JBR INTERVIEW: Actress Rachel Grant Talks About Playing Peaceful Fountains of Desire in ‘Die Another Day’
By Matthew Chernov
One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about “Die Another Day” is its memorable cast of supporting characters. From swaggering NSA agent Damian Falco to sadistic henchman Mr. Kil to the charming Cuban intelligence operative named Raoul, the movie is loaded with a fun assortment of enemies and allies, each more colorful than the last.
My favorite, however, has always been the mysterious Chinese spy known as Peaceful Fountains of Desire. Posing as a dutiful hotel masseuse whose services are offered free of charge to 007, Peaceful is actually an undercover agent attempting to lure him into a honey trap. I confess, something about her deceptively calm demeanor has always intrigued me. Maybe it’s the way she sizes-up Bond as soon as she enters his room, or possibly it’s the confidence she exudes as she orders him onto the bed. Regardless, Peaceful is a classic Bond Girl whose unique presence in the story makes “Die Another Day” something special.
Curious to learn more about the character, I spoke with Rachel Grant, the talented actress who played her. Born on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, Grant moved to the United Kingdom when she was just a baby, and has been appearing professionally on television and film since 1999. In addition to acting, she works as a popular TV host, an organization and packing expert, a busy travel writer, and an award-winning digital producer and social entrepreneur. She’s also one of the most lively and exuberant Bond celebs I’ve ever interviewed.
Here are some highlights from our recent conversation…
JAMES BOND RADIO: Did you considered yourself a Bond fan before you were cast in “Die Another Day”?
RACHEL GRANT: I watched so many movies while growing up in Nottingham, and I especially loved action films. So, whenever there was a James Bond movie on television, I was watching it. As a kid, I remember loving “Moonraker.” There was something about those quirky ones with Roger Moore that I really enjoyed. I loved all the little gadgets, and the characters were very strong. It was like watching a cartoon coming to life. I remember thinking that Jaws was a terrific villain! So, when I finally met him after “Die Another Day,” I was quite pleasantly shocked!
JBR: You met Richard Kiel?
RACHEL: Yes, about four times, actually. In fact, once it was just the two of us at an event together. No other actors were there, so it was more intimate. That was rather nice.
JBR: Can you tell me how your role in “Die Another Day” came about?
RACHEL: Interestingly enough, I’d previously auditioned for another Bond movie when I was about seventeen or eighteen. It was the one with Michelle Yeoh. Which one was that?
JBR: That was “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
RACHEL: Right, that’s it. I auditioned for that film, but I was still in school at the time and it was one of my first auditions, so nothing ever happened with it. But a few years later I got a call from my agent who said there had been a storyline change in a new Bond film and they needed to hold a last-minute casting session right away. It had to be either that same day or the very next morning. So, I told her I’d do it tomorrow, because I wanted time to prepare for it. I couldn’t just get up and go. The whole process was a bit unusual. It wasn’t held in a casting suite. It was held at the EON Productions office in Mayfair, which looked like a very fancy home with large chandeliers, not a typical casting room.
JBR: Did you know what character you’d be auditioning for?
RACHEL: I knew the role was to play a Chinese girl with a British accent, like maybe she was educated in England or something. Potentially, she could be half English. Well, I was born in the Philippines, so I didn’t really have the exact look going for me, but I thought I’d make it work as much as possible. I actually wore a Chinese dress to the audition because I felt like it might be written that way in the script. The thing about Bond characters is that they’re very clearly defined. If a female character is Asian, she’ll probably be wearing something Asian, right? So, I went in with that. Also, I practice martial arts, and since Bond Girls occasionally use weaponry, I thought maybe I’d show them my martial arts skills when I’m there. So, I brought my bag of martial arts equipment with me to the audition.
JRB: Did you get a chance to show them your martial arts?
RACHEL: Yes. I finished the audition scene, and just before the casting woman was about to bring in the next girl, I asked if I could show her a quick martial arts demonstration. And she switched off the camera, looked at me, and said okay. So, I reached into my bag and pulled out my nunchucks.
RACHEL: Yeah, I used to be really good at nunchucks. Actually, I’m still pretty good with them. Anyway, I launched into the craziest martial arts demonstration with those nunchucks, and all I could think was that I better not hit that chandelier above my head! I was swinging them through my legs and behind my back, and I was doing it so fast. And she looked at me and said, “I need to get this on tape!”
JBR: You must have made quite an impression.
RACHEL: Literally the very next day my agent called me and said I booked the role.
JBR: That’s amazing!
RACHEL: I’d auditioned on a Friday, was told I got the job on Saturday, and by Monday I was on a set with Pierce Brosnan! That doesn’t usually happen. It was so quick, and for something so big as well. I remember speaking with Pierce, and he said, “We were all sitting around the casting office looking at the various girls on tape who were up for your role, and suddenly you did this crazy martial arts routine and we looked at each other and said we just have to get her!” Apparently, I was the most memorable!
JBR: This was fairly early in your career, and it was such a huge movie to be working on, were you nervous at all?
RACHEL: Yes, I was nervous. But I think nerves are good, because that’s energy you can use. If you can change how you think, you can transform that nervous energy into something really amazing and positive. So, nerves are good. I actually get worried when I don’t have any nerves, because then I don’t have that energy to work with.
JBR: Where did they shoot the hotel scene?
RACHEL: We shot it on the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios.
JBR: What was the atmosphere like on set?
RACHEL: I should probably be careful when talking about this, but it wasn’t good.
JBR: I think it’s well known that there were some problems behind the scenes.
RACHEL: For me, it was fine. I was so happy to be there! I wanted to be the first person on set each morning and the last one to leave at night. I just wanted to be there every single second of the day, and I wanted those three days to be the longest of my life. So, I had a ball. It was an amazing time. Everyone was so professional. I can’t tell you how incredible it is to work on a set where every little detail is perfect. Everyone knows they’re working on a Bond movie! Everything was flawlessly arranged and polished, and the entire crew was absolutely magnificent.
JBR: So, what was the problem?
RACHEL: There was some conflict between the director and the production and Pierce. There were a couple of little arguments that happened in front of me that were like something I’d never seen before. I was very uncomfortable. I even remember the makeup artist coming up to me and whispering, “I’m really sorry about all of this,” when she was touching up my face between shots. But with artists, there’s always bound to be some form of conflict. It can even be a good thing. You can use that energy and passion to create something better.
JBR: How would you describe Brosnan?
RACHEL: Oh, he was really nice and sweet. When I was a little girl, my mother used to watch “Remington Steele,” so he might’ve been my first image of what a truly handsome man looks like. Is that wrong of me to say?
JBR: No, not at all.
RACHEL: Obviously, I know that’s not what really matters in a person, but I remember thinking at the time, “He’s so handsome!” I couldn’t believe how good looking he was! He was like a Gillette model on a TV commercial. When I was with him on set, it was interesting. He’s very complimentary, and he flattered me in a very nice way. What’s really sweet is that about ten years after I’d worked with him on the movie, I met somebody in Los Angeles and they mentioned to Pierce Brosnan that they’d had lunch with me, and Pierce remembered me! He said, “Ah, yes! Lovely Rachel from Die Another Day!” I couldn’t believe he’d remember me because he meets so many people, so that was very sweet.
JBR: Well, Peaceful Fountains of Desire is certainly a memorable character, so I can see why you’d stick in his mind
RACHEL: Oh, thank you! I think wearing the pink dress helps, too. It’s also a nice moment in the film because it’s when he takes off his shaggy beard. It’s the first time we see him as classic James Bond in the movie. And then this exotic Bond Girl arrives with a flower in her hair. Also, it’s a bedroom scene, but without any hanky-panky, of course. Funnily enough, in the original script that I received, he was supposed to answer the door wearing nothing but a towel around his waist! But when I got on set, he wasn’t. I think he was meant to have just come out of the shower or something.
JBR: I’ve always wondered what Peaceful’s mission was in that scene. On the surface, it looks like she’s there to seduce Bond while those Chinese agents film him through that two-way mirror. But she’s also armed with a gun. Was she there to kill him?
RACHEL: They actually kept that somewhat quiet to me. In a Bond movie, every character has a background story, even if we don’t see it on screen. So, maybe Peaceful’s story was written down somewhere, but they didn’t tell me. I remember they did say that she likes Bond. That much I recall. I asked them a few times if she was a good character or a bad character, and they said, “She is, but she isn’t.” So, I played Peaceful as a little bit of both.
JBR: What was it like to attend the film’s premiere?
RACHEL: I’ve been to loads of premieres in my life. I’ve been to them in Los Angeles, New York, the Philippines, and throughout Europe. But the “Die Another Day” premiere was in a class by itself. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll never attend another premiere quite like that again in my life. Every single James Bond was there! We had the Queen and her husband there! I love the Queen, because I’m British and I’m proud of her. The Queen’s a Bond fan. She loves Bond movies. It was held at the Royal Albert Hall, and I don’t think there’s ever been a longer red carpet. It was so wide and so long! I brought my mum, and when I got out of the car, I was like, “Oh, my God!” Walking that carpet was like walking several blocks! Loads of fans everywhere. People were screaming and it was so exciting. It just kept going on and on and on. And by the time I got to the entrance, there were so many photographers! I loved every single minute of it.
JBR: Was it strange to see yourself on screen in a Bond movie while you’re surrounded by that audience?
RACHEL: Honestly, when it came time for my scene, I didn’t watch it.
RACHEL: Yeah, I put my head down and I couldn’t watch it. At first, I was nervous that I might not be in it, because I’d been cut out of a movie before. Thankfully, I was in the Bond film, but I was just too nervous to watch it. I heard it, though! The first time I actually saw my scene was on an airplane. I travel a lot, and I was taking a flight shortly after its release, and I was sitting there, looking around, and I suddenly noticed that the guy next to me was watching “Die Another Day.” And I’m like, “Holy shit!” But then I thought, hang on, this might be the best way to watch it, because it’s silent and it’s small enough that it won’t bother me. So, I watched it while he watched it. That’s actually happened to me a few times in my career.
JBR: What type of reactions do you get from fans when they realize you’re a Bond Girl?
RACHEL: A lot of people can’t believe it. It’s just such a well-known series. Probably the most well-known movie franchise in the world. Ever, really. It’s quite amazing. I’ve been inspired by how successful it’s been. I went to Jamaica once, and I was intrigued by Ian Fleming, so I decided to stay at Goldeneye. Now, I’m a travel writer, so I thought I might write an article about the experience. When I was there, I met Fleming’s former houseboy, Ramsey Dacosta, who was in his eighties at the time. He told me all sorts of stories about Ian Fleming. I couldn’t believe he still worked at Goldeneye! He’s this really lovely Jamaican character and was very close to Fleming. He used to call him Commander. He’d say to me, “Oh, Commander really loved this!” or “Commander really enjoyed that!” He spoke quite fondly of him.
JBR: To wrap things up, can you tell me a little bit about the charitable fund that your mother founded and that you work with? I’d love for our readers to learn about it.
RACHEL: Oh, that’s really very kind. My mother founded a British registered charity in 2007 called the Padua Charitable Fund. We’ve built homes, a school, and typhoon shelters to serve rural communities affected by typhoons in the Philippines. One of the best gifts that being a Bond Girl has given me is the ability to work for children’s charities. I do charitable events, charitable photo ops, and things of that nature. I’ve used the Bond Girl title for that one purpose, and it’s been really pleasurable for me to be able to do that. Because everybody wants a Bond Girl to attend their event! For instance, next week I’m going to be doing the New York Pet Fashion Show, which is the largest animal fundraiser in the United States. I just saw their press release today, and they’ve headlined it with me. It says that I’m going to recreate my scene from “Die Another Day,” because I’ll be wearing a Chinese dress. I love to do things that help animals.
JBR: Your attitude is actually very similar to Sir Roger Moore, who used his Bond fame to support the UNICEF children’s charity fund. It was incredibly important to him, and he was very committed to doing charitable work throughout his entire life.
RACHEL: That’s amazing. James Bond is such a well-known international character, so what better way is there to use that title than to do good? It’s really heartwarming. Look, I didn’t have the lead role in “Die Another Day,” right? I had one scene. But I’m still part of something that’s magnificent! So, I think being a Bond Girl is not just about having a scene in a Bond film. It’s about doing everything else that comes with it. It’s about reaching out to underprivileged communities, and making the most of the privilege you’ve been given. It’s about helping other people in need. That’s what being a Bond Girl is. To me, at least.
Interview by Matthew Chernov