Brigitte Millar is an award-winning actress known to James Bond fans as Dr. Vogel in ‘Spectre’ and ‘No Time to Die’ (click here to watch Brigitte Millar in ‘Spectre’). Find more on her website: www.brigittemillar.com.
Piotr Zajac (bondlocations): Thank you very much that you agreed to meet and talk about your performances in James Bond movies. At first I would like to ask how you became an actress. As far as I know it is rather unusual story.
Brigitte Millar: When I did my A-Levels in Germany I was considering studying fine arts, but my parents didn’t want to hear about that. They thought that I wouldn’t be able to earn a living. I studied languages and then I was working as translator. After a short while, I found that office work was not very interesting. I was actually quite unhappy, because it was so unfulfilling. I eventually retrained and worked in the fitness industry as a fitness instructor at first and then as a fitness manager. Then I was made redundant from my job because the whole company was restructured. My brother said: ‘It is your chance to do something artistic’. I wanted to do a dance course, but it was fully booked. But there were spaces available on an acting course, so my brother said: ‘Why don’t you do this acting course’? At first, I wasn’t keen on it as I didn’t want to do any acting, I wanted the dance. In the end I did the acting and I loved it very much. The rest as they say is history….
It was a long way for you to become an actress. Can you say now that your dream came true?
Coming to acting was a real life saver for me because I had a real midlife crisis and I didn’t know what to do.
I guess that your experience from fitness industry could help you on set of ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ when you had to fly.
Yes, on a broomstick. The broomstick was mounted on a crane. It could move up and down, sideways and swing around. It was quite high up and it was really scary at first. Once I was up there and learned how to fly, it was a lot of fun. There was a tennis ball in front of me as a focal point that I had to follow with my eyes.
You played in the last two Bond films. How did you get the role in ‘Spectre’?
My agent submitted me to Debbie McWilliams, who is the casting director for Bond. I got a little speech in English that I had to learn for the audition. It had nothing to do with Bond. I came to the CDs office and did the speech. Then she said: ‘You are far too beautiful to be a villainess. Go to the bathroom and wipe off all your makeup.’ So I went to the bathroom to wipe off my makeup and did the speech again. I think that I really got into it. I enjoyed it so much and it must have come across, so they offered me the role.
Am I right saying that you are James Bond fan?
I’ve been watching Bond movies since I was a little girl.
Does it mean that as James Bond fan you wanted to be a part of the franchise so you asked your agent to submit you for a role in the movie?
No. He just submitted me for the role, because Dr. Vogel is a German scientist and I am German and speak German obviously. I was suitable for the role. I was also in the right age bracket.
So it was not on your request?
No. He did it by himself before telling me.
So it was nice surprise for you.
Yes, a very nice surprise.
Were you very nervous during that addition because it was for Bond movie?
Yes, I was a little nervous. I felt confident in the speech and I knew what I was going to do. I’m usually much more nervous afterwards, because then comes the waiting.
How long did you have to wait?
I think it was about 10 to 12 days.
Was the audition before they have started filming or was it during filming already?
They were already filming.
How much time has passed between your addition and your appearance on the set?
I think the audition was in January and we were filming in February.
Were you working on the set at Pinewood Studios?
Yes, we were filming a lot at Pinewood Studios, but we were also in Rome for the funeral scene.
How much time did you spend in Rome?
I think it was 4 or 5 days. We were filming for 2 days.
At Pinewood Studios you were filming the sequence in Palazzo Cardenza. I saw photos of the set. It looked amazing.
Yes, it was a hudge set.
You were speaking German. Is it right that it was first written in English?
Yes. I got it in English first. They asked me if I wanted to translate it myself. Of course I wanted to translate it myself. Writing my own nouns. (smiling)
So your speech was based only on what was in the script?
I translated it and changed the sentences a little bit to fit them to the character. There were very long sentences in the script. I just chopped them up a little bit to make them shorter and more precise because Dr. Vogel is a scientist. She is a woman in a room full of men so she wants to make it short to get everybody’s attention and to dominate the whole scene, to show her power. (smiling)
Did you look for an inspiration in old James Bond movies?
Yes, mainly on Rosa Klebb and Irma Bunt. They were my role models. I imagined myself to be the ‘niece’ or the ‘cousin’ of Rosa Klebb and Irma Bunt. A younger and more modern version of those two ladies.
Did you get detailed directions from the film director Sam Mendes how to play Dr. Vogel?
He only gave me one note. He said that when Oberhauser comes in, Dr. Vogel starts to feel really nervous, but then she gets more confident and continues the speech.
How long were you filming the sequence?
I was on set for about 7 days.
How long were the shooting days?
The days were very long. I‘d usually get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and read and rehearse my lines. The driver was to pick me up at about 5-5.30 a.m and I was on set by 6.30-7 a.m. One day, I was in my trailer taking off my costume. It was around 9 p.m. already. Somebody knocked on my door and said: Brigitte, you can’t take off your costume just yet. We need you to come back on set, because we had a technical problem with the camera. We need to do the scene again’. So I had to go back on set and do the speech 3 more times. It took roughly 45 minutes. There were around 100 extras around the table. They also had to be on the set very early and must have been so fed up and so tired. Naturally, they wanted to go home as soon as possible. I’m sure they were all thinking: ‘How long is this gonna take. I hope she’s not gonna fluff her lines and we have to do it over and over again.’ I did the speech flawlessly without any mistakes at all. By 10 o’clock we were all allowed to go home. I was at home about midnight and at 4 a.m. I had to get up again for the next day of filming. I had to do that speech everyday, because Daniel Craig likes to do 12-15 takes per day. I’ve done that speech for 5 days, so I must have done the speech more than 50 times. Eventually it feels like groundhog day, because in your brain nothing moves forward, you do the same thing over and over and over again. (smiling..)
Did you feel the pressure when you were acting in front of so big number of people on set?
Yes, there was a lot of pressure. A lot of attention was focused on me during the speech. Luckily, I was doing it in German so nobody could understand. (smiling) I think I fluffed my line only twice for the whole week of filming.
There was a stunt scene. One of the stuntman fell on the table near the place where you were sitting.
Yes, the stuntman was wearing a harness. At first, they lowered him slowly to try it out and see how it all worked. Then he came down very, very fast. He only had a split of a second to turn his head, or he would have fallen on his face and broken his nose.
Did he fall on the wooden table?
No. There was a mat on the table to absorb the impact of the fall.
Did you have a felling after ‘Spectre’ that you would return on the set of James Bond movie?
Yes, because my character didn’t get killed in ‘Spectre’. I wasn’t sure, but I was thinking that it would make sense for her to come back in the next James Bond movie.
When did you get confirmation that you would be in ‘No Time to Die’?
That was in summer 2019. The casting director, Debbie Mcwilliams e-mailed me asking, if I would like to come back. I said yes, I would love to come back. I think we were supposed to film in July but it was pushed back until October.
The whole Cuba set was built at the backlot of Pinewood Studios. I remember that it was very cold when you were filming there.
It was freezing. The dance hall had stone walls and stone floors and it was very cold. The wardrobe ladies were so kind to us…they gave us big fluffy Ugg boots and thick winter anorak to keep us warm.
In the scene your character died and you had to fall down on the floor.
Yes, it was quite dangerous. The floor was very cold and slippery, because of the mist coming down from the ceiling. I was wearing really high heels and an evening gown and wondering, how I could convincingly fall to the ground. Eventually, I asked for a stunt man. He was standing in front of me and I put my arms around him and when he fell down, he took me with him. Under his suit he was wearing padding to protect him and I fell on top of him, so as not to hurt myself.
You had to fall down but also act as if you were dying. How did you prepare for that?
Cary Fukunaga asked me to think of a fish that has been taken out of the water and can’t breathe and is gasping for air. So that is what I did.
You also had special makeup for that scene.
Yes, the make up artists applied special make up that hardens so that is stays in place. that makeup off because it harden. It was almost like glue that sticks to your face. It makes the face feel very hard and doesn’t allow any facial expressions. You can’t peel it off because you would rip off your skin. We had to wait until the evening when the makeup artist took it off again. They put on a face cloth soaked in a special solution, which softens the makeup, so that it can be taken off safely.
How long did it take to put the makeup on and then take it off?
It was probably an hour to put it on and an hour to take it off.
Was it only one day with makeup?
I think it was 2 or 3 days.
Did anybody forget to take off the makeup before going home?
No, thankfully that didn’t happen. (smiling)
I was wondering how much you knew about the plot of ‘Spectre’ and then ‘No Time to Die’ when you were filming.
I didn’t know anything about the plot as I didn’t get the script. I only got my scene.
So you didn’t know much about your character.
No, I made up my own background story.
Can you tell more about working with two different directors and their attitude to the character?
I think that, for Sam Mendes, Dr. Vogel was actually quite an important character, in the sense that she was one of the key figures in Spectre. He just let me get on with it and gave me only one note. Sam Mendes can look at an actor or actress and know whether they need direction or not. He’ll concentrate only on actors, who need directions. I also got on very well with Cary Fukunaga. My scene in NTTD was completely improvised. It was not in the script. Cary was trying out different things, which I enjoyed very much. He gave me a lot of useful advices and that was fantastic. I love working with both Cary and Sam, although they are very different directors. Sam Mendes is a theatre director and Cary Fukunaga is a film director. Two very different directors with very different approaches, but both really good and strong.
January 12th 2022