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Sony shakes the dice with `Casino Royale'

The studio makes a $250-million gamble that its first James Bond movie will be a winner.

November 10, 2006|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Previously, "Casino Royale" had been made only as a spoof in 1967 by Columbia Pictures, now owned by Sony, much to the disappointment of the late Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, Barbara's father and Wilson's stepfather.

"For years my father wanted to make 'Casino Royale' -- it's the Holy Grail," Broccoli said. "We wanted to make a tougher film, the way it should have been made years ago."

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade transposed the 1953 Cold War thriller to a topical post-9/11 setting, making Bond's mission stopping terrorists and their financier, Le Chiffre.

Campbell brought in Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning writer and director of "Crash," mostly to juice up the relationship between Bond and his love interest with sexual tension and humor.

The producers also wanted "Casino Royale" to introduce audiences to a younger, edgier Bond, which meant getting rid of Pierce Brosnan, 53, who starred in four movies.

About 200 actors were considered, then narrowed to 10 who met with the filmmakers. Craig, 38, a respected character actor who appeared in Sony's "Layer Cake" and Steven Spielberg's "Munich," won over the producers and Sony executives in his screen test.

"He was always the one to beat," Pascal said.

Still, the casting of Craig was controversial. Irate fans set up websites such as danielcraigisnotbond.com. When Craig was introduced as the new Bond to the world press last year, one headline read: "The Name's Bland, James Bland."

Sony hoped Bond's lover, Vesper, would be cast with a female star such as Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron.

But the producers did not want to overshadow Craig, so they chose French actress Eva Green, who made her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci's 2003 low-budget drama, "The Dreamers."

The producers said that although Pascal and her team didn't always see eye to eye with them, the collaboration was largely positive and productive.

For Wilson and Broccoli, it was a relief from some of their past experiences with a long line of executives as Bond owner MGM continually changed hands.

Indeed, when they first met with Pascal, Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton and Stringer over dinner in London, Broccoli and Wilson spent the first two hours regaling them with horror stories about some of their past Bond collaborations.

"Everybody loves Bond and thinks they know how to do it better," Wilson said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to say these guys at Sony were in the 9's. We did not have much of a conflict at all and after our discussions, they mostly came to see things our way."

Broccoli singled out Pascal for praise. "She's not the typical studio executive," Broccoli said. "She had very strong views, but she would listen and come back and say, 'You're right.' "

Sony had little choice.

Broccoli and Wilson enjoy one of the most unique, hands-off studio arrangements in Hollywood and are highly protective of the Bond family legacy.

"They agree on the budget, the major casting and the script and we make the picture," Wilson said. "It's our film."

Although such control might seem off-putting to most studio executives, Sony's said they welcomed the producers' years of experience and expertise.

"They are the Bond experts and we had a lot to learn from them," Pascal said. "It would have been silly to have ego wars with them."

Jeff Blake, Sony's worldwide marketing and distribution chief, worked with Broccoli and Wilson on every movie poster, trailer, TV ad and such new Internet promotions that included a Bond Myspace profile and an online poker game.

The producers were insistent that Craig was front and center in ads. Blake thinks it paid off.

"You'd be crazy not to listen to them," Blake said. "Nobody knows the franchise better than they do."

Nonetheless, Sony's relationship with the producers and their Bond franchise may be short-lived. MGM, of which Sony owns 20%, plans to regain control after the next Bond movie, already slotted for Nov. 7, 2009.

"It's upsetting," Pascal said. "I feel an investment in this movie and I'd like to have been making these movies forever."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Hit list

Here are the 20 films associated with producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli's family:

*--* Film (year) Worldwide gross (In millions) Dr. No (1962) $60.0 From Russia With 79.0 Love (1963) Goldfinger (1964) 125.0 Thunderball (1965) 142.0 You Only Live 112.1 Twice (1967) On Her Majesty's 65.0 Secret Service (1969) Diamonds Are 116.0 Forever (1971) Live and Let Die (1973) 126.4 The Man With 98.0 the Golden Gun (1974) The Spy Who 186.0 Loved Me (1977) Moonraker (1979) 203.0 For Your Eyes 197.8 Only (1981) Octopussy (1983) 184.0 A View to a Kill (1985) 152.3 The Living 191.2 Daylights (1987) Licence to Kill (1989) 156.7 GoldenEye (1995) 353.7 Tomorrow Never 346.5 Dies (1997) The World Is 361.9 Not Enough (1999) Die Another Day (2002) 430.5 (In millions)

*--*

Source: Exhibitor Relations

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