Daniel Craig's Stunt Driver Reveals The Secrets Behind James Bond's 'No Time To Die' Car Chases
If there’s one Bond-related job title that can even trump Daniel Craig’s, it surely has to be his stunt driver. For No Time To Die that man is Mark Higgins, an affable former professional rally driver who has worked on each of the previous four Bonds and is currently filming The Batman with Robert Pattinson.
If you’ve seen the No Time To Die trailer, it was Higgins behind the wheel of the classic Aston Martin DB5 during a high speed chase through the Italian village of Matera, including the memorable closing ‘donut’ scene, where the car’s in-built machine guns go to work as it slides round a tight circle of bad guys - a move for which Higgins generously gives Daniel Craig half the credit.
We chatted to him about life as James Bond’s driving seat alter ego.
So how did you go from car racing to films?
It came about through Ben Collins, the former Stig, who was involved in Quantum of Solace. They wanted a rally driver for the quarry scene so he gave me a shout. And so my first ever film was a Bond film. Straight to the top. In Quantum I was the baddie chasing Bond in the Alfa Romeo. Then I was Moneypenny in the Land Rover Defender in Skyfall. Then I drove the DB10 in Spectre as Bond and now (Daniel Craig’s) DB5 in No Time To Die.
You drive the ‘stunt’ Aston Martin DB5 in No Time To Die - a modified, modern recreation which was built from scratch by the Aston Special Ops team for this film. How was it to work with?
A real pleasure. Nowadays, we fight so much with manufacturers to get cars where we can turn everything off. When all the electronics are still on, it's very hard to slide them around, whereas this car was built specifically with no driver aids at all. And we could do what we wanted straightaway. They’ve done a great job.
Just how fast and on the limit did you need to drive these stunt DB5s during filming?
Everything we've done is for real. I think a lot of these films are going away from CGI and trying to make it as real as possible. The environment we were driving in was very, very restricted and very, very tight. So it's a difficult place to work in. To try to do that in the original car, you've got reliability and repeatability factors to look into - if the car will do it every time. And that's why went for a newer car.
Also, it (the stunt version) is not worth £1.5 million (like the original). Which is obviously a concern every time you drive it towards a wall.
How might the original car have fared on a modern Bond shoot?
Unfortunately, back in the 60s, it may have worked a couple of times, but then you'd be repairing all day and that’s an expensive job with everyone (on set) hanging around. On No Time To Die we might do one shot 10 or 15 times. I might be driving down steps so it has to have modern suspension. The car was built to the chase. The director had come up with the chase sequence. And the stunt coordinator then liaises with Aston Martin who come up with what they need to build. And then we eventually test it and shoot the film with it.
In No Time To Die, you are the stunt driver specifically for James Bond. What were your main scenes?
From the trailer you can see there's quite a big chase through the streets of Matera, which is all on cobbles. So very restricted on grip. Very, very narrow. Some bikes involved, some other cars chasing us.
What were the biggest challenges for creating this chase?
Well for our team, the grip levels. We knew we could never have driven around Matera if we had any rain whatsoever because the road surface is like ice. So one of the things we did to get over this - and it was originally more so for the bikes - was actually spray Coca Cola on the road. We’d do that in the morning when the sun came up, and let it dry for about 20 minutes. It increased the grip level maybe two- or three-fold.
Is that a tried and tested technique?
I’d never used it before and I might use it on every race circuit I go round from now on! The difference is unbelievable. If you look at the trailer, you see a drift the DB5 does in the first part and it leaves a big black line. That's for real - that's the grip it's got on the actual surface, it's not CGI. And that’s after the Coca-Cola.
Stunt driving on a James Bond film also involves something called ‘Pod’ driving. Tell us how that works.
I didn't do so much of the pod work on this particular one. But yeah, we all get involved in the pod. It basically allows us to drive the car from the roof. We've had pods that have been on the side of the car, or in the back of the car too but it's just a remote way of driving the vehicle that allows Daniel and the actors to concentrate on what they have to do inside the car without worrying about driving.
What does that feel like?
Horrible. It’s really, really strange, Your centre of gravity (is off), you feel like you’re going to roll over. We’re still driving it quick but within reason. Safety is paramount as we have some pretty valuable guests.
How does Daniel Craig generally feel about the driving scenes?
He’s great. He was really chilled on this one. It was my fourth film with him and he’s been great to work with. I’m really sad to see him go to be honest. In my eyes he’s probably the best Bond. And yeah, he enjoys driving when he can and when he’s not doing his other stuff. He’s a fantastic actor so thankfully he lets me do the driving and I let him do the acting so we’ve got a bit of a deal.
Before you did this job, were you a Bond fan?
Oh yeah, you have to pinch yourself sometimes. To watch Bond and then for it to be my first ever film and now to be driving the Bond car, it’s pretty amazing really. Sliding a DB5 around, a very iconic car, and to do that as Bond is pretty cool.
How do you feel about watching the finished films?
Excited and sometimes disappointed too because you know some of the cool bits you’ve done, but the editor maybe hasn’t seen that or doesn't want that. And then you come to what you thought was going to be a 10 minute chase which turns out to be a couple of minutes, or they don't use it, so it's trying to understand how it all works. And just doing as you’re told really.
Apart from driving skills, what are the attributes that make a good stunt driver?
For me, the driving is the easy part because that becomes very natural so it's working as a team. Whenever you go out in the film world, you're learning something all the time. Also being very spatially aware of what's going on around you. It could be a very easy slide that we do in rehearsals but on shooting day you've got 50 people around, live animals coming through and camera rigs which totally transform the balance of the car.
What’s been the highlight so far?
I think driving sideways past the Vatican at 90 miles an hour in the DB10 (in Spectre) was pretty special. All that stuff down the Tiber. We get to do things that are just so very illegal in the normal world, but you can actually do in a controlled environment.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.