I know you’ve mentioned in the past that you view filmmaking as not being a natural art form of the British – that it comes naturally to Americans, Indians, and French. But over the past several years, we’ve seen visionaries such as yourself, Christopher Nolan, Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, Steve McQueen, Edgar Wright, and many others proving to find more and more success, not only commercially but critically and artistically. So, do you feel that maybe the state of British filmmaking has shifted a little bit?
Well, it’s fluid. It’s interesting though that the first one you mentioned, Chris Nolan, obviously moved [to America]. He made his first film in Britain, and obviously, he felt he had to move to America to develop as a filmmaker. I think it’s more that the appetite for cinema is different. What I meant about India, France, and America is that the appetite for cinema is stronger in those three countries than anywhere I’ve ever been and certainly more than in Britain. In Britain, it’s more to do with the appetite for football or theatre. We do produce some great filmmakers, I agree with the ones you listed absolutely – they are all fine filmmakers. We’ve had periods where a sort of identity emerges about the kind of work we produce, but there isn’t that symbiotic relationship with the audience that you get in India, France, and America – where the audience and the filmmakers are umbilically linked and kind of inseparable. They are essentially making stuff for themselves, for their own audience. And outside directors join in, especially in America because of the weight of the machinery behind the products and the way that industry dominates the world.
In fact, I would argue that a lot of our filmmakers do better in America. Not so much in India where the cross-cultural thing doesn’t work as well, but they do better abroad. I’ve always said that about Ken Loach. Ken Loach is a superstar in France, like a proper Madonna superstar. Not so much at home. It’s funny, I think it’s to do with the native love of movies. And I’m not denigrating Britain by saying that, we just don’t have it to the same degree. Like, you get in a lift with people in America and chances are you’ll start talking about a movie at some point. You get in a lift in Britain and you’ll talk about the weather and then you’ll talk about the soccer – you’d never talk about movies [laughs]. The obsession here [America] is so wonderful to experience. The first few times you come here as a filmmaker you can’t believe how crazy people are about movies. It’s so great. You just don’t notice it because it’s just normal to you.
It wouldn’t be an interview in this press tour for you if we didn’t at least ask about ‘Bond 25.’ We know there isn’t much you can say on the matter that you haven’t already said, but we were more interested in your relationship with the series as a fan and what James Bond means to you?
Well for me it was slightly different to a lot of people because I grew up reading the books. In the way that people talk about ‘Star Wars’ – I didn’t get that with ‘Star Wars,’ I was a punk by then, so I didn’t have that – but if you can imagine that same kind of formative fanaticism, that you get from people talking about ‘Star Wars,’ I had that for the Bond novels by Ian Fleming. They were a huge part of my early teenage years. The key, really. I read them continually, over and over again. You’ll laugh, but at the time they were quite risqué. So it was the books, rather than the movies – although I’ve seen all the movies thought they were great and enjoyed them – but it wasn’t the movies that made me fall in love with Bond. It was always the books for me and so when we were all talking together about what we were going to do, I was very clear that that was very much my take on it.
Which of the Fleming novels is your favorite?
Oh, it has to be “From Russia with Love.” There are some really great ones though and my memories tend to be fond because they released me. I come from a very small, industrial town. There wasn’t much to offer for anybody and these novels began to feed us these other worlds – these entirely indulgent, fantastical worlds of violence and sex and coolness. And for a young guy at a Catholic school run by priests, to dive into it was just wonderous. It’s actually what J.K. Rowling says about literature – just get kids to read. It could be something that other people call shit, it doesn’t matter. Read. Just learn to read and what you’ll discover is that you’re not alone. Which is something you feel so much as a kid. But you read to feel not alone, and I love books for that.
“Yesterday” is now playing in theaters.
-The interview, co-conducted by Brody Serravalli, was edited for length and clarity.