Whenever the future of James Bond is discussed en masse, the conversation inevitably turns towards questions of representation.
As much as the forthcoming installment has been plagued by technical inconveniences (early on director Danny Boyle left the film in Cary Fukunaga’s hands, and then the lead actor sustained a handful of injuries on set while filming), and the discussion surrounding Bond’s race and gender has been an ongoing conversation amongst fans and critics and even Bond girls themselves, it is the addition of a script doctor that seems to be sparking the most debate lately.
When news that Phoebe Waller-Bridge had been hired to punch up the script for the 25th 007 installment, titled No Time to Die, fans of the writer’s series Fleabag and Killing Eve knew that her particularly sharp brand of humor could bring some much-needed laughs to the no-frills action franchise. While Waller-Bridge might not have control over whether or not the lead actor sprains his ankle during an action scene, she could at least use her wit to rescue the film from becoming a dry, boring mess.
And when the question of Waller-Bridge’s inclusion as a script doctor for No Time to Die came up in an interview with Daniel Craig and The Sunday Times, it was her gender that sparked a debate between the actor and the publication.
The interviewer asked Craig if the fact that Waller-Bridge is a woman was the reason behind her participation of the project, and if the studio was trying to push James Bond into a more inclusive dynamic and era. “Look, we’re having a conversation about Phoebe’s gender here, which is fucking ridiculous. She’s a great writer. Why shouldn’t we get Phoebe onto Bond?” he posed. In other words, Waller-Bridge was not simply hired to fill some sort of diversity quotient for the studio or the set. “I know where you’re going, but I don’t actually want to have that conversation,” Craig continued, implying that Waller-Bridge’s addition to the project was the effect of some sort of gender-blind hiring decision. “I know what you’re trying to do, but it’s wrong. It’s absolutely wrong. She’s a fucking great writer. One of the best English writers around. I said, ‘Can we get her on the film?’ That’s where I came from,” he continued. “She’s just brilliant. I had my eye on her ever since the first Fleabag, and then I saw Killing Eve and what she did with that and just wanted her voice. It is so unique—we are very privileged to have her on board.”
The relationship this particular special agent character has had with gender and masculinity has been fraught since its inception, but earlier this year, Waller-Bridge spoke to Deadline about whether or not Bond needs to be a feminist as we move towards an era in which his chauvinistic tendencies will not stand. “There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not [the Bond franchise] is relevant now because of who he is and the way he treats women,” she said, before adding, “I think that’s bollocks. I think he’s absolutely relevant now.”
We keep having this discussion about whether or not James Bond—the franchise—hates women, or at least actively treats female characters poorly, but Waller-Bridge insists that the upcoming film itself will not. James Bond, the character, on the other hand? Well, she has a perspective that may not be shared by all: “It has just got to grow. It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly. He doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to this character.”
And though Craig didn’t mention it in his Times interview, women have always been involved with the filmic creation of James Bond. Script doctors have long been involved in the filmmaking process for movies like the James Bond franchise and many of them have been women. Carrie Fisher, for example, polished the scripts for Sister Act and The Wedding Singer, and Elaine May punched up Tootsie. In fact, Johanna Harwood co-wrote Dr. No and From Russia with Love, and was uncredited for her work on the script of a third Bond film.
Should James Bond become more of a feminist? Is the concept of a Bond girl a sexist trope at its core? Can James Bond be a woman? Those are all questions that fans and critics of the series have been asking since the first film premiered in 1962, and it seems that no one can come up with a solid answer. But at least we finally sort of have an answer to the last one: in this new film, Craig is still James Bond, but the introduction of Lashana Lynch as the new 007—not the new James Bond, just the new special agent who will succeed him with that same code name—will likely throw another wrench in the franchise’s plans for the future, and how the films address the issue of gender inequity. But we can rest assured that the film will probably be in good hands, at least, if Waller-Bridge is involved.