No, Daniel Craig did not do all his stunts. On Spectre, a professional car stunt team choreographed every corner and drift and jump. British-born ex-rally driver Mark Higgins drove the Aston Martin DB10 in Spectre‘s night-time chase scenes in the heart of Rome, which end in a massive jump into the Tiber river.
To celebrate the launch of the latest Bond movie on Blu-ray, we sat down to talk with Mark about his career, how he got into movie stunt work, and how involved he is in both the setup of the stunt cars and the filming process itself.
How did you end up being the guy behind the wheel of an Aston Martin on a James Bond movie?
“I’ve been driving for 25 years. My main job was a rally driver, though I still rally now — that started back in 1990, we won a few British rally championships, and we’ve done the world championship, rallied in Australia and so on.
“I first got involved in the film industry on Quantum of Solace back in 2008 — this is my third Bond now, and to think my first film would be a Bond film is pretty amazing. It came about through a friend of mine, the old Stig, Ben Collins — he was working on it, and he said they wanted a rally driver to do the shot coming down the quarry — so I was the baddie in the Alfa Romeo in that.
“I was Naomi in Skyfall, driving the [Land Rover] Defender, we’ve done Fast and Furious 6 and some other movies, now James Bond for a few weeks. And now with Spectre, basically everything with the DB10 is what I was involved in. I was also out in Sölden, we did a bit out on the snow for about six weeks. My main thing was the preparation for Rome, and everything with Aston Martin and the DB10.”
How involved were you in the setup of the Aston Martin DB10 for the stunts in Spectre?
“There can be a lot of hanging around in this job, but the nice thing about Rome was that there were only two cars in the shot the whole time, so every night we were flat-out driving — I’d rather be driving than sitting around.”
“Quite a lot went into the car — I think we started working back in October. We had a Vantage, which is a very similar chassis to the DB10; the DB10 was built in a very short time, because Sam Mendes saw the drawings and said “I want that car.” And in a couple of weeks, I don’t know how many weeks it was, we built this beautiful DB10. We widened it up, and we did a lot of jump testing, and we simulated what the car would be doing.”
“We took the car to a rough cobbled road and would pound it to make sure that they didn’t break; we couldn’t have the cars break on set — and we didn’t, every one of them came back. I’m actually glad I drove it before they told me what they got for it at auction, because it sold for about 2.4 million pounds.
“The pod cars are really strange — they have a power steering system like a boat, so you turn and you can do nearly a quarter of a turn before anything happens. And there’s no central steering point, and no steering feel, so you can’t really tell what’s happening apart from the direction you’re going. The brake feel is the same, but the centre of gravity is really weird. It’s like a computer game, but a really bad one. That’s really hard to get set up right for stunt driving, especially with the star inside the car.”
What was it like jumping between different cars, on different road surfaces, on a daily basis?
“There were 10 in total, we were involved with 10 in total. There were two pod cars, which we drive from the roof, there were two stunt cars with hydraulic handbrakes, roll cages, rally seats, stiffer suspension — made for a bit of the showy stuff. We also had two gadget cars, with the flamethrower and machineguns which were activated by me, and two hero cars with the full interior and as you’d see the cars in the film.”
“I think the rallying definitely helped — you’re not just on one surface all the time, you’re always looking for the unexpected, conditions are changing all the time and what have you. You do as much rehearsing as you can, but driving’s not actually the most difficult part of it — it’s driving to what the cameras want to see. I might think “oh, that looked great”, but if it’s not part of the story.
“Sometimes you can’t see a thing in the car; with all of the cameras set up, your vision is restricted here and there and everywhere. When you start putting all this extra weight on the car, the weight distribution and handling changes as well. So I think that’s where the rallying has been especially useful — it helps you adapt to different scenarios quite quickly.”
“We had winter tyres to use, which had a bit more give in them, and the suspension was quite soft so that had more give in it — the biggest problem that we had was that we did everything through the night, so sometimes the humidity was quite high and we’d have dew on the cobbles. It was important to spin the tyres up before you did a run, because if you didn’t — the first time you lit it up sideways, with a big V8, you were going properly sideways.”
007’s latest mission is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital.