Actor Ralph Fiennes was thrilled by the prospect of becoming the new M in the James Bond franchise with 2012’s “Skyfall,” but the actor has revealed that for the 2015 follow-up film “Spectre,” the character was nearly turned into the iconic franchise villain Blofeld.
Fiennes succeeded Judi Dench in the role of M in “Skyfall,” which found Dench’s iteration of the character being killed off by Javier Bardem’s villain Raoul Silva. But by the time director Sam Mendes had agreed to return to direct the sequel, the Bond franchise now had won back the rights to use the villain organization known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and, with it, the franchise’s most iconic antagonist, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Fiennes said on Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused podcast that he found the original pitch for “Skyfall” compelling. “Sam Mendes, as we know, directed ‘Skyfall’ and the pitch was very attractive at the time,” Fiennes noted in explaining how he came to be a part of the franchise int he first place. “Judi Dench’s M dies and you’re set up as the next M, and I thought great. I also loved Daniel’s Bond and I just respected Sam’s intelligence and the approach to it and what he was doing with it. ‘Skyfall’ was a great script.”
But Fiennes then revealed that he had to have some “intense” discussions with the Oscar-winning “American Beauty” filmmaker when it came to M’s arc in the next film. “I think I can say now that I had to fight off an attempt by Sam in ‘Spectre’ to make M – I said I don’t want to play M and then you turn around and make him the bad guy. M is never the bad guy. So I had to have some pretty intense discussions with Sam saying, ‘This is not fine with me…’ It was like he was Blofeld or something, but that was a red line.”
Christoph Waltz’s mysterious character in “Spectre” is ultimately revealed to be Blofeld, and the script for the film went through numerous iterations as was laid bare during the Sony hack. Ultimately the screenplay was credited to John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, but in the early days it was Mendes and Logan pitching out what the story of “Spectre” would be – which is where the M as Blofeld twist came into play.
Fiennes had a reason to fight for what he felt was right for M, as he revealed on the podcast that he was a big Bond fan growing up, and that he had previously had a discussion with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli about playing Bond himself. Ultimately, however, Fiennes confessed he didn’t think he was right for the role. “I’m not sure I’d have been very good at Bond,” Fiennes said. “I liked the books a lot when I was in my teens. I like the films, particularly the earlier Connery films. I had a teenage obsession with Bond so when that day came, of course I was flattered.”
The actor then said that as a fan of the books, he had hopes the franchise would return to a gritty and violent spin on the franchise after the frivolity of the Roger Moore era. “I mean I think they tried to do this up to a point when Daniel came into the franchise, I mean they went back to ‘Casino Royale’ and kind of honored… Because of the way the films evolved through the 70s, 80s and 90s it got kind of fun, bizarre. Roger Moore was very entertaining. But they got further and further from the quite dark, slightly acidic, dangerous sort of nocturnal world of the books and the kind of flinty, difficult, slightly elitist mindset of Bond. I mean [he was] highly individual and he had his views, quite opinionated… he would probably canceled a million times over, the Bond of the books.”
Fiennes continued, adding that before Craig’s grounded and realistic “Casino Royale” he had hoped to see the franchise go further in that direction. “I imagined that there could be a filmic world which would be set right in the ‘50s, that you would do ‘Casino Royale’ right in the ‘50s and it would be dark, but it would be really tough and you would be quite brave with the violence in it and you would be quite unapologetic about the sex in it. So it would be quite tough and it would be quite grown up, like the books are. Are they grown up? Maybe not (laughs).”
Fiennes reprised his role as M in Craig’s final Bond film “No Time to Die,” which was finally released this year and has grossed over $770 million worldwide. The actor currently leads a spy action franchise of his own as the star of Matthew Vaughn’s R-rated World War I-set “Kingsman” prequel “The King’s Man,” currently playing exclusively in theaters.