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Meet the real-world Q behind the cars of No Time to Die

Roadshow logo Roadshow 10/8/2021 Antuan Goodwin
MGM/Universal Pictures © Provided by Roadshow MGM/Universal Pictures

Mr. "Bond, James Bond" is known for his sharp suits, signature drinks and iconic cars. With 007's latest cinematic adventure, No Time to Die, now arriving after months of delays, I dialed up the man responsible for building the Aston Martins and Land Rovers seen on screen -- not Q, but Neil Layton of Auto Action Developments and the action vehicles coordinator for the 25th Bond film -- for a spoiler-free chat.

© Pinewood Studios

Layton's story gets going in 1996, when he joined ProDrive, a motorsport and engineering group made famous globally for its work with the Subaru World Rally Team. There, he rubbed elbows with the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Mäkinen -- some of the greatest rally drivers of all time. Layton got involved with World Touring Cars and British Touring Cars before being approached by Ben Collins -- the man in the white racing suit they call The Stig, and Daniel Craig's precision driver during Quantum of Solace -- to build the Aston Martin DBS cars for the 22nd Bond film. Layton's gone on to work on Skyfall, Spectre and now No Time to Die. 

"My first film was a Bond movie, so you can say I was fortunate enough to get in at the top," Layton jokes.

MGM/Universal Pictures © Provided by Roadshow MGM/Universal Pictures

I asked Layton what an action vehicle coordinator does and how that's different from a stunt coordinator.

"My role as action vehicle coordinator is to work very, very closely with the stunt team," Layton explains. "They plan the chase or the stunt for the film, and then come to us and say 'we would like these vehicles to be able to do this, this and this.'"

Layton and his team then acquire and build the cars. He's had a hand on every vehicle you see on screen, whether it's rolling or parked and stationary. That often means working very closely with the automakers providing the vehicles for the film. In the case of No Time to Die, that means Jaguar Land Rover, Triumph and Aston Martin.

"For example, we built the DB5 hand-in-hand in collaboration with Aston Martin -- for many reasons, but the main one was the time scale," Layton said. "We had six months to create eight replica cars that had to look like a DB5, but had basically all the driving characteristics of a race car and [were] strong like a World Rallycross car."

The stunt vehicles have to be able to drive down stairs, do jumps and pull off drifts and handbrake turns. Layton explained that this was a massive engineering project tackled in close collaboration with Aston to work out what engines, differentials and gearboxes to use, and how to customize the suspension and steering setups required for each stunt. Meanwhile, the visual style and the bodywork needed to be perfected as well. 

MGM/Universal Pictures © Provided by Roadshow MGM/Universal Pictures

"You only ever see one DB5 in the film, but we actually had 10. We had two hero cars -- one was externally correct, one was internally correct," Layton pointed out. "Then we had two gadget cars, which were fully loaded with front and rear gadgets. We had two 'pod cars' that we could drive remotely." 

A pod car is a vehicle used for filming principal actors behind the wheel, which is driven remotely by a stunt driver -- usually in a roof-mounted pod just out of frame. Layton helped to develop the Gemini remote system used on those cars. It allows a stunt driver to control the steering, accelerator, brakes or handbrake of a vehicle -- "whether a boat, bus, a lorry or a car" -- remotely and even wirelessly from up to 500 meters away with calibrated force feedback. If they wanted to, the team could remotely drive a stunt car outfitted with Gemini around the curves of a mountain and then drift it off a cliff, totally destroying the car for a single pristine shot. For Bond 25, however, it was only used with a stunt driver on top.

"Then we had four stunt cars there, not only as backup insurance for if a stunt was to go wrong, but we also have to keep continuity of the body damage," Layton points out, getting back to his fleet of DB5s. "We don't actually shoot in order as the damage occurs in the film. Sometimes, we'll start off with the damage and then, by the time you've finished your filming, you're back to a pristine, clean car. So another challenge is the logistics and the amount of spares that we have to carry at any one time." 

MGM/Universal Pictures © Provided by Roadshow MGM/Universal Pictures

Layton continues, "So that that in itself is a huge, massive project. And that's just one of many. We also have the KTM and Triumph motorcycles doing jumps and the offroad stuff. And then we were, obviously, also into the Defenders."

Those Defenders proved to be particularly tricky because, at the time of filming, the new Defender had not yet debuted. So Layton and his team had to work in total secrecy.

"We had the first eight cars ever to come off the production line, so we were under an embargo where we couldn't divulge any information on the car. We weren't allowed any photographs; we didn't have any CAD drawings. But we had to design and develop roll cages and safety systems that we could take into Jaguar Land Rover and fit to the vehicles there," says Layton. "We weren't even allowed to have the vehicles taken off site and brought into our secure location here at Auto Action Developments."

Land Rover Defender V8 Bond Edition celebrates the release of No Time to Die

a person driving a car: In celebration of its role in the 25th James Bond film, Land Rover SV Bespoke has debuted the Defender V8 Bond Edition.

In celebration of its role in the 25th James Bond film, Land Rover SV Bespoke has debuted the Defender V8 Bond Edition.
© Provided by Roadshow

The job doesn't stop when the car's built. An action vehicle coordinator also has to support the stunt team at the test track during the planning phases and, more importantly, on set during filming. 

"If we were to look at the opening scene with the Aston Martin, for example: We're in Matera, Italy -- which is a city that's near on 3,000 years old -- and the surface conditions of the road would change during the day. If the wind blew up, then fine particles of dust would layer on the sandstone tiles or the flagstones that were out there. During the course of the day, one minute you would have traction and then next minute you would have nothing. So, to keep the cars dialed in, we were [adjusting] tire compounds, tire pressures and the dampers. We also used a famous soft drink that we sprayed on the road to add adhesion for the motorbikes and the cars giving chase."

I always assumed that stunt vehicles are treated pretty rough and that few survive production, but it turns out that proper planning and execution means that's not necessarily the case. I asked Layton how many of the various Astons and Land Rovers built actually survived production and was surprised what I learned.

Replay Video

"All of the cars, both Land Rover Defenders and Aston Martins, survived, so there were no actual total losses other than the [Range Rover] SVRs that give chase when Bond's in his Toyota. He sends one up a rock face, which pirouettes it. We did two takes on that and those two vehicles were the only total losses."

"The vehicles get prepped and then we test them, obviously, not just to fulfill that one stunt, but we take it beyond so that we know that we can keep repeating and repeating and repeating," Layton continues. 

MGM/Universal Pictures © Provided by Roadshow MGM/Universal Pictures

"Every stunt that you see in the film was done for real, there are no visual effects. So, it wasn't CGI; it wasn't a VFX edit. The Defender actually jumps the length of three double-deckers through the air. Likewise, the Aston Martin drifting at speed dynamically through the streets of Matera -- all of that is all done for real. The motorcycle jump, Bond shooting… it was all done for real, and there was no there was no CGI to create the stunts."

No Time to Die, starring Daniel Craig, opens in theaters in the US on Oct. 8.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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