In our ongoing series Screening Room, we go behind the scenes with the uber-talented production designers and set decorators of today’s most visually alluring TV shows and movies for a deep dive on how they whipped up such indelible backdrops. This week: production designer Mark Tildesley and set decorator Véronique Melery, the creative masterminds behind the wildly glamorous and hauntingly beautiful sets of the latest James Bond spy thriller No Time To Die.
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When it comes to breathtaking locales, high-adrenaline action, ultra-modern interiors, gadgetry and gizmos, and shaken, not stirred martinis, nobody does it better than James Bond.
The Bond franchise has left its indelible stamp on the world of pop culture and style since the jet-setting superspy’s introduction in 1963’s Dr. No. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, next up is No Time To Die, marking the fifth and final appearance of Daniel Craig in the title role. Picking up where 2015’s SPECTRE left off (where our hero drives off in the sunset with love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Sydoux), Bond is now retired and enjoying a tranquil life fishing and soaking up the sun in Jamaica. Soon he is coaxed back into service to battle yet another villain bent on worldwide domination (Lyutsifer Safin played by Rami Malek) whose modus operandi is ironically a deadly killer virus.
Creating the distinct global worlds of Bond fell to production designer Mark Tildesley and set decorator Véronique Melery (who worked together on Phantom Threads and The Two Popes). Beginning with a deep dive on the sets of the previous 24 films, they looked to the iconic production designer Ken Adam responsible for the German Expressionist, Brutalist and sixties-inspired looks that set the tone of every Bond film. “When you go back to Ken’s work and look at those spaceships, the Brutalist architecture has an industrial landscape that is very exciting,” says the designer. “We referenced that world by trying to get back to the strength and boldness and the sizes, shapes, and spaces. We looked at the best moments that we’d seen in Bond movies and thought about how we would pull off some of those together for this final film of Daniel’s.”
The sets are as varied as the locations. Perhaps as a nod to Bond author Ian Fleming whose beloved Goldeneye getaway is in Jamaica, the designers created a stunning open-air retreat on secluded Cocoa Beach (so remote, the crew had to bring in all the furniture on a ferry). “The house went through different kinds of stages and inspirations,” notes Melery. “It’s a bit Japanese, a bit more local Jamaican, and sort of integrates all the different styles. We wanted to create a feeling of life around his character, as he has left his job and surrounded himself with objects and furniture, and at the same time create a very natural kind of feeling (think bamboo and concrete floors with a Japanese hip roof).”
The set decorator referenced chairs from early 1900’s French designer Paul Poiret, Italian Brazilian designer Lino Bo Bardi and 20th-century designer George Nakashima for the custom furniture constructed in London’s Pinewood Studios and transported to Jamaica. As luck would have it, the container from the UK did not arrive in time for shooting, and the design crew had to make everything from scratch in a single day. Oh, the glamour of Hollywood.
Much of the allure of a Bond film is the travelogue aspect and the environs of the ancient southern Italian hillside town of Matera do not disappoint. “We wanted to create a very romantic loft for [Bond and Madeleine] to get away from the world,” details Melery. Influenced by colorful frescoes of Pompeiian houses, the set decorator notes that “[t]he view of the city and the frescoed walls offer them a passage to another dimension for their private life. We chose an eclectic 60s Italian sofa and armchair upholstered in a lemony yellow to match the fresco fruit on the trees. Every piece has its own charm, but it’s difficult to compete with the Matera scenery as the town is absolutely astonishing!”
Present in every Bond film is the London office of the head of M16 (commonly known as “M” and played by Ralph Fiennes). Decorated with the same props and furniture of the past, eagle-eye fans will note a few changes—the color of the iconic leather door, a sliding panel that hides a giant screen and a contemporary desk chair to contrast the predominately traditional furnishings. Tildesely asked Fiennes to choose a new painting for the office resulting in artist Paul Nash’s work depicting an explosion at the Battle of Germany (signs of plot lines to come). Fans of gadget guru “Q” (Ben Whiteshaw) will also get a sneak peek where the magic is made at his Victorian cottage in London.
Other stand-out sets include Safin’s Brutalist-inspired island lair that Tildesley notes was “their best opportunity to make an enormous Ken Adam-style set.” Madeleine’s family house in Norway built on stilts on the lake and Old World-meets-Art Deco in a spectacular two-story Cuban hotel bar inspired by the Grand Palace are equally of interest. Shot at Pinewood Studios, the hotel’s classical arches and winding staircases with iron banisters are complemented with modern furnishings.
Besides Craig’s final bow, what makes this Bond film different than its predecessors? “We tried to make it a little more realistic from the other Bonds and wanted to show him in his personal environment as well as his professional,” says Melery. “The way the movie is built is all about his human side.”
No Time To Die is a wonderful tribute to almost six decades of ground-breaking iconic designs. And after a seven-year absence, welcome back Mr. Bond.