Driving Bond’s Aston Martin

Daniel Craig on set during the filming of Skyfall. Daniel Craig and the iconic Aston Martin DB5.

Ben Collins driving during filming of the latest James Bond film.

It’s dark, it’s cold. We are working nights somewhere in east London under stark moonlight, which does little to take the edge off. I’m back with the James Bond stunt crew, probably the best team of daredevils in the world, who have the rare privilege of taking on the ballistic driving sequences for which star Daniel Craig is literally uninsurable. During the next five months, we will circle the globe from the neon-lit highways of Shanghai to the Scottish Highlands and the gritty streets of Istanbul.

This first shot is a pick-up of Bond spiriting away his boss, M, in his 1964 Aston Martin DB5, the most famous Bond car of all. I swallow hard as my eyes absorb the metallic-grey torpedo sitting in Bond’s oil-stained lock-up. The director, Sam Mendes, and Craig lean against the garage wall in deep discussion while staring longingly at the machine.

After introductions with the screen legends, I get the brief: a sharp pull-away, speed down the alley, then a hard right underneath the railway crossing.

I loosen Bond’s custom-made pinstripe suit and ease into the leather aboard the $5 million DB5 from Goldfinger. Gadgets abound, notably the red button inside the gear knob, and I’m not brave enough to press it. Was it the ejector seat or machineguns?

The stunt co-ordinator, Gary Powell, inspects the camera positions before crouching out of shot. I make sure M’s double, Penny Ryder, has a firm grip of the door handle before we launch. Mendes grasps the radio: ”Action!”

It feels like sacrilege, but I rev the nuts off the ageing six-cylinder engine and dump the clutch. Tyres squeal in protest and we rocket out the door into the alley. The brick wall fills the windscreen until I swing the boat-like wooden wheel to the right and the suspension leans gracefully to make the turn.

For the next shot, the camera crew moves to the kerb, where the alley meets the narrow road. It’s pitch-black and the Aston’s lights throw only a hazy glow at the patch of road directly ahead, making the corner blind. Naturally, I would prefer not to reshape the DB5 on the bridge right in front of the director, but it’s a Bond movie, so you go large or go home.

I make it to third gear in the DB5, which by now knows it prefers being in the museum. The brakes sing, I snatch second and we skid into the black abyss of the archway. The wheelspin echoes around the walls as the DB5 leaps the speed humps and we exit the frame. I love this car. Penny thinks it’s ”f—ing fantastic”, too.

Next stop is Adana, Turkey. This is home for the next three months, and we sink into the routine of a six-day working week: 5am wake-up, breakfast, travel, rehearse, shoot, then back to the hotel to hit the gym.

On set, the special-effects team peels the covers off my new ride: a Land Rover Defender with a pod system mounted on the roof so I can drive it while the actors ride below. The pod contains a seat bolted to a heavy-duty roof rack. All the functions of steering, changing gear, braking and accelerating are diverted upstairs so I can operate the vehicle without being seen by the camera.

All that weight on the roof makes the pod top-heavy, so we prove the system won’t roll over by exploring its limits. Some hard cornering and handbrake turns confirm the pod is ready for duty.

Eve, played by Naomi Harris, is the character driving the Land Rover, and we gradually turn our heroine into a speed junkie by relentlessly rehearsing around the off-road course. Harris’s new skills provide plenty of onscreen action.

In her first set-up, Eve races through Istanbul to keep up with Bond. The ensuing carnage results in a truck flipping into her path. The truck and the Landy have to navigate through their respective traffic at exact speeds in order to meet at their impact point. Arrive too early and the camera misses the shot; arrive too late and crunch. We have about six Land Rovers and back-up trucks in case one of them gets twatted and we need to call in a spare.

Using a stopwatch, we measure the runs and set out start points. I run the route aboard the pod before switching to another driver in the standard Land Rover for the main shot.

Fellow stunt driver Lee Morrison bolts himself into the doomed truck wearing a helmet, neck brace and pads. Morrison has to strike a mobile ramp hidden inside a car being towed by a minivan. A few inches left or right and the resulting collision could wipe out all three vehicles – no pressure.

When ”Action!” is called, the hill springs to life as stunt pedestrians meander up the footpath and the vehicles gun their engines. The Landy snakes through the traffic. Moments later, the thundering red cab of Morrison’s truck looms over the horizon of the bridge just as the Landy squeezes into position alongside.

Clashing metal shakes the ground as the truck rams its target and rolls, casting a shadow over the passing Landy. The truck slams into the deck and spews its cargo. Powell eyes the camera feed and says, ”It doesn’t get any closer than that.”

Steam rises from the truck as its fluids trickle down the road. Morrison gives a thumbs up from the smashed cab and we move on to the next shot.

The intense sequences contrast many hours spent waiting for the train on which Bond slogs it out with a relentless and fearless villain named Patrice (Ola Rapace). Various destructive elements and special effects take forever to set up. Then it’s 120km/h down a dirt road to get parallel to a camera lens on carriage No.5, loaded with sunburnt crew and one Daniel Craig dangling off the side by his fingernails.

DC, as he’s known on set, commands the Bond character with aplomb in Skyfall, increasingly at ease with the wild situations thrown his way. When the shades come off, his cool reserve brightens with a nod and a smile as he climbs aboard the pod for the motoring equivalent of the Cresta Run: a vertical cobbled lane in the downtrodden district of Belat.

Here, Eve is in hot pursuit of Patrice in his Audi A5 (3.0 TDI V6 Quattro). There are twists and turns, stuff blowing up, cars getting in the way and, to keep up with the Audi, my foot is welded to the throttle stop. To help me react to their cues, I can hear Craig and Harris through my earpiece. They know this, so before launch he’s humming the tune to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to wind me up. Powell’s instructions are simple enough: ”Keep two lengths off the Audi’s bumper for this one.”

On ”Action!”, the Audi shoots off and I’m grateful for the ”special” modifications the SFX team made to enhance the pod’s engine. We weave through a chicane amid a cacophony of exploding debris to some glib dialogue from downstairs. The rough cobbles shake the hydraulic steering, affecting the wheel alignment. I chase the wheel to compensate, ever mindful of the precious cargo.

Gravity ramps up our speed and emergency manoeuvres are required. We quickly reach the bottom for a 90-degree right hand bend, a big compression and a sudden stop. It’s our first hard run and there’s silence downstairs, broken by chuckling from DC.

You can hear the adrenalin in Harris’s voice: ”Oh … my … god.”

Mendes adds: ”Good one. We don’t need it any faster.”

Arguably, the stunts in a James Bond movie are as memorable and iconic as anything about 007. Especially when you know the stunts are, I promise you, performed for real. Combining them with great performances from Daniel Craig and the star-studded cast should make Skyfall a classic.

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