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Daniel Craig is a chip off the old blockbuster, says The Times

04-Nov-2006 • Casino Royale

Defying the critics, Daniel Craig is easing into his role as 007, he tells Martyn Palmer on the set of Casino Royale
The long, gruelling days of filming and even some of the stunts are getting easier for Daniel Craig, although you couldn’t possibly tell by looking at him. On set for Casino Royale he’s battered and bruised, in a grime-caked vest which looks, frankly, at least one size too small for his impressively honed torso - reports The Times.

If he’s been flexing those newly acquired muscles fighting bad guys — and that, after all, is his day job as the new James Bond — they obviously gave at least as good as he did.

“Yeah, that’s about the size of it,” he grins. “But the day’s not over yet . . .” Indeed it isn’t, and even if this dishevelled image is a far cry from the smooth, sophisticated Bond of the past, all that Craig asks is that we give him the chance to prove the cynics wrong, to let him have his day.

Ever since it was announced, a little more than a year ago, that as the sixth 007 he would be following in the footprints of Pierce Brosnan, Craig has attracted a firestorm of internet criticism ranging from mean-spirited (on the now defunct website craignotbond.com) to the downright silly (too blond to be Bond).

Add a sceptical tabloid press into the mix and it’s a wonder that Craig, 38, turned up to film Casino Royale at all, especially as he had agonised about taking the role in the first place.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I ignored it all,” he says. “And it’s that horrible thing with the internet, it’s like the drug we’ve got in the front room. I mean, we might use it for sensible things some of the time, but there’s always an hour in our lives where we just end up looking at s***.”

Given all the above, it wouldn’t be surprising to find a bit of a siege mentality on the set here today. There isn’t, but mention redtop stories that Craig lost two front teeth when a stunt went wrong — not true, he had a filling loosened — or that he couldn’t drive the manual Aston Martin DBS, and he rolls those piercingly pale blue eyes in mock horror. “Oh, do me a favour,” he groans.

“It’s playground stuff. It really is ‘Na, na, na! You did this!’ And it’s like ‘F*** off, I’ve got more important things to think about.’ I was certainly expecting a bit of a backlash, but I wasn’t expecting the way it came. But it did, and that’s it.

“And I’ve got two choices. I can either buckle under it or knuckle down, and, hopefully, the latter has happened. I just went ‘OK, let’s get on with it.’ And at the end of the day I’ve given 100 per cent on this, I’ve given everything I could. And I’ll present it and if people don’t like it, stuff ’em. I’m not being rude, I’m just saying that I’ve given it my best shot.”

Craig is in the middle of a private airfield, Dunsfold Park, in Surrey. He’s fresh from the make-up chair, which explains his impressively beaten-up appearance.

In an hour or so he’ll be called on set by the director, Martin Campbell, who is setting up a complex shot involving terrorists storming a jet that has been flown in for the sequence. As you do — if you’re making a Bond film, anyway. “Amazing, eh,” says Craig, clearly awestruck by the scale of a production costing a reported $72 million. “We’ve got our own f****** jet-liner!” The white Boeing 747 has no markings on it and will later be transformed by CGI into the Airbus required by the script. We are supposed to be airside at a bustling Miami International Airport instead of surrounded by prime Surrey real estate and some rather pretty trees and fields.

“Yes, rather surprisingly they wouldn’t let us film on a runway in Miami,” jokes Craig. “F****** killjoys!” If he’s rougher round the edges than his smooth-talking predecessor Brosnan, surely that’s the point.

“Daniel is not the traditional handsome type,” says Campbell later. “He is good-looking, but he’s more unconventional, tougher and darker. This Bond had to be darker and Daniel can convey that, rather like Sean Connery. Connery had that presence on the screen of someone who could definitely take care of himself. Daniel has that, too.”

Just over two years ago, the producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, keepers of the Bond cinematic flame, decided that the longest running franchise in Western cinema needed an overhaul.

It was a bold decision in many ways, not least considering that the last of Brosnan’s four films as Bond, Die Another Day, took $456 million at the box office, more than any other 007 movie; hardly a flop by any standards.

But the world has moved on and so has mainstream cinema — the excellent Bourne series of films starring Matt Damon as an American super spy is a good example — and the film-makers felt that Bond needed to change to survive.

A blustery, likeable New Zealander who started his career in British TV, Campbell directed Brosnan in his first outing as Bond in GoldenEye in 1995 and has been brought back to oversee Craig’s debut. This time, he says, it’s more of a challenge because it’s not just a new actor, but a whole new approach.

“GoldenEye was very much a traditional Bond,” he says. “There was a new actor, but the story was very much along the normal Bond lines with all the usual scenarios. Whereas this is much more down to earth. So no more exploding control rooms, no more unbelievable action sequences.

“It needed to change. You know, the last one took tons of money, but, as Barbara and Michael said, ‘How long can we go on like this?’ How long could you go on with that ‘man taking over the world’ scenario? They just repeat themselves.”

When the rights to Casino Royale, tied up because of a legal dispute between studios, finally became available it prompted the film-makers to change direction. If not exactly time to get back back to basics, it was time to get in touch with the original concept.

The frenzied speculation about who would get the role lasted for more than a year. The names bandied around included Hugh Jackman, Clive Owen, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor and Craig.

“We all had to agree on who would be Bond and we saw a lot of people,” says Campbell, without confirming exactly who sat on the casting couch. “There was endless speculation, and we had to go through everyone, and finally it came back to Daniel.”

Craig, born in Chester and raised on Merseyside, was not an obvious choice. With excellent performances playing Paul Newman’s damaged son in The Road to Perdition, as the poet Ted Hughes in Sylvia, a London gangster in Layer Cake and a hitman in Steven Spielberg’s Munich to his credit, he had built a reputation as a fine actor interested in working on the right material far more than the fame that comes with the job. It was a gamble for both sides.

Campbell says: “Ultimately you don’t know, you just hope you get it right. Daniel had never done an action film before and you gamble that he is going to be able to deal with that.

“Action is difficult. There’s a tendency to be dismissive and say ‘Oh it’s just action . . .’ But it’s tricky. And I’m talking about the kind of action that feeds into the character and narrative, not the sequences that are there for their own sake. Some actors you might expect to be very good because of their image turn out to be incapable of doing action.”

So was Craig up to the job? “To begin with, he buffed up and he trained and he looked great. I think there was a little bit of a learning curve in the way you do action and the way you shoot action. But once he was in the rhythm he was great.”

Casino Royale, the 21st Bond film, is a contemporary version of Ian Fleming’s first novel to feature the British secret agent, which was published in 1953. In it, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking Bond (he’s a 70fags-a-day man) is trying to earn his licence to kill while falling head over heels for a beauty with the exotic name of Vesper Lynd.

This was a rugged, gritty Bond, a ruthless would-be killer, who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. And one of the aspects of a “brilliantly crafted” script by Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) that particularly appealed to Craig was Bond’s dubious morals and methods.

“Bond always goes after the bad guys and there is no doubt in this movie that these are bad men, but it’s questionable exactly how he is going after them,” says Craig. “His reasoning, his conviction, would be ‘Well, they’ll do it to me so I’ve got to do it to them first . . .’ And I think that should be a bit of a jolt.

“I also want the audience to feel that this man might be in danger, that he’s not infallible. Because he isn’t.”

Fleming’s original story features a Russian agent who has squandered his bosses’ money in an ill-advised venture and tries to win it back in a baccarat game. This time, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is a money launderer for international terrorists who has blown millions of his clients’ funds in a series of badly timed investments. He organises a poker game for high rollers and Bond sits in, hoping to clean him out of cash and pressure him into becoming an informer.

The romantic interest is provided by the French actress Eva Green, whose Vesper Lynd is a treasury official sent along to make sure that Bond doesn’t squander millions of government money. But this is not a quick romp on the satin sheets after a few too many martinis.

This is a vulnerable Bond falling in love in a way we haven’t seen since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which Bond (George Lazenby’s one outing in the role) married Tracy (played by Diana Rigg), who was then unceremoniously bumped off.

“When we meet him,” says Craig, “he’s all the things that Bond is: he’s selfish, an egomaniac, all the things that drive him on. He couldn’t do his job without being singleminded, but this woman just knocks him for six. And that’s very interesting.”

Not that the standard Bond formula gets left too far behind. “Let’s not beat about the bush over this,” says Craig. “It’s a franchise that has been built on huge action sequences, beautiful girls and fast cars. And we have all of that.” The five-month shoot has taken Craig from the Bahamas to Italy and the Czech Republic, and now back to England. It’s been hard work, especially since he has been doing much of his own stunt work.

“I started training for the film when I knew there was a possibility that I might get the part,” says Craig. “And I thought ‘F*** it, I’ll start trying to get myself fit anyway and even if it doesn’t come off I’ll live another year.’ And if I hadn’t done it I don’t think I would have survived.

“Obviously there is stuff that I don’t have the skills for, that’s the honest truth, but I’m desperate to do as much as I can stuntwise. We did a thing today where I was shot into the air, and I’m not great with heights. But it was a piece of piss. It’s definitely getting better. These challenges come up and it’s about conquering them.”

He hasn’t been as fit since he was a 16-year-old playing rugby twice a week. And then he jokes: “But I’m not obsessive about it. I work out three or four times a week, but I take the weekends off and drink as much Guinness as I can get down my neck.”

Before he took the job, Craig thought long and hard about the impact it would have on his life, both personal and professional. He has a teenage daughter from a brief marriage in his twenties and he’s attracted the headlines in the past for a dalliance with Kate Moss. But mostly, he likes to keep his private life away from public scrutiny.

“I’ve been consistent about that in the past and I don’t see why it should change now,” he says. “Obviously, I know that this job comes with a lot of scrutiny and a high profile and I’m more than happy to sit down and talk about the work, the filming, whatever. But I don’t see why I should have to discuss the details of my private life in public.”

And while Craig was hooked into the part for the same creative reasons, he says, as any other film — primarily a great script — he knows that even a new-style Bond has to embrace the traditions of the genre.Inside his trailer, there’s a stack of DVDs of all the previous Bond films. “I’ve got the box set and I went through them all religiously. I had to. Not so that I can answer a question at a press conference — although if you want to, test me! — but, you know, for tips. Some of those are great movies and any film-maker would be lying if they said they didn’t copy off people, because you have to.

“I just wanted to go through them all and there was stuff that Sean did and Roger (Moore) did and all of them did that were their little keys and you go, ‘Oh that’s cute, the way they did that . . .’ It’s not something to do consciously, but just to have a mental note of.”

It’s almost time to go back to work. Craig will be filming into the early hours of the morning, but the end of the shoot is now only a few days away. He’s already signed up for a second film, due to go into production next year, and while the new James Bond may be bloodied — on camera literally and metaphorically off — he’s unbowed.

“It’s a particularly British movie we are doing here,” he says. “It’s British talent producing something special. It’s going to give Bond fans — and believe me I’m careful about that, because I know what it means to them — it’s going to give them what they want.”

Thanks to `lorna99` for the alert.

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