If you know the name James Bond, you likely know the name Ian Fleming, too.
All the “official” movies about licensed-to-kill Agent 007 note his creator, the novelist whose experiences as a World War II naval intelligence officer informed the spy’s adventures. His story has been told before – as in the 1990 TV movie “Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming,” which starred Bond portrayer Sean Connery’s son Jason – but it’s revisited in the four-part BBC America miniseries “Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,” which starts a weekly run Wednesday, Jan. 29.
Dominic Cooper (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Mamma Mia!”) plays Fleming as an adventurous, romantic pseudo-Bond. “It’s really hard to go back and remember what you knew and what you learned doing the job,” Cooper tells Zap2it. “I knew that kind of iconic image of him smoking a cigarette, and what he had done and achieved.
“For us, I think the most important thing was deciding how much we should base this miniseries in reality and how much we should increase the fantasy of what his life was, or how he saw himself. It was interesting to listen to all the different [prospective] directors’ takes on where they saw the piece going, and I saw eye to eye with Mat [Whitecross, who ultimately was selected to direct it].”
The style of “Fleming” strongly evokes the feel of Bond movies, especially the earliest and the most recent ones, with an opening sequence that clearly channels “Thunderball.” Cooper acknowledges, “It’s quite dangerous territory to be in something like this, because James Bond has very much its own tone that’s been developed for years and years. It’s like nothing else in how it’s been accurate for the times.
“If you go back and look at some of the oldest ones, you couldn’t do what Bond did then now. It would seem wrong. A lot of Ian Fleming’s ideas would feel out of place, so tonally, this had to be tongue-in-cheek in many aspects. At the same time, it also had to be about what really did happen. People are interested in who the creator of this incredible hero was.”
During his military career, as the miniseries shows, Fleming encountered people who inspired other famous characters to come: Adm. John Godfrey (played by Samuel West), Fleming’s no-nonsense supervisor who was the template for Bond’s boss “M”; Lieutenant Monday (Anna Chancellor), Godfrey’s secretary and the model for Miss Moneypenny; socialite Ann O’Neill (Lara Pulver), whose marriage didn’t keep her and Fleming from having a torrid romance; and Muriel Wright (Annabelle Wallis), a courier enamored of Fleming, who used her as the basis for many “Bond girls” later.
Portraying sort of a hybrid of Fleming and Bond made sense to Cooper, who believes the writer “wanted to be that man: the charming, sexy spy. He never really achieved that, but this may be how he remembered events. I think that was a worry for the Fleming estate about us as filmmakers.
“Close to the end of the piece, someone asks Fleming if these things really happened. And he says, ‘Well, some of it’s true … but it was a damned good story, wasn’t it?’ I think that’s how he lived his life. The story was more important than the accuracy in many ways.”
As much as the action scenes in “Fleming” echo those familiar to Bond devotees, Cooper notes, “This was made for a limited amount of money. Compare it to one of those films, and it was next to nothing, so we had to rush through a lot of the action sequences. They still look tremendously expensive and are done very well, but I really indulged in and enjoyed the language of that time. It was almost like fencing. The people were quick-witted and very intelligent.”
Cooper’s own history with the James Bond film franchise mirrors that of countless other fans. “As a boy or a young man, it was the most exciting thing in the world,” he recalls. “The cars, I was obsessed with, and I adored the technology. I used to get dressed up in suits and run around the house with a toy gun, and that was all from that character, wasn’t it? Of course it was. He was really cool.”
Since Cooper plays Fleming (who also wrote the children’s book “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car”) with Bond-like panache, it’s been suggested the miniseries might be the actor’s placeholder for the role of 007 whenever current occupant Daniel Craig — who has re-upped for the next two movies — leaves the series.
“Who knows what they’ll be thinking when they get into position for the next James Bond?” Cooper reflects. “I’m sure they’ll be thinking of someone very different again, and because those producers are so brilliant, they’ve worked out a way to re-imagine it each time and keep it fresh.
“Some people may think it’s a hindrance to already be associated with it,” concludes Cooper, “or maybe it’s a help. Of course, it would be great … but I don’t know.”