For many petrolheads the on-screen antics of James Bond have had an indelible impact on their love of cars.
Watching an AMC Hornet perform a mid-air corkscrew over a river, a Lotus Esprit screaming around the coastal roads of Sardinia before diving into the sea or an Aston Martin DB10 flying through the streets and down the riverside steps of Rome, car fans thrill and dream of being able to perform such daring deeds.
Of course, itâ€™s just a childish dream. We canâ€™t pull on a tux, slip behind the wheel of some exotic car and scream off in pursuit of a global supervillian.
But Mark Higgins can. As part of the stunt driving team for the James Bond franchise heâ€™s been responsible for some of the most spectacular on-screen action of the last decade.
â€œItâ€™s amazing,â€ he says when asked what itâ€™s like to have the dream job of so many car and movie fans.
â€œBond, Fast and Furious, Star Wars – to have thought as a kid that Iâ€™d be involved in anything like this is mind-blowing.â€
Of course, you donâ€™t land a job like that without hard work and Mark found himself pulling on Bondâ€™s tuxedo thanks to his credentials as motorsport star. A three-time British Rally Champion, Isle of Man lap record holder, world rally competitor and test driver for a long list of manufacturers, he was already in demand as a driver for TV shows such as Top Gear and Fifth Gear, helping make the cars (and stars) look good.
â€œAlmost exactly 10 years ago a friend of mine, Ben Collins – who was the Stig at that point – mentioned he was going to be in a Bond film and they needed a rally driver for a quarry scene,â€ Mark explains. Â
â€œIt was just a chat at dinner so I took it with a pinch of salt but a little while later I got a call asking if I was free for the next three months.
â€œIâ€™d never done a film before and so to realise that my first film was going to be a Bond film, well, itâ€™s the one you want.â€
From that first scene, controlling the henchmenâ€™s Alfa 159 as it pursues Daniel Craigâ€™s DBS through a quarry, Mark has worked on every Bond film. He stood in for Naomie Harris when Moneypennyâ€™s Land Rover came under attack in the opening of Skyfall and stepped into Daniel Craigâ€™s shoes for Spectreâ€™s driving scenes.
His talents at the wheel have also seen him in demand for the likes of The Grand Tour, the stunt-heavy Fast and Furious franchise, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Mummy and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. But for sheer old-fashioned thrills the scene in Spectre where Bondâ€™s DB10 is chased through the twisting alleys of Rome by a Jaguar C-X75 is hard to beat.
Read more:Â How to be a stunt driver
Slipping and sliding across cobbled piazzas, through narrow back streets (and an unfortunate Alfa) and then down a 40-foot set of riverside steps took all of Markâ€™s skill and judgement as well as a plenty of patience.
The five-minute sequence took a month to shoot, closing off city streets every night to allow Mark and the rest of the stunt team to set up and execute every carefully choreographed move.
â€œThere were hundreds of people every night involved in shooting that sequence. Each night cost something like a million euros,â€ he recalls.
Yet itâ€™s not necessarily the big, showy numbers that are the hardest to execute.
â€œThere are so many different factors in every scene that can make even simple-looking ones very complicated.
â€œYou look at it on a piece of paper and think â€˜all Iâ€™m doing is sliding round a corner, I do that all the time in rallyingâ€™ but then you have a car coming towards you carrying a camera, youâ€™ve got other cars, scenery and youâ€™ve got to think about the timing, shot angles, all that.â€
While the on-screen results set the pulse racing the reality of shooting them isnâ€™t always as thrilling.
First off is the preparation: â€œYou start off months and months before filming. You start off preparing the car for the particular stunt – my motorsport background really helps with that. Then weâ€™ll work out the moves, practice them, think about timings, positions and so on.â€
Then thereâ€™s the hanging about, waiting to shoot. Mark says: â€œFor big stunts, where youâ€™re flipping heavy vehicles for example, youâ€™ll have multiple takes and each time it takes time to reset everything. You can spend a full night on a single stunt and youâ€™re working 10-12 hour days, waiting for the call on the radio to say itâ€™s time to move again.
â€œYou can spend a lot of time sitting about but then when youâ€™re doing a scene and youâ€™re in the middle of it and you hear ‘action’ and youâ€™ve got the pyrotechnics and all the people around you itâ€™s a massive adrenalin buzz.â€
And for all that time and effort the on-screen result can be over in the blink of an eye. â€œKingsman is a good example,â€ says Mark. â€œI drive the taxi in that and on screen it looks like a few skids, a spin and a couple of other bits but we worked on that for about 10 weeks.â€
Although heâ€™s in big demand in Hollywood, Mark is still as committed to his motorsport roots as ever. Heâ€™s still involved in the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship, which this year is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Although heâ€™s not driving in the championship that helped make his name he is coaching one of this yearâ€™s competitors – Alex Laffey – who will soon be heading to Belgium with the rest of the BRC circus for the Renties Ypres Rally.
Mark is also getting stuck into the action, competing in a full season of British Rallycross at the wheel of a 600bhp Peugeot 208.
â€œItâ€™s my first year of doing rallycross,â€ he explains. â€œMy first round was in March and itâ€™s been a steep learning curve but weâ€™re top of the table now and just have to work at staying there.
â€œItâ€™s intense. These things are faster to 60mph than an F1 car.
â€œMy ultimate goal would be to do a full world rallycross season but the budgets are ridiculous – more per mile than F1 – so weâ€™â€™l have to wait and see.â€
In the meantime, Mark took a guest slot in Mayâ€™s Silverstone round of the World Rallycross, winning two races before being forced to retire with car damage. And, despite all the glamorous cars heâ€™s had access to through his film and TV work itâ€™s the pure-bred sporting machines that really get Markâ€™s blood pumping.
â€œEvery carâ€™s built for a different purpose,â€ he says. â€œThe DB10 was special because there were so few of them. The DB5, too, itâ€™s such an iconic car so it was great to get to driver that.
â€œMy favourite, though, was my Isle of Man Impreza. It was tuned by Prodrive and just awesome in terms of feedback and driving. Itâ€™s so much better than any road car. Itâ€™s out and out tuned for my driving and for that one purpose.
â€œThe rallycross car Iâ€™m driving this year is phenomenal as well. Itâ€™s 600bhp, driving on on mud and tarmac.â€
Of course, despite that, Mark would never say never to Bond and with Danny Boyle and Daniel Craig already confirmed for the 25th installment of the franchise itâ€™s surely only a matter of time before Higgins, Mark Higgins, gets the call to suit up and get behind the wheel again.