Like the iconic character he created, Ian Fleming has been depicted on screen many times over the years. In 2014, Dominic Cooper was cast in the title role of the BBC miniseries “Fleming,” and just last year Sean Maguire played the author in an episode of the NBC science-fiction show “Timeless.” Others who’ve starred as Fleming in the past include Charles Dance, Jason Connery (son of Sean), Ben Daniels and James D’Arcy.
And to this eclectic roster of actors we now add Scotty Ray, who portrays Fleming in a new indie docudrama titled “Come Before Winter.”
Produced by Gary Blount and directed by Kevin Ekvall, “Come Before Winter” tells the powerful true story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi spy whose participation in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler (code named: Valkyrie) resulted in his execution by hanging on April 9, 1945, in Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Along with presenting Bonhoeffer’s final days, “Come Before Winter” also recreates the real-life British “black propaganda” radio broadcasts that were designed to spread misinformation and hasten the demise of the Third Reich. It’s in this section of the film that we meet colorful journalist and part-time propagandist Sefton Delmer, the mastermind behind the clever radio broadcasts, and Ian Fleming, who’s shown participating in them.
To learn more about this unusual docudrama, I spoke with two of the film’s key players: Producer Gary Blount, and Scotty Ray who portrays Fleming.
A southern California native, Gary Blount has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer, a history teacher, a psychiatrist, and now an acclaimed film producer. His fascination with Dietrich Bonhoeffer prompted him to bring “Come Before Winter” to the screen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a longtime hero of yours. What made you decide to tell his story on film?
Gary Blount: Well, I started out by trying it as a book. But I got bogged down, so I concluded, perhaps foolishly, that it would be easier to tell what I had to say on film, with some help of course. Prior to this, I had done very little film work. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the documentarian Martin Doblmeier? He’s made quite a few public television specials, and I helped him by introducing his Dietrich Bonhoeffer film about twelve years ago here in Minnesota at the History Center. And he encouraged and inspired me to do something like this. So once I met some of the Bonhoeffer family and started more or less interviewing them, I felt that I had an angle nobody else had used before, namely, the last week or two of Bonhoeffer’s life, which coincides almost exactly with the last few weeks of the war in Europe.
I really enjoyed the film’s depiction of Sefton Delmer and Ian Fleming working together on the propaganda radio broadcasts. Did you always intend to include those scenes in with the larger Bonhoeffer narrative?
GB: No. In fact, when I started writing the book, I didn’t have that in mind at all. In researching the material, I read about Delmer and Fleming. Apparently, they went way back. They were friends. They traveled together. They both worked in Intelligence during the war. Some of it’s a little murky, I think.
There definitely was a professional relationship there. So much so that Fleming actually references Delmer by name in his novel “Diamonds Are Forever.”
GB: I didn’t know that!
Yes, there’s a scene in the book where James Bond is flirting with his secretary, and he asks if her secret boyfriend might be Sefton Delmer.
GB: Oh, come on! Really?
He often dropped the names of friends, and occasionally enemies, into his novels. They were very contemporary that way.
GB: That’s so cool. Another footnote about my connection with Fleming involves Jamaica. He gravitated towards Jamaica before Jamaica had really taken off. And I have a history in the West Indies. I’ve lived in the West Indies for five or six years, two different times. So I was pretty familiar with the draw of the area, and the sort of vagabond lifestyle where you’re lucky to see a newspaper every two weeks. With that kind of ambiance, I can see where someone like Fleming would find it good for writing or creativity. So that part fit, and I didn’t hesitate to include Fleming and Delmer into the film’s story once I got going.
Adding Fleming to the plot also helps to broaden the film’s audience, I imagine.
GB: I’ve tried to shape the film in a way that might possibly appeal to not just religious people, or churchgoing people, but to secular audiences as well. And so including Fleming was perfect for that. He’s well associated with a focus on worldly pleasures, in one form or another. What fascinated me on that subject was something I read at the end of the biography on Ian Fleming. The author had discovered that on one of the last days of Fleming’s life, as he was driving around England, he said ‘Let’s stop.’ And he went into a chapel with, as the author says, the express purpose of cleaning his slate, or confessing his sins. I don’t know where that detail comes from as far as documentation. I don’t know whether it’s authentic, but I liked that note. Although obviously we didn’t have a chance to put anything like that in the movie.
The film ends with some rather haunting footage taken at the site of the actual propaganda radio station in north London that’s depicted throughout the story. Did you visit that site, personally?
GB: We’d run out of money by that point, so I had to stay home. Instead, the director went with our German partner, who’s a really good photographer living in Dusseldorf. They traveled there together and spent a few days at the location. It was a bit of a challenge. There was a fence around it, and nobody wanted to bend the rules to grant access. They tried to get inside, but they just couldn’t, so we only showed the exteriors. That was frustrating, but I still love that scene.
Seeing the actual building as it looks today, abandoned and empty, is quite remarkable.
GB: I’ll tell you something that you might find funny. My idea for those propaganda radio scenes was to be very faithful to what I knew about how they ran the operation. Well, weather permitting, in between broadcasts they would go up on the roof of the radio station for nude sunbathing!
GB: Isn’t it great? The director didn’t leave it on screen for quite long enough, but there’s a little photo at the very end of the movie, when Delmer is going through his mail, that says ‘Welcome to Goldeneye, Swimsuits Optional.’ And the note that Fleming writes to Delmer says something like ‘We had a great time. You don’t have to wear your swimsuits here either.’ We didn’t linger on that little detail, but it’s there in the film if you can find it.
LA based actor Scotty Ray received an MFA in acting from the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University, and has trained at The Groundlings Theater in Hollywood. He teaches acting, voice and improv classes, along with workshops and one-on-one private sessions.
Before you were cast as Ian Fleming in “Come Before Winter,” were you familiar with his wartime experience in Naval Intelligence?
Scotty Ray: No, I wasn’t aware of that at all. The extent of my knowledge was that he created James Bond. So it was interesting while preparing for the audition to learn about it. I mean, you hear from a lot of people that you should always write what you know, so it makes perfect sense. He had endless material for the kind of stuff that he was writing.
Have you read any of the original Bond novels?
SR: No, but I definitely loved the movies. I have several at home.
How did the casting process work?
SR: I knew the director, Kevin Ekvall, and he told me a little bit about this project he had coming up. I’d recently finished a graduate acting program at Harvard, at the American Repertory Theater. So he wanted to potentially work with me, although the decision wasn’t entirely up to him. He was looking at me for a couple of different roles, and said ‘let me videotape an audition and have you read for Ian Fleming.’ Clearly, it helps to know people!
Once you were cast as Ian Fleming, what type of research did you do?
SR: My research was basically reading everything I could about him, much of it on the internet. I didn’t look at video or audio clips of him. I mainly went off of what I read, and then incorporated some of the Bond material I’d seen in films. Because from what I read, I felt that Fleming brought a lot of himself to the character. So in a way, other actors’ portrayals of James Bond might have reflected mannerisms, characteristics and a bit of the author’s personality.
Can you talk about working with producer Gary Blount? The film was his brainchild, after all.
SR: Gary was a huge resource, with a vast wealth of knowledge. He put so much research into this. It was great to work with him, because he could just pull me aside and talk for twenty minutes about every detail. It really helped.
As an American actor, how did you handle Fleming’s British accent?
SR: Some actors have a gift where they can hear something just a few times and pick up the accent or the dialect just like that. But for me, that’s not the case at all. I have to listen to something over and over and over again, and I have to practice it. Fortunately, in graduate school we had different voice classes, and would study dialects and accents. The British accent is one that we looked at, and I was horrible, probably the worst in the class at it. Yet by the end, after learning to use the international phonetic alphabet, I was able to do it. And one of my friends actually said, ‘I have faith that this process works, because you did it really well, but you were horrible at the beginning!’
I suppose that’s a compliment.
SR: Exactly! So I had something I could turn to and build on for the role of Fleming. But the biggest help for me was that two of my co-stars, Aubrey Wakeling, who plays Sefton Delmer, and Rebecca Summers,who plays a character named Vicki, are both British actors. They were so great to work with, so generous with their time and help. Essentially, I had two British dialect coaches next to me the whole way.
Can you talk about the costume you wear in the film? The British naval uniform looks very authentic, and the cigarette holder is a nice visual touch.
SR: As far as the wardrobe, it’s interesting that you mention it. That was one of the things that our producer, Gary, was extremely particular about. Kevin, the director, even admitted to me that he would’ve just found something that looked vaguely like an officer’s uniform, or something close to that. But Gary was very particular about getting it right. The point that he kept going back to was that the uniform had to have three stripes, because he knew so much about it and wanted authenticity. As far as the cigarette holder, that was new to me. I don’t smoke at all, so getting comfortable with a cigarette in my hand was something I had to practice.
You give Fleming a sort of cheeky playfulness in the film, despite the incredibly serious mission he’s on. Was that something you came up with, or did your director bring that out?
SR: There was a little bit of that hinted at in the script, and the director was definitely on board with it. For me personally, I like comedies. So that aspect really appealed to me. Plus I was inspired by different things I’d read about Fleming’s sense of humor, and of course the Bond movies. In fact, I think they actually got me to tone it down a bit! There were takes were I might have been having a bit too much fun, especially considering the circumstances of the story.
Fleming has been portrayed in movies and TV shows frequently in the past. What is it about him that audiences continue to find so fascinating?
SR: It’s the reach of James Bond. He’s one of the most iconic characters of all time. The movie franchise alone is proof of that. I mean, think of me for example. I haven’t read a novel involving Bond, but the films make him a larger-than-life legend. So when you’re talking about the person who created that character, it’s pretty exciting. I posted a photo on Instagram while I was getting into costume as Fleming, and I wrote something like ‘maybe not as cool as playing James Bond, but at least I get to play his creator.’ And a close friend responded, ‘No, that’s even better!’