Casino Royale stunt coordinator breaks down that unforgettable opening chase
The year was 2006. It had been four years since Pierce Brosnan's last Bond film, Die Another Day, hit theaters and audiences weren't sure what to expect from the new guy, a.k.a. blond-haired, blue-eyed Daniel Craig. How would his James Bond differ from those that came before (other than how he looked)? Well, Craig's first film as the smooth-talking agent, Casino Royale, wasted no time in showing audiences one way that he was different: This guy wasn't scared to get dirty in a fight.
Just 10 minutes into the film was the first major action sequence, an 8-minute chase scene that found Bond running through walls and climbing cranes. The film shocked audiences with a blunt style of hand-to-hand combat and the sort of realistic fight scenes that weren't always associated with the 007 agent.
"There was a big gap between [Pierce Brosnan's] last Bond and Daniel's Bond and in that time, Jason Bourne had come out, which turned the spy world upside down with a new style, a new sort of grittiness," Casino Royale stunt coordinator Gary Powell tells EW. "So then Daniel and [director] Martin [Campbell] come on board for Casino Royale it was like, we can't sit on the Bond tradition and just do what's been done before, we have to match what they did and beat it. That meant making it more gritty, more realistic."
For Powell and director Martin Campbell, the goal was all about doing something different. Car chases had been done. But a parkour sequence that included Bond fighting on a crane high above a construction site? That was new. Working closely with freerunner Sébastian Foucan, who played the guy being chased, they figured out just how big they could go. "It was a couple of months of planning and probably six weeks of actual rehearsal in the location," Powell recalls.
After all, a Bond stunt can't be something you'd find in any other film. "When you talk Bond, realistically Bond is the best of the best of the best. He's the best driver, he's the best motorbike rider, he's the best helicopter pilot, he's the best fighter, he's the best womanizer," says Powell. "So when you're looking at the stunts he can do, we can push the boundaries a little more than if it was a normal person in the film. He can drive a car up the side of a wall, he can do spins in helicopters. When we're doing a stunt for Bond, it has to have the wow factor. It has to be spectacular."
The opening chase certainly had that, but the "wow" factor didn't stop there. Casino Royale delivered a number of impressive stunts, including a stairwell fight later in the film that featured a machete and so, so many people being forcefully thrown into walls.
"With the stair fight we wanted something that was real. If he was in a fight with someone who had a machete, it's erratic, it's not stylish," says Powell. "You're literally fighting for your life, so I wanted to make sure it wasn't overly long. It turned out really well and I'll give credit to production, when we designed the stairwell, originally we were going to put rubber on the walls and I said, 'Look, the best thing to do is just do the whole stairwell.' So the whole stairwell, all the walls and all the steps had half-inch neoprene put all over them so that way the actors or stunt guys could bash into everything and be safe. They still got bruises, trust me, but it helps you get a much better performance."
But the bruises were worth it, because following Casino Royale, there was no more doubt surrounding what Craig could do.
Read more from EW's 25 Days of Bond, a celebration of all things 007 ahead of the release of No Time to Die.