Does it feel like a big responsibility, taking over from Desmond Llewelyn as Q?
Yes it does, and I think it was incredibly helpful that I'd done the previous movie ["The World is Not Enough"] as R, because when I walked onto the set at Pinewood I felt reasonably familiar with the environment and faces. I can't tell you how scary it can be walking onto a movie and suddenly joining this family, it's like going to somebody else's Christmas dinner, everyone knows everyone, and you're there and you're not quite sure what you're supposed to be doing.
It was also hugely helpful that I established contact with the writers and we'd been sending bits of script and odd suggestions and comments backwards and forwards over fax machines, with the result that when I sat down for lunch with them and Barbara Broccoli, before I went on set, there was a real feeling we were all comfortable with it.
Does the role of Q confer on you a perception of competence about all things technological?
Yes, I'm afraid it does. But then acting is all about faking. We're all very good at faking things that we have no competence with. Technology frightens me to death. It's designed by engineers to impress other engineers, and they always come with instruction booklets that are written by engineers for other engineers - which is why almost no technology ever works.
Were there any aspects of Desmond Llewelyn's Q that you wanted to carry over?
All of them. I could see no reason to change it at all. I wasn't sure what the writers were going to do with it. When the script arrived, I picked it up and it felt right. I tend to have an odd split in my mind: I tend to look at it as a writer and when the writing thing is OK and I'm happy with it, then I put on my actor's hat. To give you an idea of how strangely split I am, when I wrote the 'upside down' scene in "A Fish Called Wanda", it was only after I was happy with the scene that I thought, "My God, I'm going to have to do this." So once I came to look at it as an actor, I thought, Why would I change the basic relationship Q has with Bond? I could think of no reason to do so.
What do you get out of being in these films?
A very good daily rate! And a lot of nice people helping to get it right. And that's an accurate answer. It sounds flippant, but it's a very, very nice job.
Were you a fan of Bond when you started acting?
Yeah, and I used to read the novels, too. We all had fantasies about being Bond, but that was real life Bond, if you know what I mean. It's strange, when I look back, even when I was young I was aware that there was a group of English actors who seemed to crop up in smallish and very nice parts in films and they were people like David Tomlinson and Wilfrid Hyde-White and Robert Morley, and I thought, "There's a very nice living to be made doing that." It's funny, ambling from project to project, but we need to eat and it's an extraordinarily nice way of doing it, it's so much better than being down a mine.
Through your career you've shown a fine-tuned sense of the ridiculous. You must have a list of things you find ridiculous about the Bond movies...
Mainly the titles. I can never remember the titles. I always have to stop and think, What the hell? I mean the early ones were easy, "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love", but now you've got things like "Don't Ever Die Tomorrow"... I think I've got two complaints: one is the titles, the other is the plots. The plots are so incomprehensible. I mean, can you ever follow the plot?