James Bond Countdown: The Return of Q, Plus: Meet the Real-Life Man Who Inspired the Character

James Bond Countdown: The Return of Q, Plus: Meet the Real-Life Man Who Inspired the Character

Jul 18, 2012

During the unveiling of a new trailer for Skyfall at San Diego's Comic-Con, attendees got the first look at a new Q, now played by Bright Star and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer actor Ben Whishaw. The 31 year old is the youngest star to appear in the role — a part that didn’t feature in any of Daniel Craig's previous Bond films. "It's a bold decision as it means Q will be younger than Bond for the first time. His role will be very different from previous Qs. He'll be far more serious, as is the trend with the new films," a source told The Sun

The famed armorer first appeared in Ian Fleming's novel Dr. No as Major Boothroyd, later identified simply as Q — a shortened version of "Quartermaster." Desmond Llewellyn, who first appeared in 1963's From Russia with Love, most famously played the character. The role lasted the Welsh actor 36 years, but came to an end after Llewellyn died in a car accident in 1999, just weeks after the release of The World Is Not Enough.
 
"There can be forever many Bonds, but only one Q," Brosnan said of Llewellyn's passing. "I've lost a great friend, someone who I will miss dearly, someone easy to cry for. And I think the whole world will feel the same. He was a gentle gentleman, this lovely man. He went the way he would have liked, sitting at the controls."
 
John Cleese took over the part of Q starting with Pierce Brosnan's last turn as Bond in Die Another Day. After the franchise was rebooted in 2006 with Casino Royale, Q was absent and so were the gadgets. It was an attempt to keep Craig's Bond grounded in a darker, grittier, realistic universe, minus the comic relief often provided by the character's jabbing repartee with the British agent. In that way, he matched Fleming's Bond who normally relied on his wits and not Q's invented frills.
 
Movies.com Managing Editor Erik Davis wrote briefly about Whishaw's Q in his Skyfall Comic-Con report last week. So far, the new Q comes across as "a young nerdy kid who can do more damage with his laptop than Bond can do with his gun and fists. The brief exchanges in the trailer between Bond and Q bring a much-welcomed bit of humor to the Daniel Craig Bond movies, and it was definitely fun to watch." As Slashfilm's Russ Fischer put it, "it seems that Whishaw’s Q is modeled in some fashion after the Simon Pegg character in the Mission: Impossible films, if not quite with the same saturation of overt humor." We like the way that sounds and look forward to seeing how filmmakers continue to reinvent the essential character.
 

Meet the Real-Life Q

 

Although Desmond Llewellyn made Bond's armorer Q famous, the character was first played by English actor Peter Burton in 007's screen debut Dr. No back in 1962. Q only appeared in one scene, where he swapped the agent's Beretta pistol — a gun that Fleming had carried during the war (the .25ACP) — with Bond's signature Walther PPK handgun. The same exchange happened in Ian Fleming's novel of the same name — the sixth book in the series. It was a move influenced by a friendly and informative correspondance with a British firearms expert, author, and Bond enthusiast named Geoffrey Boothroyd. In 1956, Fleming received a letter from Boothroyd that enthusiastically complimented the author, but pointedly criticized him for arming 007 with an unlikely weapon:
 
"I have, by now, got rather fond of Mr. James Bond. I like most of the things about him, with the exception of his rather deplorable taste in firearms. In particular, I dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady's gun, and not a really nice lady at that. If Mr. Bond has to use a light gun he would be better off with a .22 rim fire; the lead bullet would cause more shocking effect than the jacketed type of the .25. May I suggest that Mr. Bond be armed with a revolver?"
 
Fleming was entirely grateful for Boothroyd's advice:
 
"You have entirely convinced me and I propose, perhaps not in the next volume of James Bond's memoirs but, in the subsequent one, to change his weapons in accordance with your instructions. Since I am not in the habit of stealing another man's expertise, I shall ask you in due course to accept remuneration for your most valuable technical aid."
 
Part of that repayment involved the creation of a Major Boothroyd, aka Q, in Fleming's novel — a literary homage that eventually became an iconic cinematic character. Bond had mentioned "Q Branch" and "Q" in his earlier written works, but had yet to personify the weapons expert. 
 
In the above video, Sean Connery introduces the real Boothroyd, who shares his story about Fleming and demonstrates the pros and cons of Bond's Beretta and Walther PPK. We already know Bond preferred to carry his weapon concealed in a flat chamois leather holster so it didn't "spoil the line of [his] jacket," which Connery reminds us. A fantastic, custom-fit, blue suede version of the holster appears during the deadly bathroom fight scene in Goldfinger.
 
Boothroyd shows us why he prefers a belt holster for fast draw action, since the soft leather can get caught on the gun when removing it. He also demonstrates the stopping power of each gun, proving that the Beretta creates a small, precise hole, while the Walther is preferred for its rapid first shot — an essential for a secret agent. Although the PPK does more damage to its target, Boothroyd would have rather seen Bond carry a .44 Magnum, which he calls a "man-sized gun." The long barreled weapon did appear in 1973's Live and Let Die during the rescue of Solitaire (Jane Seymour). In the 1959 novel version of Goldfinger, Bond did keep a Long Barrel Colt .45 in a secret compartment under his Aston Martin's driver's seat.
 
The video is a nice piece of nostalgia and a fun reminder of Connery's distinctive Scottish burr.
 

Bond at Comic-Con and Skyfall Trailer Reactions

Our own Erik Davis spoke highly of the trailer and the IMAX experience. Read his full report.

 

Ain't It Cool's Quint thought the trailer captured the "epic adventure, the cool spy angle, the giant set pieces and the charming banter" of the Bond series.
 
 
Slashfilm's Russ Fischer said Skyfall's action looks "big and thrilling, and the effect of the trailer in a general sense was electric."
 
 
Total Film's George Wales called the preview "suitably spectacular."
 
Bleeding Cool, Cinema Blend, and Screen Crush also had great things to say. 
 
Head to the official James Bond Facebook page to see photos from Comic-Con, including several of the vehicles fans snapped photos with on display. Mini Captain America is posing with the custom-built Jaguar XKR, used by the villain Zao in Die Another Day. The XKR boasts an automatic Gatling gun mounted on back, with battering rams and rockets mounted on the front grill.
 
 
 
What if Christopher Nolan Directed a James Bond Film?

This weekend marks the Dark Knight's return to theaters, with Christopher Nolan's final chapter in his Batman series releasing on July 20. Skyfall's trailer is rumored to appear before the film. 

Not too long ago, the director chatted about his love for James Bond during the press rounds for his mind-bending actioner Inception. "I’ve loved the Bond films since I was a kid. For me, they’re always about the expansiveness of cinema. The first Bond films set up infinite possibilities about the world they create. I’d love to do a Bond film," he said. One fan imagined Nolan's version of Bond in this trailer, featuring Michael Fassbender as 007. It's a choice we hadn't considered before, but just might work — that is, if Craig doesn't stick around for a total of eight films as was previously reported. See what you make of the actor and director makeover in the clip below.

If you'd like to do more Bond roleplaying, check out this trailer of Twilight's Rob Pattinson as Bond. The Cosmopolis star recently said he's not quite ready to take on the role of the MI6 agent. "Yeah, I’d definitely like to go for Bond, but in more like 20 years. There’d be nothing worse than, like, 'Let’s get a fresh-faced Bond!' That would be the worst idea in the world. It would be ridiculous to reinvent it as some young posh kid."

 

There are 99 days until the London premiere of Skyfall on October 26, 2012 — commemorating the franchise's 50th anniversary. The Sam Mendes-directed film opens in the U.S. on November 9 and finds Daniel Craig returning to the role of James Bond. The movie also stars a villainous Javier Bardem and new Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe. Catch up with previous James Bond Countdown columns over here.

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