We recently had the chance to attend the Aston Martin Complex at Silverstone for a special launch event in celebration of James Bond’s latest movie ‘No Time to Die’. On a day that reads more like imagination than reality and far from something, you would consider work, we had the chance to speak with Daniel Craig’s stunt driver, Mark Higgins, another lucky bloke like us whose job it is to push these classics to their limits on the track.
Here’s how it went down.
Outside on the asphalt, lined up in all their glory were three cars we only thought we’d see together as Matchbox cars, a modern-day DBS, an 80s V8 (similar to the Vantage) and a 60s DB5. Just to have the three cars there to look at was exciting, but to know we’d be able to take each for a drive was something else.
We started with the ‘easiest’ to drive of the bunch, and jumped behind the wheel of the DBS, a twin-turbo V12 monster that does 0-100km/h in 3.4sec, it’s far from run of the mill. The DBS was featured in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (remember the opening scene with the chase through the tunnels around Lake Garda in Italy). After a lap as a passenger to ‘learn the racing line’ we jumped behind the wheel and went for a spin. With brake markers to keep alert for, apex’s to hit and a flappy paddle gearbox, you couldn’t wipe the smile off your face.
Next up was the V8, the ‘winterised’ version of the Vantage Volante from The Living Daylights. At over 2 tonnes it was not your quintessential nimble ‘Bond car’, but it made up for that with brute power, a familiar 5-speed stick-shift and a timeless V8 rumble – a throwback to the British muscle. It was a rare lovely sunny day at Silverstone, and manhandling the heavy V8 round the Stowe track was exhilarating but sweaty business.
It wasn’t long before we were handed the keys to the creme de la creme, the iconic DB5. Sitting behind the wood trim finish steering wheel and analogue dials instantly transports you to the French Riviera. Firing up the E46 BMW M3 sourced 4.0L inline 6 and idling towards the track paralleled the feeling of Christmas eve as a child. The DB5 won’t set any track records but it is the most beautiful driving experience and is no surprise Daniel Craig is recalling it for ‘No Time to Die’.
Interview with Mark Higgins, James Bond Stunt Driver
We had the opportunity to meet with Mark Higgins one-to-one and hear from him what it takes to become a Bond stunt driver and his experiences on set. We also had the unrivalled experience to sit in the passenger seat as Mark put the stunt car around the track, mostly sideways and with a trail of tyre smoke. Can you believe this is his job?!
MOM: How did you get started in stunt driving?
Mark: I’ve worked in motorsport for probably 30 years, my background is rally driving. I’d done the odd TV thing here and there, sort of Top Gear-ish. And a friend of mine, who is Ben Collins, who was the original Stig, we were at a do one night, and he was asked to find some drivers for Quantum of Solace. So he sort of mentioned it to me, would I be interested? Of course, after a glass of wine or so, I’d have said yes to anything, but I said yes, thinking nothing more of it. And then March time came, I get a phone call, “Are you free for the next three months?” We flew off to Italy. And that was the start of Bond for me.
MOM: And then you followed the franchise through since then?
Mark: Yeah, I mean, I did a few other films, Fast & Furious, I’ve done some big, Star Wars, Batman, those types of films in between. But I’ve been lucky enough to stay involved with the franchise. We did Skyfall. I basically was the baddy in Quantum of Solace, you know, chasing the cars down. Because it was a gravelly type scene, it’s just a rally driver, and that’s how I got the job.
MOM: So is driving in a Bond film the pinnacle of stunt driving?
Mark: Yeah, it’s easy for me to say that now because I’m very lucky enough to be involved in it, but yeah, I think everybody wants to be in a Bond film. Of all the films it’s got the kudos, it’s got the history, it’s very iconic, and wherever you go around the world everybody’s heard of a Bond film. I think when I watched my first Bond film with my dad, it was probably Moonraker or something, when I was a kid, to ever think I’d be in a movie, let alone actually driving the Bond cars, you have to pinch yourself, and it’s great to be involved in such a thing.
MOM: So if you weren’t driving the DB5, what’s your Bond car of choice?
Mark: Very difficult one to answer, because the most iconic Bond car is, of course, the DB5. And now we’ve got the modified one here, which is great to drive. I think, talking about Bond, another car that you associated, maybe the Lotus. The underwater Lotus was quite a cool car to be in. It might not be the best handling and the best one to actually drive and skid around, but it’s still a very iconic, cool Bond car.
MOM: So, is it hard to jump back into a regular car after filming, or is it a breath of fresh air?
Mark: Well, thankfully on set, we’d only get taken in a minibus, so we’re not diving down the roads quickly. It’s quite interesting with my rally background, you do a rally stage and then you drive on the road in between. So you’ve been going flat out through the trees at 120 miles an hour, to then go back into normal road regulations. But now it’s quite nice to be chauffeured around when you’ve done your bit.
MOM: How much training goes into stunts? Do you get multiple attempts or is it typically just one go at it?
Mark: We’ll do rehearsing. We rehearse with the cars to make sure they’re doing what we want them to do. We’ll sort of set out the scene of the location with cones and what have you, and then get all the other vehicles involved, so we do practise that. So when we go to shoot for the first time, we’re not wasting time at the venue because the venue is very expensive. It’s very time consuming for the cameras. And I would say nearly every scene we do, we might do it four, five, even ten times, because there are different angles they want to get from it. And the camera is often looking at something totally different than what we think they’re looking at.
When you do a scene with a big stunt in it, for example, depending on how big it is, you might do it once. Or if you’re lucky, twice, depending on if you’ve been blowing things up, how many spare items you’ve got to blow up. So it’s quite intense when you do a big scene like that, that you’ve got to get it right or it can be very expensive.
MOM: So what stunt excites you most in No Time To Die?
Mark: Well, my other passion is motorbikes. I’m not very good on two wheels, but I love bikes. Watching Paul Edmonson who jumped the bike off the tower, was quite a cool thing to do. I don’t think you ever get the impression of how sort of dangerous it actually was when you see it on film, we’ve seen it in the trailer, but when you actually looked over the wall at what he was jumping off of, it was quite special.
MOM: If you could only have one gadget or weapon added to the DB5, what would it be and why?
Mark: If it was a car I could take care of occasionally, it would probably be the ejector seat. I’m sure I could find many uses for that in certain scenarios. So yeah, I’d put the ejector seat in there. It’s not on this particular DB5. It was on the old school one, but that would be quite cool.
To witness Marks stunts for yourself, check out James Bond’s latest mission ‘No Time to Die’ in cinemas now.