The latest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, is now playing in Prague cinemas ahead of its release in the United States. But Daniel Craig’s take on James Bond has a history in the Czech capital – in fact, his very first on-screen appearance as 007 took place in the Czech capital, during opening scenes of Casino Royale at the then-new Danube House building in Prague’s Karlín district.
Casino Royale was largely filmed in the Czech Republic during 2005, with Prague playing itself as well as filling in for other locales, including Miami. But some of the most memorable scenes in the movie were shot in Karlovy Vary; the titular casino was set in Montenegro, but played by the Czech spa city’s famed Grandhotel Pupp, which also happened to inspire Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
Le Chiffre, the primary antagonist of Casino Royale and the most memorable Bond villain of the Daniel Craig era, competed against 007 during the poker scenes shot in Karlovy Vary. He was played by Mads Mikkelsen, an acclaimed Danish actor who had only appeared in one other English-language production at the time, a supporting role in 2004’s King Arthur.
Mikkelsen would shoot to stardom after playing Le Chiffre, later playing Hannibal Lector and appearing in both the Marvel (Doctor Strange) and Star Wars (Rogue One) franchises. But Mikkelsen wasn’t intended to take the role: as the name indicates, Le Chiffre was intended to be played by a French actor (though that didn’t stop Peter Lorre and Orson Welles from taking on the same role in previous non-canonical adaptations).
Casino Royale went into production in Prague with a French actor cast as the film’s villain. But when that actor dropped out, producers scrambled to find a quick replacement. By pure luck, Mikkelsen happened to be in town at the time.
“Some people aren’t cast even after we start shooting,” Casino Royale casting director Debbie McWilliams told Entertainment Weekly in a recent interview. McWilliams has cast eleven Bond films, from the new No Time to Die back to 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.
“Mads Mikkelsen was not in [Casino Royale] at all until the person who we originally wanted didn’t go. There was an actor very much in mind who I very much wanted but in the end, the studio didn’t want. Having fought the battle for Daniel, [Bond producer Barbara Broccoli] felt she couldn’t really push it any further,” she continues.
“You always have to have your eyes open in case you have to replace somebody, which has happened many many times. I had been monitoring Mads Mikkelsen for quite a while and had seen him in a few Danish films and was really impressed with his versatility.”
“I’d kept my eye on him although, to my mind, he wasn’t entirely right for the part because Le Chiffre by his own name is meant to be French, but anyway once our French actor was not going to be cast, we were in Prague and by pure chance so was Mads Mikkelsen and so I grabbed him and got him in.”
The French actor originally cast as Le Chiffre was not named, but Mathieu Amalric was cast as the primary antagonist in the next Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Vincent Cassel might have also made a good Bond villain.
Mikkelsen wasn’t just in the city of Prague when Casino Royale went into production: he was in the movie Prague (Prag), a Danish drama directed by Ole Christian Madsen that filmed in the Czech capital during 2005.
“It was confusing,” Mikkelsen told The Huffington Post in 2012 about the casting process for Casino Royale.
“I had a meeting first, then a casting, and I was all ready to do the torture scene with Daniel [Craig]. And there was so much going on around us, people running in and out, and then someone said ‘great having you on board.’”
“And I didn’t move, and then they said ‘go away, I don’t want to see you, you got the job.’”
“Daniel was standing next to me and he said really quietly, ‘all right – tell me your secret, because I went to five castings – who did you fuck?'”