Mamma Mia! star Dominic Cooper reveals the secrets behind Sky Atlantic’s new four-part drama Fleming (Wednesday, Feb 12, 9pm), which follows the amazing wartime exploits of James Bond author Ian Fleming. He also tells us he’d quite like to be 007 himself one day…
Is there a difference between the Ian Fleming you play and the man he later created, British super-spy James Bond?
“I don’t think Ian was as brave as he’d like to have been and I imagine he wasn’t quite as charming. I think he was a fun person to be around and probably very witty and a great talker and a great teller of stories with a vivid imagination. I suppose Bond was a glamorised version of who Ian thought of himself.”
So is the Fleming we see in this drama similar to the James Bond character he wrote about?
“I think so, yeah. And that’s how I got round the fact that I look nothing like him. There are no physical similarities and therefore I think we just had to strip away what people’s ideas were of him and what became apparent was that nobody knows anything at all about him really.”
You’ve portrayed Fleming as very suave and dashing. Was that how you wanted him to be, or how he was?
“Again I think it’s how he’d have like to have been seen. It raises an interesting question of how we perceive ourselves in the world and how we think we’re seen and then the reality, like when somebody tells you how they feel about you is sometimes shocking because you have a very warped judgement of how you are in certain environments. Ian’s arrogant nature and his treatment of people meant he could appear quite rude. He was obviously very quick-witted and clever, but pulling people apart takes a certain confidence and character to be able to do that.”
Ian’s relationship with Baroness Anne O’Neil (played by Sherlock star Lara Pulver), who eventually became his wife, is shown as intense and volatile. Was that how it really was?
“Their relationship was violent and openly so – people knew it was that way. There’s no excusing it, even if you go into the debate that they both enjoyed it and were excited and turned on by it, it’s still no real way to behave in an adult relationship. The truth is the picture created is one of a man who wasn’t particularly pleasant.”
What’s it like filming with Lara Pulver, especially those scenes where you’re throwing things at each other and hitting each other?
“We were quite anxious about those scenes, but there was no need to be at all. You really do have to throw yourself into them and trust one another and trust the director’s taste that it’s not going to become gratuitous and unnecessary. You throw yourself into it.”
It seems Ian Fleming had a troubled family life…
“There’s a lot of very obvious Freudian elements to a lot of the drama, especially when you look at the relationship he had with his widowed mother Even (played by Lesley Manville). His politician father died very young so he had no real male figure in his life, apart from his brother, Peter, who was a successful writer. There were just lots of elements in his background to piece together…”
Would you say the drama shows Fleming as more like spy boss M than Bond when he joins the British Naval intelligence during the World War Two?
“Yeah, he is really. He really wanted to get out there and do something. He really was desperate, but I think he proved to himself that he couldn’t handle it and he wasn’t good enough, so was mostly office bound in reality. You can get an understanding of where that character came from, from all the people he met during his life, working in that environment. So I don’t think there was a specific person he saw Bond as or himself as.”
Do you get the sense that war was the making of him?
“It absolutely was the making of him, yes. He was on a steady path to nowhere otherwise. He had anger within him, this dark side to him, and his vivid imagination wasn’t allowed to be explored before the war. I suppose eventually he would have got into writing, but war unlocked it and gave him the confidence that he could achieve something. It’s a terrible thing to say that war promoted these people into higher realms and a better way of life, but it did – in his part of high society, many lived at the Dorchester and had this extravagant ‘let’s live a little because we all might die tomorrow’ lifestyle because they could afford it, which is quite shocking when we perceive what the war must have been like for most people. Fleming, his friends, lovers and family had this extraordinarily privileged life.”
Are you a bit worried about the reaction to this drama from Ian Fleming’s family and Bond fans?
“I’m not worried about it. I know that it could be very inaccurate how I’ve portrayed him on every level, but really it’s a story. Therefore I don’t really mind… if we’d done a serious biopic then I’d be worried. But we’re very much hiding behind the idea that this is our version of how he’d like to have seen himself. It’s much more the idea of James Bond than the idea of Ian Fleming.”
So would the idea of becoming James Bond after Daniel Craig appeal to you?
“Of course I’d love to be Bond, because it’s terribly exciting. It’s a clever well-written role in a huge franchise, but there are so many elements to that question that you really have to consider. Like what it means to your life and the rest of your career… what it truly means… I know people who were up for it the last time and thought it was the end of the world when they didn’t get it. I’m sure Daniel loves every minute of it, but he’s resentful of other aspects that it brings to his life. I remember a very interesting interview with him where he says he does miss making small films and there’s just no way that he can do that any more because if he signs up to one they automatically become big films. It’s a big question… the answer is yes, of course, it would be absolutely wonderful, but the reality of it is a much longer debate. It’s one of those roles when you’re a kid that tells you why you want to get into movies and why you want to be an actor.”
Do you think James Bond fans will see some of the characters in Fleming appearing in the books and films? Samuel West as Director of Naval Intelligence John Godfrey is very is M, Anna Chancellor as Second Officer Monday is a little Moneypenny and Lara’s the obvious Bond girl?
“That’s what they’re meant to suggest… and that’s what I like about this project. It’s done very well and very subtly and not too over-analysed or underlined. It’s a simple ‘oh that’s where Fleming’s idea must have come from’. There were definitely real people who became those characters in his books.”
Do we see Ian Fleming’s evolution to becoming a writer in this drama?
“There’s a wonderful scene at the end where he goes on a big long mission, it becomes very elaborate where he’s fighting off Nazis and he’s off to kill a guy. At the end he turns to Anna Chancellor’s character Monday and she reads the field report and says ‘Did you make all that up?’ and he goes: ‘Maybe I made up a few bits and pieces, but it was a hell of a story wasn’t it?’ You do see him getting ideas for the Bonds and people suggesting he should write all this down and you see his imagination ticking over and coming up with all his later ideas.”