It should be a point of pride for any filmmaker who can be credited for “saving” a cinematic franchise. However, Martin Campbell sits in the singular position of having achieved this twice. When the James Bond franchise awoke from a six-year hiatus where there was no longer a Cold War to fight, and the interest in the character was uncertain, Campbell introduced the world to Pierce Brosnan in 1995’s “GoldenEye,” which went on to be a smash hit at the box office, and remains frequently cited as a fan favorite Bond film. The exact same can be said of 2006’s “Casino Royale,” which rebooted the series, solidified that a Bond film can be many different things, made Daniel Craig a cinematic icon, and was as much of a hit at the box office and among fans as any of the best Bond films.
Campbell, a New Zealand native, came up in London as a television director in the ‘70s, including credits on five episodes of the crime-action drama “The Professionals.” However, his best-known work came in 1985 with the massively acclaimed miniseries “Edge of Darkness,” starring Bob Peck and Joanne Whalley. Still to this day, regarded as one of the greatest pieces of British television ever aired, “Edge of Darkness” earned Campbell the BAFTA TV Award for Best Director. Campbell also helmed one of the great episodes of American television with the first season “Homicide: Life on the Street” episode “Three Men and Adena.” Since “GoldenEye,” Campbell has maintained a steady resume of work in film, from “The Mask of Zorro” to “Vertical Limit,” to a 2010 American adaptation of “Edge of Darkness.” Campbell’s latest film, “The Protégé,” stars Maggie Q as Anna, an assassin raised by another killer, Moody (Samuel L. Jackson). After her mentor and surrogate father are killed, Anna tracks down Rembrandt (Michael Keaton) to avenge his death, in the process confronting her own history as a killer.
Campbell discussed his latest action thriller, which is in cinemas now, as well as what keeps the director going after more than 40 years directing action sequences that always feel like they’re something new. “Well, money, you know,” Campbell joked, “[but] if I get a project I really like, which I did on ‘The Protégé,’ it’s a bit like you feel you’ve never made a movie before. What I do is, particularly with the action, something different to what you’ve seen in other movies.” Expanding on his on-set process behind action sequences, Campbell added, “I pretty much rewrite the action myself because when you see the locations and what you can do, of course, we change it. That’s not to say the writer doesn’t put the germ of the idea, but I say, ‘how can I make it sing, how can I make it better, how can I relate it to the characters?’”
On the subject of characters, it was impossible not to dive into the most iconic character Campbell has directed and how Bond contrasts with the leads in “The Protégé.” “In ‘Casino Royale’ in that opening sequence, Bond is like a bull in a china shop,” said Campbell. “He thinks with his heart instead of his head. He’s not the slick 007 characters we’ve seen in the past; he’s a blunt instrument. I suppose you’d call Bond a spy, but he’s also an assassin. In [‘The Protégé,’ on the other hand], three [characters] are professional assassins. Bond is often attacked; first, he’s never really sent out on a mission to kill someone specifically. Generally, it’s to find out some dastardly plot to take over the world. Whereas in ‘The Protégé,’ they are assassins, they have targets; they kill them.”
Given that Campbell is the de facto master of introducing a new Bond to audiences, and with Daniel Craig’s swan song, “No Time to Die,” on the horizon, we had to get Campbell’s thoughts on what the next Bond could look like, and what type of scenarios he might be placed in today. “You base it in the political worldview as it is now,” said Campbell. “You have to make it contemporary. I think the idea of the madman taking over the world is gone. When Daniel came along, it was different. Daniel brought more introspection to the character. I think [the next Bond] will be a continuation of what Daniel has set, looking inside of himself, a sense of disillusionment.”
During our interview with Martin Campbell, we dive deep into the propulsive fight sequences that “The Protégé” revels in, how the director utilized Bulgaria as a facsimile for the streets of Vietnam, and more, down below!
“The Protégé” is in theaters now.
Additional reporting by Brody Serravalli