New York based writer, producer and director Mark Edlitz has carved out a career of writing about beloved, yet often overlooked, sections of pop culture and fandoms. Over the course of his career, he has written about Princess Leia’s Golden Metal Bikini for The Huffington Post, the 1966 Broadway music It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman for Slice of SciFi, and the forgotten 1978 DR. STRANGE TV movie for Ain’t It Cool News. In 1999, he wrote and directed the award-winning independent film The Eden Myth (also known as Sexual Secrets), and in 2010 directed and produced Jedi Junkies, a documentary about extreme Star Wars fans.
In 2015, he published his first book, How To Be A Superhero, which features interviews with the actors and actresses who have played the world’s greatest superheroes, supervillains, anti-heroes and sidekicks. Published in 2019, his second book, The Many Lives of James Bond, features the largest collection of original interviews with the cast and creatives who have brought the world of James Bond to life, and was followed up in 2020 with his latest book, The Lost Adventures of James Bond, which uncovers the stores behind the lost, abandoned and lesser-known James Bond projects.
You’ve previously written about Superheroes and Star Wars. What inspired you to delve into the world of James Bond and write this book?
My first book was called How to Be a Superhero. How to Be a Superhero is a collection of interviews with actors who have played superheroes for the past seven decades. In it, I interviewed actors who played Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Superman, Loki, Supergirl, Daredevil, and many more. For that book, I wanted to understand what it’s like to put on the cape and to “be” a superhero. I also interviewed the original Howard the Duck and the cast for the “lost” Roger Corman film The Fantastic Four.
There is a section of How to Be a Superhero called “Not All Heroes Wear Capes.” In that portion, I interviewed actors who really weren’t superheroes but appear in superhero movies and television shows as sidekicks. For that, I interviewed Jack Larson and Noel Neill from The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves and Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson. But I also snuck in an interview with an actor who played James Bond. After that experience of shoehorning Bond into a book about superheroes, I realized that part of me just wanted to write about 007. So I decided to devote an entire book to the subject.
In the book, you note that the “James Bond movies and books have been a lifelong passion“. What first attracted you to the world of James Bond? What are your favourite James Bond novels and films, and did these change during the course of researching and writing this book?
My first exposure to Bond was when my mom and dad took me to see Moonraker. I was young, impressionable, and instantly hooked. Then, I saw For Your Eyes Only with a friend. The one-two punch of an over-the-top spacey fantasy and the grittier spy thriller was a potent combination. It also showed me that there is no one way to make a Bond movie.
My favourite Bond movies changes often. Today, I’ll go with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 2006’s Casino Royale, The Living Daylights, and anything with Roger Moore. I just rewatched From Russia with Love and Connery is so great in it.
My favourite Bond novels are Casino Royale and Moonraker. The first few chapters of Fleming’s Moonraker reveal a lot about Bond’s characters and his working life.
What have you learned about the character of James Bond through the creation of this book? Has the process of writing this book changed your view(s) of the character, and the subsequent movies and books?
Before writing the book, I believed that all Bond stories – irrespective of the medium – were an attempt to translate Ian Fleming’s creations in an unadulterated and completely pure way. That is to say that the goal was always to translate Fleming’s version of the character to a movie, book, or novel. However, now, I’m not so sure. I now think that the movie Bond is different than the book Bond who is different from the radio Bond who is different than the video game Bond.
The book features interviews with a wide variety of creatives, who have each played an integral part in bringing the world of James Bond to life. With so many people involved, what was the selection process like in deciding who to interview for this book?
One of the premises of the book is that Bond stories exist beyond novels and films. So I tried to represent at least one creative person for each field. Along the way, I interviewed Bond screenwriters, producers, directors, actors, comic book writers, and novelists. But who I interviewed was completely subjective. I only interviewed people whose work I admired.
Is there anyone who you would have liked to interview for this book, but were unable to?
The Many Lives of James Bond features the most original interviews with actors who have played 007 in different media. I interview movie Bonds, but I also interview actors who have played James Bond on television, radio, audiobooks, and video games. I wanted to interview Toby Stephens. As you know, Stephens played Gustav Graves in Die Another Day. But he also played James Bond in nine different radio dramas. I desperately wanted to interview him but couldn’t. Happily, I interviewed Stephens for my second Bond book The Lost Adventures of James Bond. To date, that is the only major interview he’s done about playing 007.
The interviews themselves are quite lengthy. How did you conduct the interviews? Were they conducted in person, or via phone or email? Did you find one method more revealing or informative than the other?
In the book, I tried to get at the heart of the creative process of creating a Bond story. So, I suppose it’s only fair that I reveal a little bit about my writing process.
I tried to provide in-depth and informative interviews. Because it’s a book, I tried to go deeper than the kinds of interviews that someone might read in a magazine. Because the interview subjects are no longer promoting the film, they also have greater objectivity and they can be a little more candid.
Generally, when I conduct interviews, I do them over the phone, via Zoom, or email. Occasionally, the interviews are in-person. Each method has different pros and different cons. Email is great because if the interview subject is engaged, it gives them a little time to reflect on their answers. Also, because we are often talking about old projects, it can give them time to knock some of the cobwebs out of their minds and refresh their memories. Phone interviews are great because you can build a rapport with someone and you can immediately ask follow-up questions. Also, a live conversation allows you to take the interview in an unexpected direction.
In the book, you note that, “all interviews have been edited for length and clarity.” What was the editing process like for each interview? How did you decided what to include and what to cut out?
My goal for each interview is to include every word and every thought of each interview subject. But that doesn’t happen, of course. People stammer or repeat themselves. So, l edit that out. Sometimes, I need to move around parts of the conversation so that all the topics are more or less grouped together. For instance, if I’m talking about the casting process and, later in the interview, my subject remembers something about the topic that they wanted to add, I’ll put both parts together.
In the book, you note that “allusions link the Bond of the different eras and reinforce the notion that Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan were all playing the same character at different periods during his lengthy career” and that the Bond films of the Daniel Craig era are “related to but independent of the previous movies’ continuity.”
How do you think the filmmakers will address these two separate timelines in Bond 26? Is there a need to? Or is it possible for the film to slip somewhere into the pre-Craig era timeline?
I don’t think that it’s necessary for the filmmakers to worry about the timelines and if they are connected or not. I think breaking from a rigid continuity can offer up more creative alternatives. I used to think that it was best for all the Bond films to be connected and for every Bond actor to be playing the same character at different parts of their career. But now that we’ve completed the Craig era, it’s probably best not to look backward. Instead, they should focus their attention on the future.
Without spoiling the ending of No Time To Die, EON could start over and create a new timeline for Bond. But there’s also a way for the filmmakers to acknowledge the incidents in No Time To Die but cast a different actor in the same part.
Tom Mankiewicz, who co-wrote the screenplay for Sean Connery’s last EON produced James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever (with Richard Maibaum), said he spoke with Sean Connery and Cubby Broccoli about doing a “completely original film” where Bond falls in love “and they’d sail off into the sunset“. To which Cubby said, “That’s great except there’d be no more f***ing Bond movies and I want to keep making them.”
How do you think Cubby would react to the events of the Daniel Craig era, especially those in SPECTRE and No Time To Die? Could you see either film as a fitting conclusion to cinemas longest running franchise?
You know, I often consider that question. I think Cubby would be extremely proud of what Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson would have created in his absence. The decisions that they’ve made would have been unimaginable when Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman first produced the series. However, those unexpected choices are what keeps the series fresh and exciting.
Bruce Feirstein notes that, cinematically, we’re in a time where audiences want longer, more personal character arcs. Do you think we will see this trend continue with Bond 26? Which direction do you think the franchise will go? And which direction would you like to see the franchise to go in?
I’m terrible at predicting trends. When Daniel Craig was cast, I watched Layer Cake and thought “Good actor but he’s no James Bond.” Incidentally, Martin Cambell, director of Casino Royale, told me that was his opinion too. Anyway, my crystal ball is pretty cloudy. Having said that, I think that the films will continue to explore Bond’s inner life. Each film will probably, at least, contain some breadcrumbs that suggest what the next film might explore. So I suspect that there will continue to be some interconnectivity. The Marvel Studios films are good examples of this. Most of Marvel’s films work as stand-alone films. Yet, if you have seen the rest of the films in the series, it can deeper your enjoyment of them.
The Many Lives of James Bond explores who the character of James Bond is, through the people who helped create him. However, the book offers few conclusions as to who the character really is. Was this a stylistic choice to allow the interviews to stand on their own? Or was it something else?
I wanted the interviews to stand on their own and have the reader draw their own conclusion.
What do you hope the readers take away from The Many Lives of James Bond?
I hope readers get a better understanding of the creative and practical decisions Bond creators go through while trying to craft a unique Bond adventure. It’s not an easy process. I also hope that The Many Lives of James Bond inspires readers to revisit a beloved Bond book, comic, novel, radio drama, or video game.
Having now written two books about the world of James Bond, what’s next in the pipeline for Mark Edlitz?
I’m working on two other books now. But writing a book is a slow process and those won’t come out for years. In the meantime, I hope anyone reading this will pick up a copy of The Many Lives of James Bond. If they enjoyed it, they can read The Lost Adventures of James Bond, my second book on Bond. In The Lost Adventures of James Bond, I look at Dalton’s unmade third and fourth films. But wait, there’s more. I also look at forgotten or unmade Bond stories. In the forgotten category, I interview many of the creatives behind James Bond Jr., the cartoon about 007’s nephew.