Martin Campbell discusses Casino Royale’s “accurate” poker scenes

Jon Pill
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Posted on November 30, 2020 2:53 pm EST

It’s been fourteen years and some small-change since Casino Royale hit screens. To celebrate, Polygon tracked director Martin Campbell, and some of the crew to their lairs and asked them shooting the poker scenes.

Since Campbell last directed Bond he’d done a number of hi-octane action flicks. The two Antonio Banderas Zorro movies and Vertical Limit.

By the time we get to the game in Montenegro, Bond has parkoured across Kampala. He’s stormed an embassy. And he’s gone toe-to-toe at knifepoint with one terrorist, before hunting another to an explosive climax on the tarmac of Miami airport. How do you go from that to ten guys sat quietly around a table?

Campbell had previously directed a short baccarat scene for Bond in Goldeneye. But the amount of poker in the Casino Royale script was worrisome. And not just to him.

“It was difficult to think, how you keep the audience engaged in those card games. Everybody was terribly worried that people would be bored with it.” the editor, Stuart Baird said.

One of the tricks was shooting enormous amounts of coverage. Baird had worked on Maverick, where the director Richard Donner had filmed everything over and over from every angle.

He passed this on to Campbell who did the same. Stealing everything he could from other movies too. Like The Cincinnati Kid and 5 Card Stud.

Bond begins

By 2006, Paul Greengrass had taken over the Bourne franchise. Christopher Nolan had taken over Batman. The noughties was about grit. It was time for a reboot.

And who better to reboot bond for the 00s than the man who’d brought Bond into the post-Soviet world of the 90s: Martin Campbell.

Niel Purvis and Robert Wade had descended metaphorically into self-parody with Die Another Day, and literally into self-parody with Johnny English. The studio brought in Paul Haggis, still hot off Crash and Million Dollar Baby, was brought in to add some emotional depth to Purvis & Wade’s first direct adaptation from the novels.

They decided the movie had to be “grounded in reality” Campbell said. And the three big poker hands had to reflect that.

“I think the sequence was pretty convincing,” Campbell said.

The poker world quietly chuckled into their sleeves. The Casino Royale poker sequences, despite the best efforts of the onset consultants, are very much movie poker.

Casino Royale might not be the most accurate poker movie. But it is one of the best-loved.

“What you realize is, it’s not just the card games — it’s the stakes,”  Campell adds, explaining the appeal. “It’s also two guys eye-f***ing one another, basically. That was the secret.”

It is at this point that one remembers that the U.K. cut of the torture-scene had a line trimmed for being “too sexual”.

Craig, Daniel Craig

To sell the authenticity of the game as much as possible, the production hired Tom Sambrook, a reg at the Vic in London. He got the actors up to speed by having them play as much poker on set as possible (padding out his per diem in the process).

“We’d be playing games constantly between takes,” Sambrook said. “It got confusing, because I’d been trying to deal three or four different games with different people in it, and keep track of their stacks.”

Mads Mikkelson in particular took to the game, showing up every now and again on the tournament circuit for years afterward.

And how was Daniel Craig at poker? Baird says he was one of the winners. “I think Daniel Craig won,” he says. Though he might not be the most reliable source on poker skill as he admits he hates gambling and “lost after about 15 minutes.”

Featured image source: Twitter