Set Decorator Véronique Melery SDSA and Production Designer Mark Tildesley took on the challenge of creating the sets that helped us and actor Daniel Craig say goodbye to James Bond, no easy feat! This iteration of the Bond series allowed us to see a more humane, more personal side of the debonair, sophisticated, multi-faceted MI6 international top spy, as well as the requisite amazing action scenes and heartbreak, of course!
Véronique and Mark chatted with SDSA Executive Director Gene Cane and me about the making of these sets that instantly take us to key story points in great style and with subtle messaging.
We are sharing excerpts here, via the key sets...
We know you will enjoy!
Karen Burg, Editor
Hotel Matera, Italy...A world of romantic light...note the hues of the contemporary rug are reflected shades of the sky and hills outside the window. Inset: Daniel Craig & Léa Seydoux. Photos by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Romantic hotel, Matera Italy...
Véronique: “The hotel room is very Italian with hints of South of France. There are some Italian-inspired pieces to make it look Italian, but not like Italian cliché. The coffee table is an inspiration from Giacometti, but the room is not a super contemporary Italian design, it's more like a choice of eclectic pieces that could give this romantic feeling. The sofa and chair set are definitely Italian, and I wanted to have that very lemony yellow...I don't know why I fell in love with that color from the beginning...and it's matching some of the lemons that we painted on the walls and the murals. I was trying to have some soft shapes for the environment because the room itself was dug into the rock, as in most of the houses of Matera, and had that sort of very rough feeling, that I wanted to be counterbalanced by this softness and this tenderness in which they find themselves finally. And we saw the future looming so nicely to them.”
Mark:“I think in essence, in this whole sequence, there's a sort of sense of romance and beauty and softness you come to, from that very stark Norwegian Lake House horror movie of the opening right into this. And then you're lulled into a false sense of there's some reconciliation, some burning of people’s names that's going to make things all good which then in a matter of moments is going to go up in smoke in the graveyard. It was just the sort of sense of hope for them as a couple, which is so great to feel that something's going to happen for him. He's come back to life, and then it goes terribly wrong and terribly sad.”
Bond’s “retirement” in Jamaica, after heartbreak...
Mark: “After reading the script, the first task was really to decide where Bond would have his retirement, where would we find him? We messed around with thinking about various iterations, about being in Europe, being in in Majorca in Spain with the expats. And then, it was decided, in terms of honoring a great Bond movie, with an eye on the past ones, it would be great to return to the spiritual home of Bond, which is Jamaica, in the Caribbean.”
“He has an immense love of the sea, and we wanted to connect his house to nature, to the sea, not like the glass and concrete, but something really connected to the softer side of that that story, you know...a real human being.”
“So, we decided to go to Jamaica, and we found an amazing beach that we thought was really sort of superb for us to build his house...there was nothing on it, there was no road access, a high cliff with steep wooden stairway, so we had to ship everything in piece by piece. In many ways, we had to sort of that he'd built his own house, but he'd used the local labor. And we followed the same process. All of the materials are from Jamaica, all of the construction workers were Jamaican, apart from the construction manager and two Europeans. The rest of the guys, the rest of the people were locals.”
Bond’s secluded home on the bay, Jamaica... Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
“The idea of having some sort of house with very architectural levels didn't quite work...the wood had to be brought down in carts specially made for the house, local woods that we could use. It became very like as a Jamaican Odyssey, a journey into building a Jamaican place, and nothing like we probably intended in the first place. So that was fun. And then, we decided to try to reflect some of Bond’s Eastern influences. There's a sort of Oriental Japanese pagoda-esque shape to the house, which is, again, just reflecting some of his love of architecture and culture.
We had a very airy and open place, as he's not battling any longer. There's no need to hide. But I think in a strange way, it was it was interesting, because he's obviously really found it difficult to settle. We tried to think about ways in which we could indicate hobbies and interest, but really, you know, he's just got maps and books that are telling him about places he should be going to and adventuring. So, there was that sense that he is slightly discombobulated in this world, not really, at home, can't settle down as much as he wants to.”
Bond’s home on the bay, Jamaica... Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Goldeneye – Ian Fleming’s Jamaican house:
Véronique: “We actually went to visit ‘Goldeneye’, author Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica. It was interesting to see the images, the photos of Fleming in his house in the 1950s. That gave us a sort of inspiration for very natural, very close to nature kind of furniture that he could have. We didn't really copy the kind of interior Fleming had...only as a sort of private homage/smile did we remake the desk on which Fleming was writing the Bond stories and just tucked it into a corner.”
Bond’s secluded home reflects his quiet sophistication, his appreciation of other cultures, and exceptional taste. The triangular chair on the left is a Lina Bo Bardi design, the one next to it with red arms, a classic Prouvé. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Design & architecture influences in the Bond house...
Véronique: “The rest of his furniture and elements were eclectic choices. Again, we used local woods, local sources. Ironically, the furniture that we thought of bringing from England never reached the island because the containers never left England! So, everything that we had designed to be made in the UK or brought from there, we had to remake at the last minute with the local craftspeople! And it became a kind of local adventure.”
“James Bond is a man of taste and great refinement. And, as we mentioned, we wanted to also show a deep connection with nature, which you see with the materials used. I tried to find pieces like we always see in the Bond movies...iconic pieces of furniture or architecture and design pieces...but this time, not all contemporary. So, I picked up pieces that were from designers who worked with houses open to the to the sea or to nature, like Lina Bo Bardi, who designed the Brazilian house, Casa de Vidro, which is completely open to a fantastic and luxurious nature. Or Jean Prouvé, the French designer for houses for the tropics. These and other architects and designers’ ideas and pieces offered the kind of background we were trying to go along, so Bond’s personal tastes can be seen finally in his own house.”
“The triangular chair is based on a Lina Bo Bardi design...she designed some furniture to go with a specific kind of architecture she was making, a very strong, graphic essence, which worked really well for the kind of masculinity I was looking for Bond
“The chair with the red handles is Prouvé. Initially, I wanted to just find inspiration from his work, his way of mixing very raw materials with a very refined line in the furniture designs...and that chair was “it” for me. It's a super luxurious piece of furniture, which is not showing off at all. It's luxury perfectly designed. Metal and leather or canvas. The Cite chair, designed in 1930, was used in universities, in collegial places...it was not created for just the very rich. And I thought it corresponded to this atmosphere of the house.”
La Havana Cuba hotel courtyard.... Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Cuba, faded elegance as backdrop to massive action...
Mark: "We obviously did a reconnaissance scout to Cuba, which was fabulous. We toured around the country and discussed in great detail with the Cubans about how we might be able to film there, but in the end, we decided to build 'Cuba' at Pinewood. One of several reasons was the fact that the scenes were so technically fraught with rigging and movements that the fabric of the buildings in Cuba we would want to use were too delicate to really make it work."
“So, for the Pinewood sets, it's like when you choose all the best bits of something, and squash them into five streets, which I saw as fun, actually. You can put your favorite buildings and staircases in, and make it easily accessible for the entire team. In the end, we only had seven weeks to build the Cuba structures!”
La Havana Cuba hotel mezzanine, fading luxury...The above and below of the hotel bar, built at Pinewood Studios, UK. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
In response to Gene pointing out the fractured aspect of the frescoes on the hotel’s mezzanine reflecting the symbolism of the film:
Véronique: “There is an anecdote about the frescos here, which is quite amusing, because when we talked about the possibility of making some frescoes, I showed Mark a reference of frescoes in an Art Deco cinema in Morocco, where I had traveled and shot a small movie, many, many years ago. I thought they were so right in terms of look and colors, and Mark agreed. Our fantastic set painter worked with us to create this sort of shattered vision, and it was combination of almost sort of small unconscious choices that worked for the meaning of the set.”
El Nido, La Havana Cuba hotel...A bit worn, but still striking. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
El Nido bar, La Havana Cuba hotel...Inset: Daniel Craig as James Bond. Photos by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Homage to Edward Hopper’s poignant painting, “Nighthawks”. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
M’s office, Leader British Secret Service, MI6...
Mark:" I think this set was one the treats about doing the movie. It is a scary process, because there's a lot of people with expectations, etc. But when you when you actually sit inside that office, it's like going back to when you were a kid watching the movies. It's really a very strong connection. That's been a thread throughout all the films. It has to be treated with a deal of respect when making it, in terms of what was in there and how you advance it without going too far. You have to have a large percentage...70% or 80% of the original place. And then you bring a dust of modernity to it, you know.
So, for one, we changed the color of the leather on the back of the door, the classic red leather turned into a bloody brown."
Head of British Secret Service MI6, M’s office...classic with subtle updates. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Head of British Secret Service MI6, M’s office...Subtle updates, note the contemporary desk chair and the fabulous bar cart! Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Véronique: “Yes, we use a darker leather color. The “changes” are mostly details, and mostly subtle: the rug is different, the wall sconces are different, but they are in exactly the same vein as before.”
Mark: “I know it seems cliche, this conventionally British iconic world of spying, but this is what people expect to see.”
Véronique: “Mark likes the paintings by Paul Nash. Actually, the story dates from when we were doing PHANTOM THREAD and wanted to use a Nash from his exhibition in the Tate Modern for that film. So, when we talked about a painting that would add a little bit more modernity to the room, Mark remembered and then chose this piece.”
M’s office... “The Battle of Germany”...The last of the series of war paintings artist Paul Nash was commissioned to paint for the Imperial War office in 1944. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 DANJQ LLC & MGM. All Rights Reserved.
Q’s private world...
Mark: “I think one of the one of the charms of this particular movie is that we did get to see the human side of some of these characters. We went into Bond's house, and now we've been into Q's place, which is great. He's preparing for his one of his boyfriends to turn up for supper. It was just fun to play with the idea of where would it be? We placed that in a little street called Rupert street, near Waterloo station, in one of the old Victorian cottages there, which are very sought after. It’s a five-minute walk to the MI6 offices, or a cycle ride. It's just on the south bank behind the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate Mod, sort of on the river nearly central, but it's a little enclave. And it felt like somewhere where he would be comfortable to be. It's a very small but quaint and tidy house. We decided that he's passionate about cooking in some scientific way, so we played a bit with his love of cooking.”
Véronique: “We also imagined Q being a musician and composer. So we had these very sophisticated electronic devices that were actually belonging to our producer, who’s a composer himself, Greg Wilson. I thought about the sound and thought maybe he likes to hear a good sound in his house. I looked at these sound absorbing panels, and that gave me the idea of making this abstract composition painted in bright yellow, which is could be technical, but could be contemporary piece of art. You're not sure. And it's a thought it was what music could be visually.”
Mark: “Yes! It’s where science meets art.”
Editor’s note: For more photos, click on the gallery above or SEE MORE PHOTOS below!