James Bond: the Aussie connection
He's the quintessential English secret agent with an upper lip as stiff as the Martinis he drinks - yet the latest James Bond movie owes just a little to Australia's Hugh Jackman.
Released in Australia this month, Skyfall sees Daniel Craig return for the third time as James Bond and is directed by Sam Mendes, best known for complex emotional dramas such as Revolutionary Road and American Beauty.
It was at an A-list party at Jackman's New York pad where a slightly inebriated Craig met up with his old pal Mendes and offered him the job of directing the film – a job offer he was not authorised to make.
Pushing Bond to his limits ... Skyfall star Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes. Photo: Getty Images
"He's a James Bond fan and I wanted to pick his brains about James Bond," Craig said.
"I knew I wanted to bring back some of the classic style ... the look and the feel and the atmosphere of the Bond movies.
"We talked and talked and talked and talked about it, and I suddenly totally instinctually went, 'Why don't you do it?'
"I totally overstepped my job description, I'm not supposed to do that."
Fortunately Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson also thought Mendes would be ideal for the job, and thus it was sealed.
The timing was right for Mendes too.
Hugh Jackman played a small part in bringing the latest Bond film to the screen. Photo: Getty Images
"I wanted to come back to England ... I wanted to work on a big scale again ... and I wanted to work with some friends. And I wanted a big challenge. I wanted to be pushed to do things that I'd never done before," he said.
Bond, too, is pushed to his limits in Skyfall, emerging after the terrifying drama of the opening sequence as a washed-out wreck with an alcohol and substance abuse problem, a shadow of the man he used to be.
"I always loved the idea that Bond would die, that he'd disappear and then he'd come back, thinking 'I'm going to save the day' and everything's changed. That was always the template for me," says Mendes.
As a director known for character-driven drama, Mendes was also keen to ensure that audiences didn't come to see the film just for the James Bond name, but because of the storyline and characters, the fact that Bond goes a journey - both physically and emotionally - he's never been on before.
"For me the touchstones were: would I like it? Is this what I want to see in a Bond movie?" he says. "Would my 13-year-old self like this movie? Would my eight-year-old son like it? Would he be held by the story?"
Thus Mendes was keen to introduce offbeat elements such as a pit full of menacing komodo dragons, as well as a truly gripping sequence filmed in the glass skyscrapers of Shanghai at night, where Bond clings to the bottom of a lift as he chases a villain to the top of a building.
As is fitting in the 50th year of the franchise, Skyfall pays homage to the Bond films of yesteryear, while maintaining a thoroughly contemporary feel.
Diehard fans will be delighted to see the return of the iconic Aston Martin DB5, shown to full advantage as Bond drives M around the sweeping landscapes of wild Scotland, yet many will be disappointed at the lack of gadgets, once so integral to the script.
As a startlingly youthful Q (Ben Whishaw) tells Bond: "We don't go in for gadgets any more."
Co-producer Michael Wilson says technology has become so advanced, most people's mobile phones are as sophisticated as the most advanced computers were less than 20 years ago, making the inclusion of gadgets seem redundant.
"[But] there's still a lot of technology in the films, the cyber-warfare theme of the film is the highest of technologies," he says.
Bond himself, however, remains a spy of the old school, and the clash of the old and the new, represented by techno whiz-kid Q, is a prominent theme of the film.
"Espionage today is more about spying from a distance, spy satellites, drones, keeping away from the enemy," says Craig.
"[Bond] wants to get into the field and he wants to look people in the eye and he wants to figure it out and find out that information himself. I think that clash of worlds is what's so interesting."
Skyfall opens in Australia on November 22.