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Over 53 years and some two dozen films, James Bond has remained Her Majesty’s most invincible, unflappable secret servant and a cultural icon shaken, not stirred, by no fewer than six different actors. But until now, nobody ever bothered to delve into the character’s “creation myth”: the formative events and influencers hinted at but never fully developed in Ian Fleming’s novels. In other words, the stuff that transformed a tween-age orphan of uncertain means into the world-beating “Bond. James Bond.” Thanks to 007’s new movie Spectre, however, that’s all about to change.

EW was on set in England’s Pinewood Studios as cameras rolled on the 24th Bond installment. And in this week’s cover story, we’re bringing you an exclusive look inside the production, including returning director Sam Mendes’ rationale for providing Bond’s backstory. “Fleming wrote about a boy who lost his parents at age 11,” Mendes explains. “What happened? I felt there was another opportunity there to take him from 11 to adult.”

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Which is not to say that Spectre stints on spectacle. The action kicks off with 007 — British actor Daniel Craig reprising his role as the super spy for a fourth time — receiving a cryptic message and embarking on a risky solo mission. He accidentally blows up part of Mexico City before travelling to Rome where a mysterious widow (played by Monica Bellucci) helps Bond uncover and infiltrate a secretive crime cartel known as SPECTRE. Yup, the very same terror syndicate that has put 007 in mortal peril time and again over the years in films from Dr. No to Never Say Never Again.

But as Bond plots his own deadly moves, he comes to rely on Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) to help him uncover the chaotic agenda of SPECTRE kingpin Franz Oberhauser (double Oscar winner Christoph Waltz). And the super villain alternately baits and torments the secret agent owing to a long-buried secret both men share. “There is profound antagonism at play,” says Waltz, keeping otherwise schtum about his character’s motivation.

As well, EW’s story explores Spectre’s challenges on its journey to screen. Among them: Studio anxieties the film’s budget could balloon to more than $300 million, which were dragged into public view when cyber terrorists flooded the Internet with hacked emails from the film’s distributor, Sony, last year. An early draft of the script leaked. And once production got underway, filming had to be shut down for weeks when Craig’s knee blew out during a stunt gone wrong.

Then there was the sky-high burden of expectation. Mendes’ Bond debut Skyfall earned $1.1 billion at the box office in 2012 to become the most successful 007 film of all time as well as the highest-grossing British movie ever made. “The fact that it made so much money is really kind of unfathomable,” Craig says. “But you go, ‘OK, now we’ve got to make something better.’ We joked about it: ‘We’re screwed now.’”

To continue reading more on Spectre, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.

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