Sam Mendes, the director perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning work on American Beauty and as a preeminent figure in British theater, turned his artistic cred in a new direction—James Bond—and the move proved a hugely successful one. With Mendes at the helm, Skyfall became the all-time highest grossing 007 film ever. Now, The Guardian reports that Mendes may return for another Bond movie—and, whether or not he directs, he’s already figured out what the plot will be.
Shortly before the film’s release, Mendes spoke to TIME about the influences that made Skyfall what it is, what it was like to work on his first action movie and how 007 has stayed fresh for 50 years worth of movies.
(MORE: Richard Corliss Reviews Skyfall)
TIME: How did being a James Bond fan as a kid affect your decisions for Skyfall?
Mendes: I just made the James Bond film I would want to see now. I think a part of you has to be in touch with your inner 13-year-old when you make a Bond movie, to try and remember what it was like the first time you saw it, but it’s a funny game you play with yourself: you’re both trying to acknowledge and sort of pay homage to the Bond legend and at the same time throw it all out and start again. It’s a funny see-saw between trying to hold on to what you love about it and making a totally new story.
How did doing an action movie compare to your expectations?
Slower. More painstaking. Sometimes more frustrating. But very satisfying when it all comes together, and a different kind of satisfaction. Exhilirating. It’s different from putting together dialogue scenes or any other kind of film making. When it works it’s a beautiful thing, aesthetically really pleasing. When you put five shots together really fast and it works to give an impression of speed and fluidity, and you know it’s taken eight hours to shoot those five tiny pieces.
Did you have a favorite sequence to shoot?
There were two that I really loved. I love the sequence that happens in the dead city with Javier Bardem’s first scene and the scene that follows that. And I’m very fond of the sequence in Shanghai in the office block at night with the strange neon lights—although, to be honest with you, that wasn’t fun to shoot. It was so dark people kept walking into glass, including me!
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In the story-development process, did you draw at all on current events?
No, but you know what scares you now, in the modern world. At least I do. You sort of have to do it in a way that’s specific and yet nameless, which is quite difficult. You can’t say Al Qaeda. You can’t use particular nations. It’s easy to do that and also somehow cheapens the real events. You have to find a way to hover a foot above reality, at the same time acknowledging our collective fears about where the dangers in the world really lie at the moment.
It did seem very “now.”
That’s what I was hoping to do. But at the same time without pressing the easy hot button issues of religious fanaticism or any of the things that frankly are overused. M says in the inquiry “who are we fighting, who are our enemies, they’re not nations now, they’re individuals.” And at one point that line was “they’re not nations, they’re ideologies.” I changed that because I felt like that’s an easy generalization. It was made specific to the story and yet somehow try to capture some of the feeling of current events.
Did you have to tweak the idea of James Bond at all to have him exist realistically in today’s world?
You’re constantly adjusting it. How far can we push him so he’s not cliché but he delivers enough of Bond that you feel we haven’t abandoned this core character? Fleming created somebody and famously described him as a blunt instrument, and someone said why do you call him James Bond and he said because they’re the dullest names I could think of. That’s kind of false modesty in a way from Fleming, but the truth is he created someone who was incredibly flawed. Bullish, impossible, sexist, doesn’t like human beings very much, prefers animals, a loner, untrusting of people in authority. Complicated. Somehow this character has sustained 50 years of audiences—and, frankly, your guess is as good as mine.