INTERVIEW: 007 stunt driver on Bond's most thrilling car chase yet - featuring the new Land Rover Defender
Touring car star Jessica Hawkins says the team behind No Time To Die has "pushed the boundaries as to what’s possible"
Very few cars can compare to the Land Rover Defender. What started life as a curious post-war project by Rover bosses and brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks, developed into an automotive landmark over the past 74 years. According to Land Rover legend, the Wilks brothers first penned the Land Rover’s outline as a simple drawing in the sand, while on holiday in Anglesey back in 1947.
From there, the iconic bug-eyed brute was born, cobbled together from aluminium - because steel was in short supply in post-war Britain - and painted green with surplus military aircraft paint. With its accidentally iconic outline formed entirely by function, the Land Rover Defender became an unlikely style symbol, appealing to everyone from farmers to film stars. But, after 68 years of service, 2015 saw Land Rover put the original Defender out to pasture, announcing it would be taking on the mammoth task of reinventing it for the 21st century.
That tall order fell to seasoned Land Rover designer Gerry McGovern and his team as they set about designing a Defender fit for the modern age. Years passed and, on 10 September 2019, the world finally got its first look at the new Defender at the Frankfurt Motor Show. As ever with the oh-so-difficult follow-up album, the car split opinion – with die-hard Defender fans claiming it could never live up to the original while a new, more appreciative crowd respected the retro yet modern take. Needless to say, the hardened critics have softened somewhat, especially those who’ve had the opportunity to get behind the wheel on a muddy trail.
Now, with the help of complex electrical systems, the modern Defender takes on with aplomb gradients you wouldn’t consider scaling on foot. Not to mention wading through just short of a metre of water. Of course, it was always its off-roading abilities that secured the Defender starring roles in countless blockbuster films, most notably the 007 franchise. With Land Rover’s relationship with the Bond producers dating back to 1983, when a Range Rover burst onto the silver screen alongside Roger Moore in Octopussy. This year No Time to Die once again places the new Defender in the thick of all the action.
"The second we hit the jump, all I could see was sky – just grey sky," says British stunt and racing driver Jessica Hawkins, the W Series star who operated the 2021 Defender through death- defying stunts in No Time to Die.
“I couldn’t see the ground. It was at that point I thought, ‘What am I doing? This landing is really going to hurt!’ I was anticipating a heavy, painful landing but – a testament to this car – it did all eight jumps and I didn’t have one bit of pain.”
Hawkins was one of a select few stunt drivers chosen to pilot one of the 10 new Defenders that take the lead in an epic chase scene across the Cairngorms. Despite taking the kind of battering usually reserved for military vehicles, the Defenders used in the filming were built completely as standard – aside from some essential safety proofing.
“The only thing that was different about the car was the safety aspects,” reveals Hawkins. “It had a roll cage, hydraulic handbrake and fire extinguisher but everything else was bog- standard as sold – not that I’d suggest you do what I did with it, if you do buy one!”
Taking direction for the sequence from stunt coordinator Lee Morrison, the team worked alongside Oscar-winning special-effects and action-vehicles supervisor Chris Corbould. The result is a remarkable chase scene, with the cars making short work of eight 30m jumps, wading through rivers, swamps, trails... and more than a few knocks with nature.
“Lee creates a scene that literally pushes the boundaries as to what’s possible,” says Hawkins. “So, we needed cars, vehicles and everyone around the set to be working at the highest level. The cars just stood up to the test and they did the job. I don’t think we would’ve been able to say the same had we been doing it in anything else.
“I look back at some of the photos now and, although it is real, it doesn’t look it because, in your head, you just think that’s not possible.”
With Bond fans the world over eager to see the finished result – especially after the film’s release was pushed back an unprecedented three times due to the pandemic – this particular chase scene will be a treat for those on the lookout for some classic Bond-style automotive action.
For those looking to mark the occasion with something more permanent, Bond and Land Rover super fans can now get their hands on a limited-edition Land Rover Defender V8 Bond Edition created by the marque’s SV bespoke division. With its release limited to just 300 cars, the V8-engine Defender has a trademark stealthy look inspired by the vehicles in the chase scene and comes equipped with 007 badging and all- black paintwork.
As for the new ‘follow-up’ Defender in general, filling the shoes of a 68-year-old predecessor is no easy task and there's no shying away from its enviable legacy. Still, if the action in No Time to Die is anything to go by, then the new Defender looks set to be a mighty fine action sequel.