Interview Daniel Craig speaks about the 007 franchise and how the James Bond role propelled him to stardom.
A quantum leap
Standing on the set of the first-ever James Bond sequel, Quantum of Solace, at Pinewood, London, the grey corridors of MI6 stretching out before us, Daniel Craig fiddles with his latest accessory, although this is not a clever, gadget-packed mobile phone, or a new type of gun, or even a gas-filled suitcase. It's a plaster.
"I wish I'd taken the thing off," he laughs. Indeed, the injury, a blister sustained during a rope descent earlier in the day, is not very Bond-like; we associate 007 with tuxedos and totty, not Band-Aids and bruises. "Ah, but it's Daniel Craig that's got the injury," he counters, "not James Bond." In which case, the plaster, and the injury that it conceals, seems rather apt. After all, while the 40-year-old actor has sought to revitalise Bond on screen, among all the actors who've played him, Craig is perhaps the least like the character off screen. In contrast to the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, all of whom seemed as at home in the spotlight as Bond himself, Craig finds attention uncomfortable. He's blessed with those glacial, piercing eyes, but he doesn't lift them very often. He speaks slowly and quietly, refusing even to broach the subject of his personal life. James Bond may live a high-profile love life, but it's anathema to Craig.
"I guess with the British media, there is that tall poppy syndrome, building people up to cut them down," he says, "but that is part of our way of life in Britain. On the one hand, I hate it, of course, because you find yourself on the receiving end, but then again, that's just how we are." Craig first found himself "on the receiving end" in 2004, when he briefly dated the model-turned-tabloid-darling Kate Moss. At the time, the couple claimed they were nothing more than mutual friends of Rhys Ifans, with whom Craig was working on the Ian McEwan adaptation Enduring Love, but the paparazzi were unremitting in their pursuit. The pair once fled through the kitchens of a famous London restaurant to escape the attention.
The relationship lasted four months, Craig finding his girlfriend's celebrity too much to cope with; he swore that he would not put himself in the same situation again. By October of that year he was dating Satsuki Mitchell, a producer he'd met while filming his next Hollywood picture, The Jacket. They are still together. "I guess building people up and knocking them down is one of our national traits and I kind of like that," continues Craig. "I guess the problem for me comes from the fact that I never actually thought I'd turn out to be one of the tall poppies!"
Craig's journey to tall-poppy-dom began in earnest in 2003, when the custodians of the James Bond franchise, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (the latter is the daughter of Cubby Broccoli, who founded the franchise with Harry Saltzman in 1961) decided to retire Brosnan, revoking his licence to kill in spite of his final film's success - 2002's Die Another Day took over $430 million (Dh1.6bn) at the international box office. They recast their character for what Broccoli terms "the post-September 11 world", returning to the source material and seeking out the character as originally imagined in Ian Fleming's books, a complex, brooding and troubled figure. Hence Craig's 007, who strode out of the water in 2006's Casino Royale, traded his suave cool and imperialist panache for a coiled-spring volatility. The film changed his life forever.
"You do lose a sense of anonymity, of course," he says. "I can walk down the street, and I do think living in London and living in this country people are generally really, really respectful about it. I might get screamed and yelled at occasionally but I can live with that. I don't mind the attention, but I can't spend too long in any one place any more. I was in a pub on New Year's Eve and I had about half an hour in there and it got a little uncomfortable because if I want to sit down and talk to my mates it becomes impossible to do so. People want to come and say hello, which is absolutely fine but I sometimes find that you can't relax that much in a public place."
Such was the success of Casino Royale, and the subsequent frenzy surrounding Quantum of Solace, that there are not many public places in which Craig can relax. His first Bond outing stands as the most successful 007 film of all time, earning over $40m (Dh146m) on its opening weekend in the US, before going to hoover up just shy of $600m (Dh2.2bn) in worldwide ticket sales. For Craig, and Broccoli, this must incite a tremendous sense of satisfaction: in the autumn of 2005, when the producers first announced that Craig had accepted the role, the response from fans was one of unbridled apathy at best, vitriolic derision at worst.
For some he was too rough, for others too small, for some too young, for others too blond. The website www.danielcraigisnotbond.com launched with the sole purpose of disparaging his appointment. His cause was hardly helped by his first public outing - when Craig turned up for his opening Bond press conference, he was uncomfortable and monosyllabic. One British tabloid dubbed him "James Bland". "Personally, and this is the honest truth," smiles Craig, clearly far more comfortable in the role nowadays, "I put all that to bed at the time. We kind of knew it was going to happen. There was going to be a strong reaction to the fact that I was in the role, and as I said at the time, I would have reacted strongly to it, too. I would have had an opinion over it and would have chatted over a pint and talked about it.
"I always knew it was going to happen and when it happened, I just forgot about it. I literally put it out of my mind and said, 'OK, that's happened and now we must make the best movie that we can because that's the only answer to this'. I couldn't say anything publicly and I can't go onto the internet and start responding to it." Craig took his first steps towards an acting career in Hoylake and West Kirby, on the Wirral in the north-west of England, where he grew up with his mother - his parents divorced when he was four - and his sister, the pair encouraging his interest in acting. After gracing his first school play when he was six, he never looked back, going on to enroll at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 1991.
"It was difficult then, because the British film industry wasn't exactly flourishing. Of course, there was Merchant Ivory, but I couldn't really pull that off - Rupert Everett and Jeremy Irons had that all taped up. I guess my break was Our Friends in the North, the BBC series. From there I got work with the National Theatre." Like his drama school colleague Ewan McGregor, Craig's first feature film break came with John Maybury's Love Is the Devil (1998). He then briefly flirted with Hollywood -he starred opposite Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and popped up in Sam Mendes' slick and shiny Road to Perdition the following year. The indie scene also proved fruitful. He starred in a string of British flicks, playing the philandering poet Ted Hughes in Gwyneth Paltrow's Sylvia (2003) and then enjoying two lead outings, one as the self-deluding drug dealer in Matthew Vaughn's gangster film Layer Cake, and one as the befuddled lecturer in Enduring Love (both 2004).
He re-teamed with Maybury for The Jacket (2005) before starring as one of the real-life murderers in Infamous (2006); the latter, had it been released before Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winner Capote, would surely have earned awards of its own. His post-Bond output has been disappointing - although he could be forgiven for expecting more from 2007's The Invasion (Oliver Hirschbiegel's first film after Downfall), The Golden Compass (2007), and the rather limp Flashbacks of a Fool (2008). He is hoping for critical success with his forthcoming picture, Defiance, the true-life tale of the Bielski Partisans, a group of Jewish resistance fighters who saved more of their brethren from the Nazis than Oscar Schindler during the Second World War. It opens in January.
"It might not sound that inspiring," Craig smiles, "but you do just look for those interesting parts. James Bond is one thing, but you don't choose something like Defiance as a reaction to it. I chose Defiance because it's a fascinating story with an intriguing character. Hopefully the same applies to Quantum of Solace, too." Critics of the latest Bond offering beg to differ, with many reviewers bemoaning a lack of emotional depth in Quantum of Solace's 007. The criticism, however, is levelled more at Marc Forster's direction than at Craig. In any case, the target of danielcraigisnotbond.com has weathered far worse storms and is undoubtedly more than capable of coping with the sniping - and a few more blisters and bruises.