James Bond, strapped to a table with a laser beam ominously cutting its way toward a vital part of his anatomy, is neither shaken nor stirred. With a bit of forced bravado, he says to his nemesis: “You expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond,” Auric Goldfi nger replies. “I expect you to die.”
With that line, the Bond villain was immortalized.
True, 1964’s “Goldfinger” was the franchise’s third movie, and there were a few fabulous Bond villains before the evil man with the Midas touch came along — “From Russia with Love’s” Rosa Klebb and her diabolical shoes in 1963, for instance — but that Goldfinger line pretty much changed everything.
From that moment, the Bond villain became as much an attraction in a James Bond film as 007 himself. In fact, there were more than a few Bond movies in which audiences were more interested in the villain than in Bond.
“You don’t have a Bond picture without the Bond villain,” said producer Michael G. Wilson, who has worked on every Bond movie since 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
“The Bond villain is essential to the success of any Bond picture.”
In “Casino Royale,” the 21st Bond adventure, British actor Daniel Craig, 38, is introduced as the latest James Bond, and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, 40, plays the villain known only as Le Chiffre (“The Cipher”).
Unlike Goldfinger and other maniacal megalomaniacs that came before him, Le Chiffre has no designs on the world. He doesn’t want power. He doesn’t want territory. He isn’t even obsessed with killing secret agents. That is, until Bond interferes with his chance to make a few bucks.
Le Chiffre is a money launderer for terrorists who loses $100 million of their money in an attempted stock market swindle, and tries to recoup the losses in a high-stakes Texas Hold ’Em game. Bond is entered into the game to thwart Le Chiffre’s plan, and that really annoys the villain.
“I’m not playing a mad scientist,” Mikkelsen said from his home in Denmark. “I’m not trying to take over the world. I want to stay in the shadows and make my money, but Bond keeps dragging me into the spotlight. I’m not after Bond; Bond is after me.
“He has made my life more difficult, and I have no choice but to go after him. He becomes the main obstacle in my life, and I must become the main obstacle in his.”
Wilson, who co-produced the film with his stepsister Barbara Broccoli, explained that Le Chiffre is a different kind of Bond villain because Craig’s 007 is a different kind of Bond.
“We all felt that we had strayed from our roots, and had gone too far with the gadgets and too fantastical with some of the stories in the most recent Bond films. We agreed that we needed to get back to basics, so we started with an assumption that no one had ever made a James Bond film before. Using that starting point, we tried to figure out how we would make a first Bond film.”
Wilson said the filmmakers went back to Ian Fleming’s first Bond book, 1953’s “Casino Royale,” and made a film in which the Bond character is lean and mean and relatively new to the double-O spy game. However, there was some updating of the details, including setting the story in presentday and changing the bad guys from Russians to terrorists.
But Le Chiffre is pretty much the villain he is in the book.
“We had another idea of what the villain would be like before we met Mads (it’s pronounced Mas), and we changed it,” Wilson said.
“Mads is a star in Danish films, and he brings those leading-man qualities to the role. He is intelligent and, physically, he is more like Bond than most of our villains.
“Bond villains come in all shapes and sizes,” the producer added, “but the one thing they all have in common is that they must be a worthy adversary for Bond. The villain can’t be foolish or too easy to capture or kill. He has to be threatening, and Mads gives us all that as Le Chiffre.”
Mikkelsen, whom you might remember from his role as Tristan in the 2004 film “King Arthur,” said he saw no downside when he was offered the part of the Bond villain.
“It’s a win-win situation for me,” he said. “I need to get out and do some Hollywood films once in a while because you can only do so many Danish films before people get fed up with you. It’s a fantastic opportunity for a Danish actor to be in a movie this big.
“And I know it’s a big movie because there were 400 people on the set of ‘Casino Royale.’ I’m used to a set with 25 people on it.”
Growing up in Copenhagen, the actor said his earliest memory of anything having to do with James Bond was “Jaws,” the lovable but deadly steely-mouth villain from both “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and “Moonraker” (1988).
“I was so small when I first saw him,” Mikkelsen said with a laugh, “and he was so big. He was enormous, and I was scared to death of him.”
Mikkelsen said his favorite Bond villain is Christopher Walken, who played the dastardly Max Zorin in 1985’s “A View to a Kill,” and he can’t believe he is now part of the same lineage.
“A lot of great actors have played Bond villains, and they are big shoes to fill,” he said. “But it’s no more difficult a task than Daniel has being the latest James Bond.
“Thinking constantly about the tradition, and who has played the villain before you, can paralyze you as an actor. You wouldn’t be able to play the role. Instead, you must focus on the character like it’s any other acting job. How could anyone ever play Hamlet knowing who has played him before?”
However, now that the acting work is done, and the massive promotional campaign is underway, Mikkelsen said he is finally realizing how big a deal it is to play a villain in a James Bond movie.
“I get a sense of it from the press,” he said. “They are excited by a new Bond film, and that got me excited.
“Looking back, I’m really glad I did it. I’ve done my James Bond film, and now I can go on with my career. Daniel’s not so lucky. He will always be known as Bond, and it will be hard for him in other roles.”
Past Bond villains
“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” 1963 Red Grant Robert Shaw Rosa Klebb Lotte Lenya ! Ernst Blofeld Anthony Dawson (body), Eric Pohlmann (voice)
“GOLDFINGER” 1964 Auric Goldfinger Gert Frobe
“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” 1969 Ernst Blofeld Telly Savalas
“DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER” 1971 Ernst Blofeld Charles Gray Mr. Kidd Putter Smith Mr. Wint Bruce Glover
“THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” 1974 Francisco Scaramanga Christopher Lee
“MOONRAKER” 1979 Hugo Drax Michael Lonsdale Jaws Richard Kiel “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” 1981 Aris Kristatos Julian Glover
“OCTOPUSSY” 1983 Kamal Khan Louis Jourdan
“A VIEW TO A KILL” 1985 Max Zorin Christopher Walken
“THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” 1987 Gen. Georgi Koskov Jeroen Krabbe
“LICENCE TO KILL” 1989 Franz Sanchez Robert Davi
“GOLDENEYE” 1995 Alec Trevelyan Sean Bean
“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” 1997 Elliot Carver Jonathan Pryce
“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” 1999 Victor (Renard) Zokas Robert Carlyle
“DIE ANOTHER DAY” 2002 Gustav Graves Toby Stephens