‘Casino Royale’ Writer Paul Haggis Talks Next 007 Flick: ‘My Bond Is Different’

'I try to ground him in realism,' he says of his slightly more super-spy.

BEVERLY HILLS, California — When last we saw 007, he was dealing with a dead girlfriend, a bruised ego and the bullet he had just placed in the leg of the mysterious Mr. White.

On November 7, 2008, James Bond will pick up the action once again — that is, if Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis can ever finish the script.

“I’m on page 20,” grinned the affable mastermind behind not only “Casino Royale,” but such Oscar-baiting flicks as “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.” “I’ll let you know [more] when I get to page 100, and hopefully by page 110 I’ll be finished.”

Having found a second wind after the universal acceptance of both Daniel Craig and Haggis’ brutal, more realistic relaunch of the character, the writer revealed that he’s attacking the script for the 22nd Bond film — which doesn’t yet have a title — with certain thoughts in mind.

“I really loved [Ian Fleming's] books, and I really loved those movies, the ones that were really true to his books,” Haggis said of the beloved author. “[The new script] is an odd mix between his stuff and [English espionage writer John] le Carré’s stuff that I’m channeling; I’m mixing them both up”(see “Can James Bond Be Saved By ‘Crash’ Creator?” ).

Haggis confirmed that the new flick will pick up at the palatial estate on Italy’s Lake Como that belongs to Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), where we’ll continue to watch 007 display his effective interrogation techniques on the wounded associate of the late Vesper Lynd. “Two minutes after ['Casino Royale'] — boom — we’re into this movie,” Haggis explained. “That’s where we pick it up” (see” ‘Casino Royale’: Re-Bonded, By Kurt Loder” ).

A lifelong Bond fan, Haggis also expressed excitement over the boundary-breaking selection of “Finding Neverland” helmer Marc Forster as director — a marked departure from the journeymen typically employed on past 007 films. “He got my vote when they were looking for a director,” Haggis said. “He’s been terrific to work with, and he’s a great visualist. He’s leaving me alone to do the story, and I think he’s gonna shoot a hell of a movie.”

The writer, whose gripping drama “In the Valley of Elah” is already building Oscar buzz for this winter’s ceremonies, added that his script will further explore the notion of a more human, flawed super-agent. “Bond is just pure imagination, you just get to have fun,” he said of the difference between writing “Royale” and something like “Crash.” “But some things are similar — you see, my Bond is different than all the other Bonds. But my Bond is an actual assassin; when he kills somebody, he does it with a knife, and it’s bloody, and he pays a price. He denies that he has to pay a price, but he does.”

“When he sees a woman who has just witnessed something horrific and she’s sitting in the shower, he just doesn’t go in and [have sex with] her like the old Bond would’ve done,” Haggis laughed. “He sits there with her, and she says, ‘I can’t get the blood out from under my fingernails!’ and so he helps her get the blood out. That’s my Bond, a different Bond, who’s much more like [my usual] guys, these heroes. Yes, it’s escapism and it’s fun. But I try to ground him in realism.”

As such, Haggis considered walking away from the Bond franchise after “Royale,” thinking he’d better get out while such realism was successful and before the temptation to put Bond in invisible cars (à la “Die Another Day”) kicked in. “That’s why I was really worried about doing the second one. I didn’t think I could do as good a job,” admitted Haggis, who did reportedly turn down an offer to direct the flick. “But they talked me into [writing] it, and I’m back to try and do the best I can.”

As far as additional revelations go, Haggis did admit that he recently suggested a title to the series producers (“I said, ‘I think this is going to be a good title,’ and they said, ‘Um-hmm.’ “), that he’d like to bring back Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter (“Wasn’t he great? Yeah. I would really hope that he’d be in this one”), and that he won’t say whether gadget-guru Q will re-emerge after a “Royale” absence.

“I’m not supposed to talk about anything, but I can tell you this: Everybody says they know where the ending is, and they’re wrong,” Haggis teased, in response to reports of some early filming at a horse track in Siena, Italy. “Everybody knows about the Bond girls, and they’re wrong.”

Asked specifically about rumored “Black Blook” actress Carice van Houten, Haggis replied, “Who’s that? Oh, no, she’s not going to be in this movie.”

Finally, we asked Haggis what his favorite Bond film of all-time was — a question that, in retrospect, seems like as much of a no-brainer as asking Bond how he’d like his martini. ” ‘Casino Royale,’ ” Haggis laughed. “Of course!”

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