“I don't compare myself to any of the previous Bonds,” says British actor Daniel Craig about his being cast in the most iconic role in film history: Agent 007. With his starring role in “Casino Royale,” the 21st Bond picture in what's the longest, most successful series in film history, Craig joins the elite group of actors who have donned the impeccably tailored tuxedo of quintessential Cold War superspy James Bond.
Craig is just as quick to point out that his favorite Bond is Sean Connery, and not just because he was the first to play the role in “Dr. No,” in 1962. “Connery defined the role, for which he was perfect. He was bad, sexy, animalistic, and cool.”
At 38, Craig has the distinction of being the first blond Bond, defying the tradition of the dark-haired Sean Connery, George Lazenby (who made only one picture, “On Her Majesty's Secret Service,”), Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan.
After two years of speculations, Craig landed the coveted role in a casting search that had the proportions and media blitz of finding the right actress to play Scarlet O'Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” back in 1939.
Rumors began to fly about the search for a new Bond in 2004, and Craig found himself on a list with fellow countrymen Clive Owen, Scottish Ewan McGregor, and Aussies Eric Bana and Hugh Jackman. In February 2005, Craig ran into the previous Bond, Pierce Brosnan, at the BAFTA Awards. Leaning over, Craig said, “It's a possibility, what do you think,” to which Brosnan responded quickly and generously, “Go for it!”
Craig knew that he would have to face the voracious global media, which happened on October 14, 2005, when he was introduced to the press as the new Bond. Some of the headlines”The Name's Bland, James Bland”were nasty, while others, like the website Craignotbond.comwere cruel and unsparing. Critics claimed that he was too blond, too plain. It's noteworthy that Sean Connery was initially dismissed by Bond author Ian Fleming as “snorting lorry driver.”
He says he was hurt by the negative press: “I didn't respond publicly, but I wanted to say, 'Give it a chance. Let me show you what I can do with the role. Go see the movie and then judge me.'”
However, even the nay-sayers had to acknowledge that Craig was an accomplished, versatile actor, giving riveting performances in “Road to Perdition” (as Paul Newman's bad son), “Sylvia” (as Ted Hughes, Sylvia Platt's husband-poet), trashy adventures like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” with Angelina Jolie, and art films like “Capote,” in which he played real-life killer Perry Smith.
Initially, Craig turned the role down, because, as he says, “there was no script to speak of, which to me the most crucial element.” Indeed, committing to the role was a long process that took about 18 months: “Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson approached me a long time ago, but I said I need to see the script. Once I read it, I said to myself, 'I have to have a go at this, because if I don't do it, I'll regret it. I screen-tested, while Barbara did a lot of winking at me, saying it's OK, so I had a little more confidence.”
Longtime Bond franchise producers Broccoli and Wilson describe Craig as “the definitive actor of his generation.” They recall, “When we audition for the role of Bond, we ask actors to do the scene in 'From Russia With Love,' where Bond meets Tatiana Romanova for the first time. The scene has everything you want to know about the potential Bond: Drama, romance, and action.”
Craig passed the test “with flying colors,” according to Broccoli: “As soon as we met him, Daniel was the obvious choice for Bond. He is charismatic, versatile, and sexy. The role is a big challenge, but he has proven to us that he is an incredible Bond.”
Craig was on location in Maryland last October shooting the thriller “The Visiting,” with Nicole Kidman, when Barbara Broccoli called with the now iconic line, “It's Over to You, Kiddo.” Rushing out of the grocery store to the closest liquor store, he bought good Vodka (Grey Goose) and got drunk, alone.
There was a feeling of anti-climax after he got the call: “Apart from getting blindingly drunk, which was my first step, with Vodka Martinis, it really sank in a couple of days later, when we did the press lunch in London. After that, I just thought, 'O.K. Let's make the best Bond movie we can. Let's go on with the show.'”
After he got the role, Craig called Broccoli and said, “Look I need to get in shape for this, because I want to do as many stunts as I possibly can, but I also think that if Bond should at some point take his shirt off, we should feel that he's physically imposing, that he's done the things he's supposed to have done, like being a commander in the Navy.”
As soon as the reality of the situation began to sink in, Craig says he was anxious to begin preparing for the role, knowing the physical challenges he would face. He thus embarked on a rigorous fitness regime. The effort paid off as soon as production began in Modrany Studios, outside Prague. The first scene he shot was the pulse-pounding chase sequence, in which Bond pursues would be bomber through the Nambutu Embassy.”
“I wanted to do as much of the action work as possible,” Craig recalls, “so that the audience can see that it's me and that it's real. That meant acquiring injuries and carrying on, blasting through to the next level of actionand pain. Though Gary Powell and his stunt team did fantastic work to make sure that everything was safe, if you don't get bruised playing Bond, you're not doing the job properly.”
He elaborates: “I had black eyes, cuts, bruises, and muscle strain. We had a physiotherapist on the set and I took lots of painkillers. You ask a stuntman what does it feel to fall down a flight of stairs, and he'll tell you, it's like falling down a flight of stairs. Thats the simple answer. As much as I was hurt, the stunt men were in much more pain that I was, so I had to just get on with it.”
Co-star Judi Dench, who reprises her role as M for the fifth time, was reportedly impressed with Craig's shapely physique when she saw him on location. Asked to commend about Dench's response, Craig turns bashful and self-conscious: “You have to ask Judi about that. I am not going to get involved with that question.”
Ultimately, Craig was drawn to the movie because of the script's emotional complexity and the way his character evolves. “In this film, Bond is a darker character, which is how Ian Fleming originally wrote him,” says the actor. “We start right at the beginning of Bond's career, when he has a lot of rough edges. He's a loner, and he doesn't like to get involved with people. We wanted to base the story as much in reality as possible, within the bounds of the franchise. As the story goes on, however, Bond becomes more refined.”
In preparation for the role, Craig watched all the Bond movies, but specifically “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” which for him are exceptional: “I looked very carefully at them and tried to get some of the essence of what was going on at the time.” He says he watched every Bond movie, “because I didn't want to miss a trick and wanted to find good things in them that I could use. But then I pushed all that behind me because I didn't want to do it unless I could take it in another direction and move forward.”
Growing up in a small town outside Liverpool, the young Craig loved movies. He singles out Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” as inspirational: “I walked into the cinema not knowing what was on, sat down with my drink and popcorn and Blade Runner came on. I *didn't know Ridley Scott from Adam, but I wanted to make movies like that, to create beautiful images in a great story. The movie had a huge influence on my life.”
“As a young boy, I loved the movies of Steve McQueen,” the iconic star best-known for his macho charisma, cool lookand blue eyes. Some critics have already compared Craig to McQueen who was at his prime in such quintessentially Hollywood adventures as “Bullitt” and “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
“Daniel will be a revelation to the audience,” predicts director Martin Campbell, who also introduced Pierce Brosnan in his Bond debut in “GoldenEye,” in 1995. “He combines toughness with charm and humor, and because this is a much more character driven story, Daniel's gravitas are a perfect match for the role. At the same time, he's in great physical shape and proved himself to be excellent in the action scenes.”
Craig is quick to repay Campbell's compliment, crediting his director with galvanizing the cast and crew and, more importantly, translating the electricity on the set to the excitement on the big screen. “Martin fires everyone up. You obviously need that level of energy in the action sequences, but it's equally valuable in quieter, dramatic scenes like the poker tournament.”
Craig says he tried to apply to the role “the methods, the skills, and all the things that I know how to do as an actor. For him, “It doesn't matter how big the movie is, there's got to be an element of truth in everything I do, because if I don't believe in it, nobody else will. All I can do is rely on my experience. I mean I'm in the entertainment business and part of whatever job I do has to have an entertaining element because that's the art form.”
Contracted to do two more Bond pictures, Craig says “The plan is to shoot another Bond movie by the end of next year, but we really have to get this one out first. We have to find out what the response is, which will affect where we take the next Bond picture.”
Craig hopes the Bond experience will prove liberating rather than stifling: “It's a high-class problem to have an actor typecast as James Bond, and I'm certainly going to try and get as much out of it as I can. I'm aware that it might limit what I do, but I shall approach that problem as it comes.”
I asked Craig whether he feels responsibility to carry on the legacy of the Bond pictures that began six years before he was born. “I accept the fact that there is this Bond history,” he says, “I want to continue the tradition of parents taking their children to see the movie because they were taken by their parents. You could be critical of past movies, you can be critical of my movie, but it's a great cinema tradition and Bond is a great character. I want to appeal to everybody, but then I'm greedy.”