Is 007 Losing His Cool? 'Trigger Mortis' Helps Bring Bond Into 21st Century

Is 007 Losing His Cool? 'Trigger Mortis' Helps Bring Bond Into 21st Century

6:44pm Sep 16, 2015
Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz
Emily Bogle / NPR

Anthony Horowitz has written novels, movies and television series, including the detective show Foyle's War. But he wrote his latest book, Trigger Mortis, on assignment from the estate of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Trigger Mortis is a new Bond novel set just a few weeks after the end of Fleming's Goldfinger.

Horowitz tells NPR's Robert Siegel how he tackled a modern Bond storytelling challenge: What was cool in the 1950s and '60s, when Fleming published his books, can seem geriatric today.


Interview Highlights

On the ways in which Bond isn't so cool anymore

The first one that springs to mind is probably smoking. James Bond smoked I think about 20 to 30 cigarettes a day ... and I don't think many people would admire that these days. And perhaps some of the attitudes in the books were cooler then — even the violence, maybe, these days we think twice about. Of course ... one of the interesting things is trying to bridge this astonishing gap between the ... '50s and '60s, when the books were written and were thriving, and nowadays where so many perceptions have changed.

On Bond's precise tastes, and why they were seen as cool

When Sean Connery turned around and asked for a cocktail shaken but not stirred, it was cool to have that precision, that sort of absolute perfection in taste. And it follows in all the products that he demanded — you know, the right clothes, the right shoes, the right drinks, the right food, the right restaurants. ... Everything had to be absolutely precise. Back then, particularly at a time when luxury goods had been in such short supply for so long, it was the height of cool to be so precise in your demands.

On writing Pussy Galore into the new novel, and how he approached the storyline of Bond seducing a lesbian character

That was one of the dangerous areas, if you like, that I had to be very, very careful about ... because to suggest for a minute that Pussy Galore was a sort of a gay woman who could somehow ... be cured by her first relationship with a heterosexual man would, I think, be deeply, deeply offensive today. And of course it's not something which I consider to be even remotely true at all. And so in the book, in dealing with her, I had to take that on board and very carefully referenced her upbringing, but then gave the whole story a twist that I think gives it almost, dare I say it, a feminist edge — certainly a modern one. ... [Not only] is she a strong character, but at the end of the day she is a very independent character. And without wishing to give away too much of the story, you know, what she does to Bond — the way she reacts to him and the way their relationship develops and even ends — is, I think, a learning curve for him.

On the documents that informed the novel

When the estate approached me — and I have to say straight away that I was enormously flattered and felt very privileged to be approached by them to do this continuation novel — I was the first of the modern Bond authors to be offered five television treatments that [Fleming] originally wrote for American television. These shows were never made because the films took off and suddenly a TV series was out of the question. The estate found these documents quite recently and had the idea that they would fold one of them into the new book and so I was asked to choose one. And the one that popped out at me was this story called "Motor and Wheels," which has a Russian plot ... to kill an English racing driver in order to show the superiority of their vehicles. In fact, it only contained about, I would say, 400 or 500 words that I could use. But the strange thing is ... that they were incredibly valuable to me. Just to have a few words by M written by Ian Fleming, a few words by Bond himself and this scenario — it was a wonderful inspiration.

On his comment that actor Idris Elba is "too street" to play Bond

It was an inappropriate word. I didn't mean to cause offense and it was a clumsy choice of words and I have apologized, because it was stupid. What did I mean by "street"? I was thinking really, I suppose, of the part he plays in the British TV show Luther, which I'm sure you see on American television too. I meant ... gritty, down-to-earth; what we would call a street cop. I see now that that was misconstrued. It was a clumsy choice. I regret it. ...

That's why I'm a writer, not a casting director. I would imagine that Idris Elba can be anything he wanted to be. In every film and every television show he does, he acts and he is brilliant at it. ... I mean, Daniel Craig is in some respects more gritty, dare I say, than other Bonds were. But you know, what's so great about this character is that no matter who plays him — and incidentally I want to say that I think Daniel Craig is a brilliant Bond, particularly in Casino Royale, which is probably one of my favorites of all the Bond films — you know, everyone brings something to the party, and the character endures and changes and morphs and moves with the times.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The challenge facing Anthony Horowitz in the new James Bond novel he's written, "Trigger Mortis," is that cool is a moving target. What was cool in the 1950s and '60s can seem geriatric all these decades later. Horowitz is an English writer. He's written novels for young adults, for older adults, movies, television series. He created the detective show "Foyle's War," a public TV staple here in the states. He wrote "Trigger Mortis" on assignment from the Estate of Ian Fleming. It is set just a few weeks after the end of Fleming's "Goldfinger." Anthony Horowitz, welcome to the program.

ANTHONY HOROWITZ: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And let's start with things that were cool when Ian Fleming was writing James Bond novels that are just simply uncool today.

HOROWITZ: (Laughter). Well, I already said, the first one that springs to mind is probably smoking. James Bond smoked I think about 20 or 30 cigarettes a day, Morland with three rings. And I don't think many people would admire that these days. And perhaps some of the attitudes in the books were cooler then. Even the violence, maybe, these days we think twice about.

Of course, that's one of the interesting things, is trying to bridge this astonishing gap between the sort of '50s and '60s when the books were written and were thriving and nowadays where so many perceptions have changed.

SIEGEL: Well, what is the enduring essence of cool that James Bond was 60 years ago and still is in the 21st century?

HOROWITZ: It's a very difficult question to answer because, you know, Bond has changed so much. I mean, when Sean Connery turned around and asked for a cocktail shaken but not stirred, it was cool to have that precision, that sort of absolute perfection in taste. And it follows in all the products that he demanded - you know, the right clothes, the right shoes, the right drinks, the right food, the right restaurants, the right women. Everything had to be absolutely precise. Back then, particularly at a time when luxury goods had been in such short supply for so long, it was the height of cool to be so precise in your demands.

SIEGEL: Yes. You decided to have "Trigger Mortis," this book, begin just a few weeks after the end of "Goldfinger." At the end of that story, Bond is with Goldfinger's criminal associate Pussy Galore. In fact, the return of Pussy Galore is a selling point of the novel. Is there any greater anachronism than a lesbian character who succumbs to Bond because he's the first real man she ever encountered?

HOROWITZ: Well, that was one of the dangerous areas, if you like, that I had to be very, very careful about in treating this book because to suggest for a minute that Pussy Galore was a sort of a gay woman who could somehow, in inverted commas, be cured by her first relationship with a heterosexual man would, I think, be deeply, deeply offensive today. And of course it's not something which I considered to be even remotely true at all.

And so in the book in dealing with her, I had to take that on board and very carefully referenced her upbringing but then gave the whole story a twist that I think gives it almost, dare I say it, a feminist edge - certainly a modern one.

SIEGEL: She's a very strong character in...

HOROWITZ: Well, it's not only is she a strong character, but at the end of the day, she is a very independent character. And without wishing to give away too much of the story, you know, what she does to Bond, the way she reacts to him and the way their relationship develops and even ends is, I think, a learning curve for him.

SIEGEL: Now, explain this to us. You're working with some things that were written by Ian Fleming that are the property of the Fleming Estate. Sometimes this sounds a bit like the exiled Cubans who nurtured Havana seedling tobacco that would grow a thousand miles from Cuba. I mean, how much was actually there from Ian Fleming for you to work with to make this?

HOROWITZ: Well, when the Estate approached me - and I have to say straightaway that I was enormously flattered and felt very privileged to be approached by them to do this continuation novel. I was the first of the modern Bond authors to be offered five television treatments that he originally wrote for American television. These shows were never made because the films took off and suddenly, a TV series was out of the question.

The Estate found these documents quite recently and had the idea that they would fold one of them into the new book. And so I was asked to choose one, and the one that popped out at me was this story called "Murder On Wheels," which has a Russian plot by SMERSH to kill an English racing driver in order to show the superiority of their vehicles. In fact, it only contained about, I would say, four or 500 words that I could use. But the strange thing is, Robert, that they were incredibly valuable to me. Just to have a few words by M, written by Ian Fleming, a few words by Bond himself and this scenario - it was a wonderful inspiration.

SIEGEL: You've been a Bondophile for almost your entire life.

HOROWITZ: Well, I am of that age. I mean, I was 8 years old when "Dr. No" came out, the first of the Bond films. And I can actually mark out my whole life by the queuing up for different cinemas to go and see "From Russia With Love" and "Goldfinger." These were big, big events for me.

SIEGEL: Now, you've made some rather critical remarks of some recent Bond movies and also about the prospect of the actor Idris Elba becoming the next Bond. You said he's a terrific actor, but I can think of other black actors who would do better. For me, if Idris Elba were considered - he's a bit too rough to play the part, too street for Bond. You've since apologized. What did you mean by too street for Bond?

HOROWITZ: Well, it was an inappropriate word. I didn't mean to cause offense, and it was a clumsy choice of words. And I have apologized because it was stupid. What did I mean by street? I was thinking, really, I suppose, of the part he plays in the British TV show "Luther," which I'm sure you see in American television too. I meant by gritty, down to earth - what we would call a street cop. I see now that that was misconstrued. It was a clumsy choice. I regret it.

SIEGEL: Daniel Craig - it strikes me as a lot less smooth than some of the earlier people who've played James Bond. Wasn't he a step toward a slightly rougher character?

HOROWITZ: You're probably right. And, I mean, you know, that's why I'm a writer not a casting director. I would imagine that Idris Elba can be anything he wants to be. I mean, in every film and every television show he does, he acts, and he is brilliant at it. And you're right. I mean, Daniel Craig is in some respects more gritty, dare I say, than other Bonds were.

But, you know, what's so great about this character is that no matter who plays him - and instantly, I want to say that I think Daniel Craig is a brilliant Bond, particularly in "Casino Royale," which is probably one of my favorite of all of the Bond films - you know, everyone brings something to the party. And the character endures and changes and morphs and moves with the times.

SIEGEL: I'm wondering if you were as taken with one exchange from Daniel Craig's "Casino Royale" as I was, which is when the bartender asks him if he wants the martini shaken or stirred.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CASINO ROYALE")

DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) Vodka martini.

DUSAN PELECH: (As Bartender) Shaken or stirred?

CRAIG: (As James Bond) Do I look like I give a damn?

SIEGEL: (Laughter). Do I look like I give a damn?

HOROWITZ: I'll tell you something. I was asked recently about one of the magazine articles that I've done for my favorite line out of a bond film, and that is the one I chose.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

HOROWITZ: Great, great line. And I'll tell you something...

SIEGEL: That came after 40 years of hearing that - of hearing what his answer was.

HOROWITZ: And the idea of finishing the film with the line, my name is Bond, James Bond - and he waits for the whole movie, and then he says it, and then there's a blackout. That's genius.

SIEGEL: Anthony Horowitz, author of, among so many books, the new James Bond novel, "Trigger Mortis." Thanks for talking with us.

HOROWITZ: It's been a pleasure, Robert. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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