Mark Higgins is a triple British Rally Champion. British Rallycross Champion. Awarded five times as ‘National Driver of the Year’. He has also scored points in World Rally Championship and competed in FIA Rallycross Championship. He is the stunt driver since ‘Quantum of Solace’. More on: www.mark-higgins.com
Piotr Zajac (bondlocations): You are rally driver who became stunt driver. You have won British Rally Championship three times, you have scored points in the World Rally Championship. You must be the fastest stunt driver in the world !
Mark Higgins: My big passion was always rallying. That is what I always wanted to do. We had the championship wins. Alongside we’ve been rallying in China for around 10 years. I was lucky enough to be team mates to people like Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz on Rally GB for three times. I was test driver for Ford for 8 years and for many other manufactures. We had great career in rallying. If I could do it again I would do it. I still get the oportunity to do it. We were meant to be doing some rallying last year. If things get better in the middle of this year I hope to do a couple of rallies just before I get too old. I am still excited about rallying.
I’ve seen on your Instagram account just a few days ago that you’ve renovated Honda Civic which you won the British Junior Championship in 1994.
Yes, I’ve been working on that for a while. It is just a little fun project really. I’ve found the car. It was not a very expensive car, but it was great car and quite important in my career. I’ve also renovated my first factory car. It’s been in a garage for a few years. Great memories from those little front wheel drive cars. They were great fun in those days, 30 years ago.
What are your plans for rallying?
I would like to do some more rallying in Ireland. It is probably one of my favourite places to rally on the tarmac and the Isle of Man. The Donegal International Rally is the rally that got away from me. I was very close to win it a couple of times, we had a really good battle with Sebastian Loeb (9 times World Rally Champion) one year, so I would like to go back there. It would be a modern R5 car I would’ve thought. Depending on the regulations because I was told that modern WRC rally cars may be eligible in Ireland. It is all open in the air. Nobody knows what is happening at the moment with Covid.
Rallying is like a tradition in your family.
When I was kid at school I was asked who I wanted to be and I said: ‘rally driver or fighter pilot’. I wasn’t clever enough to be the fighter pilot, so my passion is rallying. My grandmother and grandfather rallied together in the sixties. My mother was my first co-driver. My dad was a really good driver on the island. My brother won Rally America Championship 8 times, he is British Championship winner as well. It is very much a big part of the family. Then we moved to the rally school, which was very good for us, when we came to the UK in 1993.
Do you continue that motorsport tradition with your kids?
My brother loves karting now. He is doing a lot of that with his son. I do a bit of karting with my son as well. The new generation is carrying it on.
You were born on the Isle of Man, which is famous for motorcycle races. Do you also like to ride motorcycles?
There are lots of accidents during races on the Isle of Man. My dad was very clever. He didn’t allow me to have a motorbike when we were living there. I think that it was a very, very good thing that he did, because I probably would have ended doing something like TT race. I love my bikes. I have race bikes and enduro bikes, but that was good that I got into it later on when I was maybe a bit more sensible. Otherwise I may have gone down that route. Thankfully I stayed with cars which probably kept me alive, but the TT has been a big passion in my life. As you probably know we did that lap in a Subaru (click to watch).
I know that you broke the lap record on the Isle of Man.
The record was not the most special part. It was just good to get right there on one lap and set the time. We only had two goes in that car, so we had very limited time. We could go quite a bit faster, but that was a very special thing to do. It’s been very popular around the world. I think more people know me from my TT lap in the Subary than from anything else.
In Subary you were doing also some ‘crazy’ things like driving down the bobsleigh track.
Yes, that was very good fun, very interesting. Interesting story with that. We literally were running out of time and we had one more day. If we would be probably three hours later going down that bobsleigh run the course would actually be melted. If you see some of the videos the walls are falling away. It was a wacky thing to do but good fun. (click to watch) We also went to Romania over the Transfagarasan. That was also nice trip in Subaru as well. (click to watch)
Both videos reminded me of James Bond films. There were chase sequences in bobsleigh tracks in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Winding road in Romania looked like a bit like the road from ‘Goldfinger’.
I’ve never ever associated them together in any way at all. It’s first time I’ve ever heard that. It is quite inetersting that they are so similar really. My opportunity to be a real James Bond sometimes (smiling).
Your rallying experience was the reason why you got an offer to become stunt driver?
I went to James Bond franchise through Ben Collins who was doubling Daniel Craig on ‘Quantum of Solace’ together with Martin Ivanov. They wanted the rally driver to come down to the gravel section on the quarry. Ben mentioned it to me very loosely one evening: ‘Would you like to be in a James Bond film?’. You can imagine the response. I’ve never worked on a film before, so it was my first ever film. I’ve never ever heard anything more until three or four months later when I got a phone call: ‘Are you free for the next three months to go to Italy?’ That was my first trip over to work on a film.
In ‘Quantum of Solace’ you were driving Alfa Romeo in the opening sequence.
That is correct.
You mentioned the gravel section on the quarry. Were you also involved in filming at Garda Lake?
We did also a chase at Garda Lake. Funny thing is that I’ve spent my life in rallying being told not to crash and I remember our stunt coordinator Gary Powell asking me on the radio to hit Martin (Ivanov) harder at the back of the car. We had some great fun. Me and Martin actually became very good friends. Since that film we work together a lot.
Which Alfa Romeo were you driving?
We all had numbers at the time. I think I was ‘Alfa 1’ for the first part of the scene and then I moved to ‘Alfa 2’ when we got on to the gravel scene. Originally that was gonna be a very long car chase for about 15 minutes. When it came to the final editing they chopped quite a bit out of the film.
One Alfa Romeo disappeared from the film.
The chase was always done with three cars at the beginning. We had an idea how the chase would look like and then we went to a see movie. It was quite different but that’s often the case with most movies.
So you don’t know whey they cut off one car from that sequence?
No, no idea.
Where Alfa Romeo cars modified somehow?
They were quite standard. We had about two weeks testing on an airfield. We’ve played around with settings. We used the rally knowledge to change the tracking of the car. We had hydraulic handbrakes in cars as well. Obviously there were roll cages. They were modified, but not massively modified. I thing we had winter tires on the cars as well so they were better on the gravel.
Martin Ivanov told me that you had some problems with engines and you had to cut additionally the tires for better grip.
Yes, that is correct. There were always little issues here and there. The problem at any modern car now is the electronics. Trying to get them to cut out all the fail safe modes, traction controll etc. is becoming big problem now in our industry. Then often enough we are putting separate engine and gearbox to the car with their own wiring loom because it is nearly impossible to switch off all the electronics in modern cars.
When I drove to the Carrara quarry to visit the location my car was covered with dust. I guess it was also a problem while you were filming there.
You could taste it on your lips. It was like powder and we could taste it every night while taking a shower. What else is interesting about the quarry that you never have the impression how steep it is when you watch the movie. When you actually drive there for real roads are lot more agressive, quite steep.
Your next Bond movie was ‘Skyfall’. You were driving Landrover as Moneypenny in the opening sequence. Andy Lister, who Daniel Craig stunt double on the train, told me that you were driving like ninja between cars falling from the train. Did you see anything in the dust or you just had feeling when to turn.
Sometimes it was a feeling. Thankfully I always had a reference of a big train on the left hand side, so it wasn’t too bad. We had a lot of different work on that film. It wasn’t like a real car chase but it was a nice sequence for the Land Rover, which is not designed for that type of fast work. Trying to slide that around and go as quickly as possible was a good challenge. We all enjoyed working on that. It wasn’t typical Bond car chase because there was only one vehicle really and obviously big bike chase in Istanbul. We did a lot of work there, not so much with the car, more on foot. We were the stunt guys inside the Grand Bazaar.
Martin Ivanov told me that he was selling oranges together with Ben Collins. What was your part?
In the place where they were selling oranges I was driving Land Rover and the POD car all the time. I think that we were shoppers in the Grand Bazaar jumping away from the bikes. That was quite an interesting film for me because I ended up having and operation on my throat when we were in Istanbul. They got me back to work the following day, but I wasn’t allowed to talk for two weeks. I remember that on the very first day I met Daniel (Craig) on set. He was alongside me as Moneypenny so he was in a passenger seat. I couldn’t speak to him so I had to write him a note. I think that note said something like: ‘Don’t worry, I won’t be doing the bedroom scene’, because he looked across at me dressed like Moneypenny. I think he must have wonder what he was looking at (smiling). I couldn’t speak for two weeks and I know that it was very frustrating for stunt coordinator on the radio.
When I was watching the sequence I was wondering if the scene with Moneypenny breaking off a mirror was planned or it just happened accidentally and was used to make the scene more funny.
That was a big gag from the start and that was done in purpose. That was actually Ben Collins who did that. It was done with the POD vehicle driven from the roof. Ben did all POD work in that film, so he was driving when Naomie (Harris) was inside the car. I did all the clean shots with the car.
One more quiestion about the scene with cars falling from the train. How many times did you have to repeat that?
I think there were two or three takes. The problem was that there were no signs where the cars went. Although they were getting taken off at the same time with the same rotation of the excavator arm, because that was electronically controlled, you could never tell where they were gonna bounce. VW Beetles were complete cars without the engine. I think that in the first take we were a bit blocked and we couldn’t push through the gap. In the second or third attempt I just got through, we got the shot and it was great. It was quite interesting to wonder where the cars were gonna go when they landed. I didn’t know if they were going to bounce and come towards me or dive after the right. I just had to pick a path and make it. I think we did three takes. In the first two the cars went exactly the same so I thought: ‘I know where I’m gonna go now’ and then on a third one they went completely different (smiling).
How long did it take to prepare everyting for the next take?
It is normally good two or three hours to clear all the mess, glass and cars around and then go again.
Did you also play in some other scenes in ‘Skyfall’?
Yes. We did some parts in London. We were always involved in scenes with cars in some way if that was even driving a taxi. I did some work with the black Jaguar with Dame Judi Dench who played M. She was amazing. Between us all we just sheared it around. If one person was busy or was doing something else then someone else was driving.
So you were also MI6 driver.
Yes. Between me and Ben (Collins) we were sharing that together. I also did a bit of Aston Martin DB5 work. I was driving when the car exited and drove up towards Scotland. We didn’t do it with Judi Dench but there was a double with me in the car.
In ‘Spectre’ you were driving Aston Martin DB10 as James Bond. I saw you driving that car in Rome in March 2015.
That was good time there. Obviously all was done in the night. It was very strange to see Rome with only a few cars around. Rome is always so busy with cars. We really enjoyed that. The cars were fantastic. I don’t think that many people had an opportunity to slide through the Vatican at 90 mph.
Was Aston Martin DB10 good to drive?
Yes, it was really good. The car was based on Aston Martin V8 Vantage in terms of the chassis. We were surprised how reliable the car was, even going down the steps. We didn’t have any reliability problems with the car. Any car that is rear wheel drive with front engine is always quite good balanced to drift. I did some work with Martin’s car (Martin Ivanov was driving Jaguar C-X75) and that was really difficult car to drive, because it had engine at the back and had a lot of power. It was quite snappy car, quite hard to control so I definitely had the easier car to drive of the two in that chase.
Did you also drive Jaguar C-X75 on the set?
I didn’t drive it on the set, but I did a lot of testing before.
The Jaguar had a steering wheel on the left hand side. Was it more difficult for you?
If I have a choice I prefere left-hand drive car because all my rally cars are left-hand drive. I feel like I’m working in a left-hand drive car and in a right-hand drive car I’m going shopping or driving to work.
I’ve read somewhere that several Aston Martin cars were damaged on the set. Is it true?
I don’t recall any issues with the car on ‘Spectre’. We haven’t damaged any car. Every car survived apart from the one that was meant to be crashed.
What happened to the car that jumped into the river?
They pulled that back out. I think they used that car in the studio, so it was used again. One of them was cut in half so they could put cameras in the studio when Daniel was inside.
You didn’t have to drive that car when it was jumping into the river?
No. I think it was on an air ramp so it was actually fired like from a cannon. So we didn’t get to swimming on that one, but me and Martin had to do some underwater testing in a swimming pool at night. We had breathing apparatuses in the cars all the time just in case they went into the water. Just in case something would brake when we were driving along the river or driving down the stairs towards the water. There were always divers around but me and Martin had to go to a swimming pool in the evening and just practice moving the regulator and things like that.
You were driving very close to the river and also driving up the wall at the river.
Yes, we did the banking. We had to be there at about 80 mph to make it work. Otherwise the cars would fall down. I think you don’t get the impression in the film how steep that was. We had to be at certain speed otherwise it couldn’t stay upon the wall. That was always good fun.
Did you try that with Aston Martin DB10 from the beginning?
We had Aston Martin Vantage which had the same suspension put on as DB10 because it was a bit wider. We used it for most of our testing. That was ideal. Sometimes we had another car to play around with but generally we had Vantage to replicate DB10.
At what speed were you filming the car chase on streets of Rome?
It varied. Some section we were doing getting close to 80-90 mph when we could. A lot of the time we were restricted to what the tracking vehicles filming us could do. Me and Martin definitely could go faster but there was no point as going ahead of camera car. You work to the camera car. It depends on the shot. If you work to the camera car you work to that speed. I know that Gary Powell likes to carry speed so we were doing what we could when it was possible. There was some really good stuff that we did and it was really fast but it didn’t actually make it to the film. You don’t get the impression on that speed on certain cameras.
Did you drive Aston Martin DB10 with POD?
Yes, I drove a little bit in some of the opening scenes of the car chase. I drove it in Rome as well. We did a bit of work on that. I’ve never been a fan of PODs. I don’t enjoy them. They don’t feel like real car at all, but they serve a pourpose. I had to be very careful when Daniel Craig was below.
There were some rumors in newspapers that Daniel Craig hit the roof when he was in the car with POD and had to go to a hospital. Was it true?
No, it was just exaggerated. We didn’t really know about that.
During the chase in Rome you jumped throgh the parked car.
The car landed really good. We thought that we may have damaged the suspension but it worked really good. I think we’ve done that shot two or three times. That was a good fun.
Was the car that lost its roof in that scene specially prepared?
There were preperations on the car. There were cuts. Sometimes they use different material for the roof as well because it could potentially come straight through the window. They are very safety conscious and they look at the best ways to make that work.
Then there was a funny scene with Fiat. Was it empty when you were hitting and pushing that small car?
No, there was always somebody in the car. I remember that my stunt coordinator said: ‘hit him harder’ and I did hit him really hard on one occasion. I know it hurt his neck quite a bit. A good friend of ours Dave Ware was driving the Fiat. We had reinforced bumber in the Aston and there was metal in the back of the Fiat so it was definitely quite a hard hit.
Did you also drive Aston Martin at Blenheim Palace in UK, where the sequence began?
Yes, I drove the Aston in Blenheim. It was a very simple shot but those were really difficult few days. Trying to get speed going backwards with the car on that gravel and on a slight hill was difficult. It was hard to get something that looked good. Then we ended up doing quite a lot of work on that POD car in which we never were going backward before. It was very frustrating few days. We were there for about three nights for that opening scene I think. Obviously when you turn back to the normal car it is very straight forward but the POD car is always a challange. It is automatic, the steering doesn’t react like we would like it to. You are very restricted to what you can see because you are in a cage. We had millions and millions of pounds of expensive cars around us that we definitely didn’t wanted to hit.
You jumped when you were going through the gate. Was there a ramp on a road?
No, that was just natural bump there and we got a bit into the air which looked great on the film.
Were you also driving in Austria?
I was there and I drove a POD car a couple of times. I didn’t do an awful lot of driving in Sölden but there were few bits where we just dived into cars. We did quite a lot of testing up there and beforehand. We were playing around and setting all the vehicles. I did more on the rehearsing but I was there for the whole duration of it all. I think we were there in total six or seven weeks.
Did you also play in some other scenes in ‘Spectre’?
As that was most of the driving sequence, there was also sequence with the new discovery from the helicopter.
Can you say anything about ‘No Time to Die’?
I can only discuss what has already been spoken about and on the trailer. Obviously Matera was a big challange in terms of the whole terrain. We had to use Coca Cola for better grip. There was quite a few scenes when we had to clean off the black rubber from the street as the Coke allowed the tyres to stick to road more. The Coca Cola did a better job than I’ve ever imagined it would do. We had certain parts where it gave us too much grip and we had to reduce te Coke spraying. We had one guy going around every morning laying down the Coke. Matera was a great location, very challenging place to drive, very narrow with big curbs everywhere. Then we had a really good scene up in Scotland. We also did some work in Norway. That is probably as much as I can talk about that film for now. I’m very excited how it is going to turn out when it eventually comes to the screen. This movie should be great. I’ve heard some very good reports about it.
Thank you for telling me all that great stories. I hope to talk with you again about ‘No Time to Die’ after the premiere.
January 15th 2021