Thunderball

“Unique, interesting and strong, funny and ballsy, all the stuff you expect a Bond girl to be” – Q&A with ‘Bond Girl’ Martine Beswick

Now pay attention, 007 fans! Across May and June this year, the Regent Street Cinema shall be conducting screenings of a select few James Bond classics as part of their ‘James Bond Sundays’ seasons, followed by a Q&A with one of Bond Girls from the respective film.  

This past Sunday saw the first of these screenings take place, with a showing of Sean Connery’s fourth outing Thunderball (directed by Terence Young in 1965). We were lucky enough to attend the screening that was followed by a Q&A with Martine Beswick, who plays ally-agent Paula in the film. The Q&A was conducted by Robin Osmani, and what follows are some highlights from the discussion.

What’s it like seeing Thunderball again?

I haven’t seen it on a big screen for awhile. The print was really great, and it was really exciting to see again. In fact, I had forgotten how really tough the underwater sequences would have been to shoot back then without CGI. We’re talking real people fighting underwater, you sit there and think WOW!

How did you end up back in the Caribbean, having started off there?

I am originally from Jamaica, and when this part came up it called for an island girl. Initially the producers didn’t want to use me twice (Beswick also appears in From Russia With Love). But Terence Young was like ‘don’t be ridiculous, she’s an island girl.’ He fought for me and won, and he’s why I ended up in the Caribbean again.

Before Skyfall, this was the most successful Bond film in Britain. Why do you think that was?

I think it’s how it looks and the elements of Bond it displays. Ken Adams production design is just beautiful. They didn’t have the kind of money that they have today. And the one-liners, you’re having a good laugh throughout. It came at the zenith at Bond. Everyone came from everywhere to be part of this shoot.

The Bond roller-coaster really was in full swing by the time Thunderball came out. What was it like to be part of that moment at the time?

There’s a moment where he arrives at Paradise Island and he’s about to go gambling. There were all these people who were friends of the production who all arrived on their Yachts, tons of them. Terence actually got them to be extras in the scene. The only problem was they were going there to have fun, they weren’t going to stick around for shooting and continuity sake. But Terence managed to get them to do it. It made you think ‘really!?’ but Terence pulled it off.

What was it like working with Sean Connery?

I had a wonderful time with Sean. It was ‘mischief meets mischief’. I know some people have said he can be a bit of a rogue, but I didn’t think that at all. I had a wonderful time and a really great laugh. I was mad for his wife (the late Diane Cilento), she was fabulous!  She was bawdy, rowdy, told dirty jokes, I just adored her. The whole Bond family really.

One might think the machismo of the Bond franchise dominates, but can you talk to us about your relationship with the other Bond Girls, both in this movie and beyond?

It sounds cliche to say, but it is true, we have a bond. There is a similarity that we all share. When we get together, and we do quite often, there is a great deal of love between us. I think they’re all fabulous. I so appreciate divine women. Each one is truly an individual. Truly unique, interesting and strong, funny and ballsy, all the stuff you expect a Bond girl to be, they are.

Watching this now, where social norms and cultural context are so different, there are moments with Bond and the women that are quite cringe-worthy. Do you ever have moments like that revisiting it?

No, I wouldn’t say so. I know what you mean. Particularly the moments with Molly Peters’ character early in the film. She took it all in her stride, she did her job. There was never any actual abuse or unwanted advances on the set. It’s a film, you’re delivering your lines, hitting your mark. I have been a feminist since before I knew what the word meant, any sense of abuse drives me absolutely mad. But if there’s something cringe-worthy to you now, just know we Bond girls knew exactly what we were doing. We had a role and we did it. The scenes between Sean and I shows exactly what our relationship was like, kinda bickering at each other but having fun. All the girls in this film have a moment where you see the strength of the woman against the man. Bond is going to say all his stuff, that’s part of his lady killer character, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get our moment.

You also appeared in From Russia With Love as a fighting gypsy girl, what can you share about that experience? How much were you already aware of Bond?

By that time I was certainly aware. I had first read for a part in Dr. No. I was very young, I wanted to be an actress, but I had no idea how to go about it. MCA agency, had written to me in Jamaica after seeing a photo of me and said that if I was ever in London I should go and see them. I didn’t even know what being an agent mate. I did call them up and go see them. I was in a room with twelve guys in suits around a table all muttering to themselves. I had no idea I was there for a Bond film, or who he was or what it was. Before I knew it I was in a room with Terence Young, who was also a bit of a fellow mischief maker. He said ‘you need to go to work, get some experience. You’re too young for this part, but I have an idea for you in the future.’ And just like that, he was Dad. He kept his word. When From Russia With Love came up, he gave me a part. It was really Terrence who helped introduce me to that world, and I became firm friends with him.

In the 70’s and 80’s we used to see you in a lot of American shows, like It Takes a Thief and The Six Million Dollar Man, can you tell us a little bit about what it was like working over there?

It was an interesting time. It took me a while to establish myself in LA. No one really knew me so I had to kind of start again. The first thing I did was It Takes a Thief with Robert Wagner, and what happens is that if they like you become part of the family. Throughout my life, through all the work I’ve done, there’s always this sense of family. First family is Bond. The second family is Hammer. And then into all the TV shows, it was always ‘oh, get Martine.’ I call my extended family my tribes, and they’re everywhere. That’s the best part of doing my job, there was always an extended  family and a tribe. That certainly happened with a lot of the work I did in LA.   

The first few weeks of production on Thunderball, you were, were you not, required to do a few things – can you tell us a bit about that?

Oh yes! I hadn’t seen the sun in years. I was too busy having fun at night. I was pale and skinny. I was too busy dancing my feet off! When I arrived, I was given strict instructions just to sun myself and eat. For two weeks, that was literally all I had to do. So it was that in the day and parties in the evening. Terence spoiled us all, champagne and caviar for real! It was one of the best jobs I ever had!

Make sure you check out the Regent Street Cinema listings for their future ‘James Bond Sundays’ Q&A screenings taking place across May and June.

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