'Real life is becoming more like a James Bond movie," says Marc Forster, the latest director to take on cinema's longest running and most lucrative franchise.
Just a few weeks ago, the idea of a catastrophic Wall Street crash, plunging the global economy into frenzied anarchy, would have seemed like the ravings of one of Ian Fleming's colourful, eccentric baddies. Not any more. "It all is happening live," says Forster. "And I think this is not going to be the end of it."
Which puts the Bond franchise in a dilemma. Effectively, its make-believe clothes have been stolen by current events. Where can Bond go now that reality has become stranger than fiction?
Shrewdly chosen by producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson to helm Quantum of Solace, the 22nd 007 film, Forster gets real and personal. Daniel Craig is an anti-heroic Bond for the menacing new world of capitalist vulnerability and disillusion. Driven by grief for Vesper, the woman he loved, and determined to track down the evil genius behind her murder in Casino Royale, he is forced to act alone, a trained killer on the run, looked for truth and redemption, not unlike Matt Damon's rival franchise protagonist Jason Bourne.
While Quantum of Solace is undeniably one of the most thrill-packed of all Bond films, cleverly relying on live stunts rather than mechanical digital simulation, it gets its forceful impact from placing the action sequences in a real-life rather than fantasy context. The terrific pre-credit chase culminates in the middle of Siena's famous Palio, where horses traditionally race around the town's historic central piazza. There's a shoot-out while influential financiers and politicians meet during an actual performance of Tosca at the Breganz Festival. The volatile situation in Bolivia today is all too vulnerable to a Pinochet-style coup engineered by the CIA, the pivot of the film's denouement.
"Because Bond plays it real, I thought the political circumstances should be real too, even though Bond shouldn't be a political film," says Forster. "I thought the more political I make it, the more real it feels, not just with Bolivia and what's happening in Haiti, but with all these corporations like Shell and Chevron saying they're green because it's so fashionable to be green. During the cold war, everything was very clear, the good guys and the bad guys. Today there's much overlapping of good and bad. It isn't as morally distinct, because we all have both elements in us."
Forster uses a classic Bond icon to signal this shift in perception. Instead of a dead Shirley Eaton coated from head to toe in gold, we get Gemma Atherton stretched naked on a bed, doused in oil. "Oil is the new gold," he says.
The choice of 39-year-old German-born, Switzerland-raised Forster for Quantum of Solace surprised nearly everyone, particularly himself. His reputation rests on an eclectic range of critically acclaimed films, notably Monster's Ball, which won an Oscar for Halle Berry, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction and The Kite Runner. "I didn't know why they asked me," he says. "I was reluctant to accept. I was afraid Barbara and Michael would be very tight about what they would allow a director to do. But they gave me free rein."
Forster has cunningly turned Quantum of Solace into a $200m arthouse film. Strip away the beautiful girls, the fast cars and the chases and it might belong at Sundance. "I felt I should treat it as a character-driven action-adventure drama, but really focus on Bond and humanise him so we can connect with him more. I felt there was pain in Bond. He has lost the love of his life. He is a broken man. I wanted to show the cracks in him. A lot of characters I have dealt with in my other films are very similar. All that changes in my films is the texture in the backgrounds.
"I suspect it's because I'm from Switzerland and a culture of emotional repression. Bond is very like that too. Emotionally he's highly dysfunctional and can't express himself. He's a tortured and lonely soul. That's what's interesting about him."
Forster himself could be from a Bond film. His father was a scientist who built up a huge pharmaceutical company from experiments in his laboratory. He then sold out to Pfizer for a huge fortune, which became a big story in the German media.
"We got these threats from the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. I was only three but my older brothers had to have police protection going to school. That's why we left Germany to live in Davos in Switzerland. We lived a life of affluence. But Father later lost all his money. Just before I graduated from high school, he had nothing left."
Forster wrote to rich friends of his family for support to study at the New York University film school. "One of them said he'd pay for my first year and if I had any talent he'd pay for the rest of the course. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, that my father lost everything. It gave me the strength and the vision to be what I am. My father was very conservative, right-wing, and I was the opposite, very left-wing, always. He said the only way for the world to advance was through science, and I always said no, through science and art.
"At this point, I don't believe any more in right-wing or left-wing. It's not any more about any political agenda. The polar cap is melting, the economy is falling apart. It's really about, let's try to solve the problems and rethink the capitalist system. Within that structure, we have to find other solutions, otherwise we're going to make ourselves extinct."
Bond films normally take two or three years to produce. Forster only had a year to create Quantum of Solace, which was shot back-to-back with Casino Royale like a sequel. "I was trying to make up the movie in my head while I was going along. I'll never do that again. The pressure was just too much. I'm looking for something smaller next time."