being by digging into what moves me and questioning myself about my ancestors and people I never got to know. Researching the character just had me become even more aware of the condition of the world, and mainly in Cambodia, my country, I always wanted to be a voice to fight against injustice. But I could never do that until now when I have this ability to be heard. I just learned that in Cambodia now there is a very important trial that is taking place that is judging the leaders of Pol Pot’s genocide that happened 37 years ago and this is what I connected with. I know that I want to be a voice for that, so I did a petition on Facebook for that, and this is all the incredible research I got from that movie, too. For me, it was the connection as a human being and the revelation that I had on that set and the possibility, thanks to this movie now, to be heard today and do something for human rights starting with Cambodia.
Harris: What did I learn? I think I learned an incredible respect for action heroes actually. Before this movie, I had no idea the amount of training and work that goes into getting prepared for a film like this. Daniel, for me, is extraordinary because he does a 15-hour day and then he will train for two hours afterwards. I don’t know anybody else who works that hard and that’s the amount of dedication, commitment and physical toll as well on your body that it takes to do these kinds of films. They’re emotionally demanding and they’re hugely physically demanding as well. For someone like me, who’s incredibly lazy actually and then doesn’t exercise at all, it was a big change for me to be exercising for two months before even starting to do the movie. I was out five days a week with a personal trainer, on the gun range three days a week, even doing stunt driving, and all of these kinds of skills that I learned, that I didn’t have before. So I really got in touch with my body in a way that I never had before.
Q: How was your experience working with Daniel Craig?
Marlohe: It was so fantastic because I was so excited to have the opportunity to interact with such a talented person. It was very challenging and exciting, but it was first of all an amazing encounter on a human level. He is so kind and he has a beautiful humanity and a wonderful sense of humor. Everything was so fluid and natural. What surprised me was the human quality of the whole crew on that movie, and Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson and Sam Mendes. Truly, they are such beautiful human beings that it was very moving in that sense.
Harris: I think Daniel definitely remembers what it was like coming into this franchise and how intimidating and overwhelming it was for him. And that’s amazing that in his third film in he still remembers that and he really goes out of his way to make an effort to make sure that you don’t feel that weight of pressure and that you feel that that pressure is shared. He said “We’ll get through this together,” and he kind of holds your hand throughout the whole thing and is an incredibly generous man.
Q: I’ve heard Daniel has a great sense of humor. Were there any memorably funny moments working with him?
Marlohe: All the time actually, even in the trailers when we were getting prepared, we were joking all the time. For me, it’s very important also. I love to do the work very seriously at home and before, but then you have to laugh and to be very relaxed and also to build a connection with your other partners so that it shows on screen and all the time. In the shower scene, for instance, we were so relaxed that I would sing in the shower and Sam would go “What? Did I hear you sing? Are you taking a real shower?” Daniel came to set and did some impersonations and pretending to [inaudible] and stuff like that. The six months were like that actually in between takes so that was fabulous.
Harris: For me, the story that I think sums up Daniel is the first time that I met him. He was having a costume fitting and I was being walked down the hallway and I was asked whether I wanted to meet him. I was very intimidated and I thought I don’t want to bother him while he’s having a costume fitting. It’s not a great first time to meet him. So I said, no, we’ll just leave him, and so I kept on walking down the hall and he saw me walk past. He ran out of his costume fitting, ran down the hallway, hit me over the head and said “Where are you going, stupid?,” and then gave me this massive hug and said “Welcome aboard.” And that, for me, really sums up Daniel because he’s incredibly down to earth, incredibly warm, and also quite silly as well.
Q: How much of the costume was he still wearing when this happened?
Harris: No, he was wearing a cashmere jumper, I’m afraid.
Q: One of the great things about this gorgeous movie is that it was shot by Roger Deakins who is a world class cinematographer. What was your experience like being lit by him?
Marlohe: I have this concept. I always believe that hugely talented people are hugely humble. I really believe that. And, when I was on that set, I saw that with Sam and Daniel and him. He’s such a pure, beautiful man who is just very focused on his work. And then, when I got to see the movie, I would never expect that. The first thing that struck me was that mix of reality, a real story and real human beings, but with each image, I had the feeling that you were taking a journey through a dream, an awakened dream. Each image is so beautiful – the light, the blue lights in Shanghai are surreal — so this was very surprising and beautiful.
Harris: He was incredibly self-effacing and humble and also quite shy as well. It was a very different experience for me than working with most DoPs (director of photography) because they can be very strong characters and really make their presence known on film sets and he’s the complete opposite. He’s very much really quiet and doesn’t interfere with your process at all and very respectful of actors’ space as well. For me, it was an amazing pleasure to work with him.
Q: Naomi, your spy skills in the field were a little questionable and then at the end we see the explanation. How did you feel about that?
Harris: I think that Eve is very capable in the field. She is a very competent field agent, but she’s working on this mission with the ultimate field agent who is Bond. She is never going to be able to live up to him. I mean, no man and no woman can. That’s why he is Bond. So it’s understandable that she needs a bit of help. But I was not happy about having to shoot him. (laughs) I thought I really wanted to be a better shot than that.
Q: Naomi, do you have a favorite Bond film and are you looking forward to doing another two if offered a role?
Harris: My favorite Bond film is “Casino Royale.” I loved that movie, although now “Skyfall” rivals that, I would say. Would I do another Bond film? Oh definitely, absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind. I absolutely loved working on this movie. It’s been an incredible adventure for me. And, as I said in the beginning, I never thought I’d be part of a Bond movie. It’s a huge honor. So, if I was asked, I would absolutely say yes.