McIver. Grant McIver.
“So I wait in line, get up to the front, tell them my story. Then, you know— ‘I’m an American.’ ‘Oh—you’re an American? Well, this only pays 750 crowns a day.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude. I’ll pay you!’”
Grant McIver cuts quite the figure—as they used to say when everyone wore a hat and the family phone was bolted to the wall. McIver, a former Marine, is ~ 8’ tall, lantern-jawed, jug-eared, and possessed of an outsized heart constructed of a velveteen/terrycloth alloy. Yes, by moonlight this largish man’s indistinct silhouette will have even the infirm sprinting and hollering like champs. He is otherwise one of the most immediately attractive people you are ever likely to meet, his kryptonite charisma immediately bringing to their figurative knees anyone within earshot once the guy opens his charmed, charming, and indefatigable yap. Think “foul-mouthed David Niven”.
A rabid (in every sense but the foaming literal) James Bond fiend and proselytizer since about the age of 10, McIver has read all Ian Fleming’s Bond novels umpteen times and is a walking encyclopedia of double-0-minutiae. So it’s suitable—if bloody implausible—that McIver found himself in the Czech Republic one day, standing in line with local hopefuls and praying to Connery for a crack at actually having a part in an honest to gosh Bond flick called Casino Royale. The 2006 movie was notable for a number of reasons. It was, for instance, Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond; or “James Blond” as the predictably snarky press christened him when Craig was announced as the new 007. At this writing, Daniel Craig’s final Bond outing is circling the globe—and McIver’s wildly unlikely oddyssey in Craig’s first Bond film fixes him even more firmly in the Bond lore.
When Grant McIver completed his gig teaching English in Hua-Huai, China, he chose his next step with the usual scientific exactitude—squeezing eyes shut and planting his finger on a map of Europe—with maybe the barest squinting peek to tip the scale. “I didn’t want to go to Western Europe, which is ******* America with accents. I wanted to go someplace unusual. I’d never been there, didn’t know any Czech people, couldn’t speak the language.”
This, for some, is a come-hither.
‘Give us an action move…’
McIver swept into the Czech Republic with a suitcase, tenuous job lead, and a profound, generalized ignorance. “I flew into Prague in the evening, and I knew less than nothing,” McIver exults. “I didn't even know how to ******* pronounce words. I had a hostel booked and couldn’t even tell somebody where I needed to go.” On the airport bus he struck up a conversation with a young Czech woman named Iva, returning from a visit to her boyfried in the UK. McIver and his new friend chatted for the half hour or so they shared the ride. Several days later—per the arrangement they’d come to—McIver took Iva to dinner, and in exchange she took him on a whirlwind tour of Prague that was at least part survivalist briefing.
“She gives me a rundown of history and culture, do's and don'ts. And yeah—it was just very nice, and this girl's awesome. We’re friends to this day. I ended up flying back for her wedding.” Iva was McIver’s note-perfect introduction to a former Eastern Bloc country—a cold, wet, blustery place, still scarred here and there by Brutalist Iron Curtain architecture—whose warmth would mark him forever.
Some four months later, and in a possibly ill-advised switch to the present tense, McIver is ensconced in a tiny apartment in the Czech Republic town of Sokolov, teaching English to middle schoolers and following the new Bond film brouhaha; an above-the-fold news item in pop culture circles largely owing to Daniel Craig’s (initially hesitant and ultimately controversial) ascension to the role. Bond fans everywhere pore over this developing story, McIver among them. In this way he learns they’re shoooting the new Bond film in the Czech Repbublic. And about a half hour away.
His job teaching English in Sokolov has come to its amicable end. McIver finds himself killing time until his flight home to the states. A little Bond movie magic glimpsed from a roped-off distance would be freaking amazing. Possible? McIver asks his former students to keep ears to the ground and report back. He receives a text from a former Czech student named Dáša. The production is looking for extras. Shaken and stirred, McIver hops a bus forthwith (bezodkladně, in the local argot) and heads out to the address, a hotel in nearby Karlovy Vary. At the hotel he follows signs and sprints up the stairs, composing himself and joining the line of hopefuls, all Czech locals. McIver reaches the front of the line, i.d.’s as American and is told what it pays.
They've got a guy there with a video camera pulling applicants aside. “Give us an action move,” the guy says. McIver blinks twice in the telling. “I’m incredibly self-conscious doing this in front of a bunch of Czech people waiting in line to be extras.” Nevertheless, McIver smoothly spins into a braced crouch—almost as if he’s done this a thousand times in the privacy of his own home. But I speculate. Next they ask him to list skills, and he starts scribbling. “I'd say it was about 80% accurate, 20% bullsh*t,” he charitably guesstimates. “But I was in the Marines, I do know guns, I can skydive, I’m a private pilot, I can ride a horse. I can, you know, juggle ten balls with my feet while standing on my head.” Audition over. Thanks, we’ll let you know. Three weeks pass and no word. McIver sulks, buys a plane ticket back to the states. Then he gets the call. He’s in.
License to Chill
The Big Day arrives—Grant McIver in a James Bond movie. “I get there and I’m not on the list,” he says. In the event, his giddily pounding heart sinks. The Czech crew ruffles some papers. “Oh, here he is! It’s the American guy.” Whew! They send him to wardrobe. “Do you have any evening wear?” Before leaving the States, McIver had packed a tux in case the teaching gig included any dress functions; until this moment a foolish miscalculation. “As a matter of fact, I do.” Crowd Wardrobe Mistress Jenny Hawkins nods approvingly, finds him an augmenting leather overcoat and — kapow — McIver is a Croatian gangster. Over in makeup he wishes them good luck doing anything with what he himself describes as his ”long horse face and Easter Island chin”. They ruffle his short-cropped hair with gel, trim his sideburns, daub mystery stuff on his face. “I’m feeling totally jazzed. A professional in the entertainment industry!”
McIver is a garrulous guy—his salty, stylish, deadpan witticisms often punctuated with a single Zeus-like hand clap and window-rattling laughter. Now on an actual 007 movie set, the guy’s composure takes a powder. “Every chance I get, I'm talking to people about how totally into Bond I am.” McIver is dazzled, can’t shut up about it. He realizes this.
“A British production assistant named Joe Barlow sees me walking and says 'You get everything sorted? All good?’” McIver, still reeling, asks Joe if his tux gives him gangster gravitas. Joe grins. “Absolutely, mate!” McIver’s tone drops to a confidential murmur. “Joe—am I wrong to be so ******* excited about this? Am I just, you know, pathetic to think this is so awesome?” Joe’s polite grin blossoms into a wide smile. “It’s a Bond movie, innit?”
Editing is Such Sweet Sorrow
Over the next several days, McIver and his new Czech Extra friends are put through their paces. McIver notes director Martin Campbell’s amiable but exacting insistence on visual veracity. At the train station set, a Czech extra playing a policeman is rigid, standing at attention by the train station’s entry, his dummy machine gun prone. Through an interpreter, Campbell tells the guy he's got it wrong, as McIver relates. “Campbell says ‘no, no, no. You’re bored. You’re a policemen at work bored out of your ******* mind.’” The Czech guy obligingly slumps a little. Campbell laughs and shakes his head no. “He poses the guy like a literal action figure,” McIver says. “Let the gun dangle, drape your arm over it, cross this leg here, lean back against the pillar.” McIver is wowed. “I was taken by that, Campbell’s personal involvement in that sort of detail. He did that a hundred times.”
Daniel Craig arrives on set with Eva Green. A hundred people take an involuntary step toward the newly arrived center of gravity. “An electrical charge went through the crowd. It's like, holy sh*t. There's James Bond.” Craig and Green are chatting animatedly with director Campbell, the producers, the cinematographer, the first assistant director. "It's not like I'm close,” McIver says, "but you can hear some of the questions. ‘What about this?’ 'How about we try this?’ The questions and ideas are so detailed — they’re obviously taking it very seriously.” Hearing himself, McIver snorts. “Which — I don't know what the hell I thought it was going to be — a bunch of high school kids going ‘let's make a James Bond movie. Isn't it cool we’re in the Czech Republic?!’”
As days pass, McIver—for all the awe and excitement—has the increasing sense that he may not appear in the movie after all. Scenes are being cropped or zoomed, or angles subtly tweaked to McIver’s disadvantage. The day’s rushes are McIver-free. “There were a lot of 'aw, sh*t’ moments,” McIver says.
Daniel, Jeffrey, Mads, Toby, Kickball
Now the Extras population is being whittled. The action has moved into the eponymous Casino Royale. Extras are being thanked, paid, and sent home. “They just need 20 or 30 of us for the casino stuff,” McIver says. “Toby Hefferman (second assistant director) shows up. He and I’d been chatting a little bit — as I had been with everyone. He knew of my Bond adoration, but now they’re cutting people loose. It was like choosing for kickball, you know?” McIver is beginning to panic. Is he about to be dismissed? Self-abasement helpfully offers itself up. "I don’t want to make an ass of myself but I’m perfectly willing to,” McIver tells me blithely. At that moment Jenny the wardrobe woman comes in. “Oh, there’s our yank! We need him!” McIver nearly swoons with relief. “I made the kickball team!”
They would now be shooting the big casino scenes. Second Assistant director Hefferman says “…anyone here play roulette?” Hands fly up. “Okay. I’ll take you and you.” Hefferman chooses extras for various tasks, looking straight through McIver’s unwaveringly raised hand, possibly because the hand itself is 13 feet off the floor. Hefferman is pointedly ignoring McIver, it seems. If ever there is a time to crow about a gambling habit, it’s on the set of blockbuster James Bond film Casino Royale. The big guy breaks. “I say, ‘dude, I was practically raised in casinos!’” “Don't worry,” Hefferman assures. “I have plans for you." McIver is momentarily mystified. Then it happens.
“He sits me at the baccarat table! Being a bond Maniac, I'm so ******* thrilled!” Picture an eight foot tall ten-year-old in a tux. Here, I’ll make it easy for you. “I’m sitting in a casino with James Bond 20 feet away from me! I’m playing baccarat wearing a tuxedo! I mean, I'd have been happy to be in a soiled undershirt with a construction crew in the background. It’s unbelievable!”
Hefferman had been present at McIver’s repeat disappointments. “Now Hefferman is making sure I get my face on camera as many times in as many different ways as possible so that I can make it into the movie. He’s consciously doing that. And I'm like, wow—that is one of the coolest things ever. He just knew what it meant to me.”
While shooting dizzily in the casino, McIver still has the wherewithal to chat up the stars. “Daniel Craig came in and was standing at the corner of the table. He picked up three chips and did a one-handed chip-shuffle, very smoothly. I said ‘It looks like somebody’s been practicing.’ He turned and smiled briefly. ‘Not enough.’”
McIver courageously chats with Danish actor Mads Mikkelson—Bond's blood-weeping nemesis, Le Chiffre. “At one point between takes he’s doing this little shuffle step, kind of out of boredom. Like a soft-shoe, but with a pirouette. I mean, what the hell. I talked to him about it briefly and he says ‘Yeah, I studied dance.’ He’s this incredible dancer, apparently. You know, these are the little chit chat episodes that make you feel ten feet tall.
“I also met Jeffrey Wright (CIA’s Felix Leiter in the story) out on the balcony. I was having a smoke and he was out there and we talked about mountain bike riding. I said ‘dude, be careful who you ask because these Czechs are fitness maniacs. They'll ask you to go for a bike ride and it'll be 50 miles, all uphill. Watch yourself!’ We laughed about that.”
From McIver’s English students and Iva’s inaugural ‘keys to the city’ welcome, to Czech fellow gangster and frequent ride home Honza, and from screen gem Toby Hefferman to ‘Stan’— another Czech gangster whose unambiguous dislike of McIver had by the end dissolved into a warm, bear-hugging farewell—McIver’s Casino Royale miracle seems to have been, principally, a delivery system for new friendships.
“As much fun as being an extra in a James Bond movie was—and as much ‘immortality’ as that will afford me, so to speak—I would not trade any of it for the friends I made over there. If I had to choose one over the other there would be no contest.”