It's been half a century since Ian Fleming introduced the world to James Bond, his evil nemeses, and of course, those sexy Bond girls. But after 50 years, the time has finally come to stop calling them "Bond girls" and start referring to them as "Bond Women." These are adult human beings, after all, who typify sophistication and serve as liberated models of independence. Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt were proto-Bond Women in their own way and, as Skyfall star Bérénice Marlohe had to remind us, so was "Famke Janssen in Goldeneye. She was smashing people and having orgasms."
That she was. We recently chatted with current James Bond vixens Naomie Harris and Marlohe in a Miami hotel room, giving them a much deserved break from being ravaged by handsome, sophisticated hunks. Our goal: find out what a Bond Woman really is.
Marlohe is a Franco-Cambodian beauty making her Hollywood debut in the very same series she used to watch on television as a teenager in France. She offers eager reporters the following description of a leading woman in a James Bond film:
"When I think about the Bond girl, I think about a creature which is a bit of the male, a bit of the female, a bit of the animal, and a bit of an alien. This is what I love to work from in general, but when I think about a James Bond girl, this is what attracts me and what gives me my inspiration."
But, Bérénice Marlohe, we ask, aren't you really a Bond Woman, not a Bond Girl?
"Well, yes. [Director Sam Mendes] called me a Bond Lady and I had people saying, 'What is this? You are calling yourself a Bond Lady?' And I didn't say anything. But, Bond Lady is quite poetic and elegant and why not? Bond Lady, Bond Girl, Bond Woman, I would love Bond Beast. It would be even better. Rrrrrrrrr!!!"
Marlohe plays Severine, the kind of femme fatale who matches her eye shadow to her pistol grip. She's not just a sex object in the film but a woman of many talents. For example, there's a memorable scene in which she balances a glass of Scotch on her head. There's something about Marlohe's grace in doing so that suggests this isn't the first thing she has balanced on her head. So what else has there been?
"During sex?" she asks in a way that makes nearly everyone in the room glad that there is a table separating the two of us. That's not what we were asking but, okay, let's start there.
"On my head. Hmmmm? Let me think," she says. And here she seems genuinely stymied. It has been a long day although the bounce of her hair indicates there have been few things balanced on it thus far. So we offer to suggest items and she can tell us if she has ever balanced them on her head before.
Grateful, she replies, "Yes, please."
"Watermelon? No, unfortunately."
Perhaps a small tricycle then.
"Absolutely! Why did I forget this one? Yesterday, in my bedroom."
Again, not what we were asking. But with that in mind, what about another person?
"Oh, I would love to," she says, and from within the wide smears of her ashen eye makeup there is a magma-like glow. "But yes, I have to find someone not too tall, not too..."
Her voice trails off as she looks around the room for just the right person but cannot find him or her. This is a woman who clearly understands the limits of her own balance.
"Natural talent, man."
Naomie Harris, on the other hand, plays a plucky MI6 agent. Her background is, like Mendes's, in the theater. She has also starred in zombie and pirate movies. Now, she too is a Bond Woman. But whither Bond Woman?
"Having a certain amount of mystery, a certain amount of elegance," she tells us. "Those are the two things I'd look for. And also humor. In Classic Bond, there was always a constant raised eyebrow, kind of sending itself up a bit. And I think in recent years it has kind of lost that and I wanted to bring some of that wit back to Bond."
That's a tall order, but fortunately Harris was prepared. For two months before shooting, she was out with her trainer for two hours a day. For three days a week, she was on the gun range for two hours. Stunt driving twice a week and combat training once a week.
In the opening sequence, however, Harris's character takes a bad shot with her rifle, wounding Bond and allowing a villain to get away with important information. Surely, she regrets not spending more time on the gun range.
"Thank you for that," she nods slowly. "Actually, I tried very hard - that was one of the the things I did ask the writer to change, about me hitting Bond. Because I thought I'd never be able to live that down. But Bond seemed to have forgiven me as the movie went on."
There's also a highly eroticized scene in the film during which Harris shaves James Bond with a straight razor. For this, she underwent an additional three weeks of shaving training, she says.
"I tried to get people from the crew to volunteer themselves but no one was really willing. So I used balloons and put shaving foam on them and if I burst the balloon, that would be someone's skin. But I never burst any balloons I'm happy to say, not once."
Even so, Daniel Craig must have requested to watch her shave a balloon before he granted access to his throat.
"Well," she tells us, dispelling what belief in the magic of cinema we had left, "I didn't use a real razor. So after all that hard work, no."
So there is a great deal of nuance in this new generation of Bond Women. Of note in the biography of Marlohe's Severine is that she is the victim of human trafficking. It's the kind of subject matter rarely broached by popcorn films, and Marlohe was excited to draw attention to it.
"It's such a heavy problem," she attests, "and the eyes of those women don't lie. You feel the whole depth and gravity of those women. This is what was fascinating, because I became aware even more than before of problems in the world. For example in Asia, which is also part of my blood. And this is why I'm now also getting involved with an association that deals with all that."
That's how she got involved in Lotus Outreach, an organization that does much more good for more people than merely strangling someone with one's legs ever could. This is the new way of the Bond Woman. She is no longer a victim of the men in the film, but is able to fight back, even if that fight must take place off screen.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
And the presence of Harris, a woman of color, in a leading role is also typical of the franchise's new maturity. Unlike most persons of color in the Bond films, her Eve is not treated with an air of exoticism.
"It is a sign of the times," Harris said, "so we don't have to make a big issue of it. But also, it was because the role was never written as a black role. It was open casting so they cast all around the world, actually. And they could have had any ethnicity playing it and they just wanted the best person for the role. So that's why it was never written as that, I think, which I'm really pleased about."
Skyfall is currently in theaters. You are probably watching it right now, because everyone is. Put your phone away, jerk.