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Daniel Craig talks indepth about the pros and cons of being James Bond

21-Nov-2006 • Casino Royale

The new Bond is licensed to kill and built for battle - but, as Daniel Craig explains to Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian, it's important he bleeds like the rest of us

The sixth James Bond is struggling with a banana milkshake as I enter the interview suite. He bends down to take a sip and nearly skewers himself with the straw. "Oooh, I nearly put my eye out," says Daniel Craig, giggling. This, given that Craig's ripped pecs are currently the most public symbol of British masculinity, is hardly propitious.

Later in the interview, Craig explains that he insisted on doing as much stunt work as possible in Casino Royale , the 21st Bond adventure. But if Craig can't drink a milkshake without risking serious injury, how could he be trusted to take part in one of the most stunt-heavy 007 movies in the franchise's 44-year history? What were the insurance people thinking?

Craig, though, is no ordinary 007. He's a Guardian-reading Bond. "It's my paper," he says. "That's why I was so thrilled to get a good review. I was glowing when I read that. I read it twice." He proves to be word-perfect on long chunks from Peter Bradshaw's review.

But a 38-year-old Guardian-reading thesp outfoxed by straw-wielding cold drinks is not, for some critics, the kind of guy who should have been given a licence to kill. When Craig was outed as Pierce Brosnan's successor in October 2005, the blogosphere went into meltdown. He was too small (5ft 11in), too blond (Fleming's Bond was dark-haired), too actorly (early CV: National Youth theatre, Guildhall School of Music and Drama; a big break on telly's Our Friends in the North in 1996. He even appeared - please God, no - in Angels in America at the National Theatre). One group went so far as to set up a website called craignotbond.com ("site temporarily disabled", the address now reveals).

Craig admits he is not a natural Bond. "As an actor, it was somewhere else, it was nothing to do with me," he says of the film franchise. But now, as spokesman for that franchise, he is obliged to say otherwise: "Even the worst Bond movies, there's something to love about them. Certainly Dr No and From Russia with Love are two of my favourite movies. I do feel close to it as we all feel close to it."

Following the cyberspace mauling, the tabloids put a contract out on Craig. One headline read: "The name's Bland. James Bland." The Daily Star described how "superwimp Daniel Craig" couldn't drive 007's classic Aston Martin DB5 because he was used to automatic transmissions, using the headline "Bond's licence to squeal: 007 wuss Dan can't even change gears". Then there was the story that he got two teeth knocked out in his first filmed fisticuffs on set ("I actually just lost a crown"). Other stories suggested he didn't like playing cards, hated guns and got queasy in the film's speedboat sequences. Craig hotly denies these stories, insisting that he is perfectly able to use a gearstick. So there.

Earlier this month Craig gave an interview to GQ, in which he complained that the adverse criticism was like being bullied. Isn't the moral that you've got to get a thicker skin? "I don't know if I am quite tough," concedes Craig. "The bad reviews get to me, believe me." Fortunately for him, Casino Royale is, overwhelmingly, getting very good reviews. It must be nice, I suggest, that he can wave two fingers to the tabloid muggers and the blogging naysayers. "If that was the way I felt, it would suggest that at the time when I got criticism that I was wanting to enter into a dialogue about it. But there was nothing to say at the time except, 'Go see the movie.'"

Doesn't taking on the role of James Bond risk Craig's career? Only Timothy Dalton of previous Bonds has come with a comparable acting pedigree, and Craig's filmography is more noteworthy: he was impressive in Road to Perdition, Spielberg's Munich, as Ted Hughes in Sylvia and as an unpleasantly violent drug dealer in Layer Cake. (Yes, he was also in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and in the feeble adaptation of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love. And, true, his performance in Infamous - the other film about Truman Capote to be released this year - was sadly overlooked, but let's not spoil the story.)

Surely he needed Bond like a cigarette burn in his tux? Craig agrees: "When I got the call, it really was left-field. Honoured though I was, I wasn't deeply enthusiastic. I met Barbara and Michael [Broccoli and Wilson, the film's producers] who are lovely people and they were trying to take it in a different direction." The aim was to rebrand Bond: they wanted to create a new 007 with interesting psychological flaws to enable him to compete with troubled modern icons such as Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne.

Broccoli and Wilson wanted to start the Bond story from scratch with a new adaptation of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953). They would make him voguishly vulnerable, hint that he was an orphan and give him a proper love affair rather than the usual tropical rumpy-pumpy. Fingers crossed, the result (to be directed by Goldeneye's Martin Campbell) would obliterate the memory of the misfiring swinging 1960s comedy version.

Craig didn't bite. "For me, at that stage, it was promises, promises. Unfortunately, they didn't have a script and I can't say yes without a script." So he turned down the role: "I walked away from it because I thought this is taking up too much of my life. I was thinking about it too much." He went off to play an avenging killer in Spielberg's movie Munich. But he couldn't get Bond out of his head. "I said to Steven, 'Bond isn't this kind of film.' He said, 'If the script's right and if the deal's right, do the job.'"

Then last year, Craig received the final script. "Paul Haggis [writer of the Oscar-winning Crash and Million Dollar Baby] had sprinkled his magic dust on it. I was honestly wanting to dislike it. It would have been an easy decision. I could have said, 'That's very nice. Good luck with it.' But it was too much. I sweated when I read the script. I thought, this is a great story, probably because it adhered to the book quite closely, and I just thought, 'You've got to be really silly not to have a think about this.'

"I made pro and con lists. Every time the pros outdid the cons." What were the cons? "The cons were like: you're going to get typecast. Which is a high-class problem to have." Other cons? "You might not be able to do other stuff, to which I replied, 'Who says?'" Around this time, he happened to be sitting at the Baftas at the same table as Pierce Brosnan. "He said, 'Go for it. It's a ride.'" Brosnan was a good precedent: he had managed to star in some good non-007 films during his 007 tenure, notably The Tailor of Panama and the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

How did the script sucker you? "He makes mistakes. He's vulnerable and falls in love. He's everything Bond isn't supposed to be. It appealed to me - showing him screwing up, bleeding and getting hurt - because that's the kind of actor I am, but also it works dramatically. If he's just action, action, action, and then he falls in love, the reaction's gonna be, like, 'Ah, bullshit.' I wanted that progression and the script gave me that."

Were you not put off by Bond's unedifying sexual politics? "He might be chauvinistic occasionally, but the women he likes are strong, intelligent and are equal to him." In this, Bond has changed. I remind him of Sean Connery's dismissal of Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger (1964): "Run along dear, man talk." "Yeah, and then he slaps her arse!" There's no possibility of your Bond doing that? "Well, if there was a possibility - and I kind of think, 'Why not?' - he should get a slap back. And I think those things are good to play with and don't be afraid of it. And you've got M as this gorgeous matriarchal figure [played by Judi Dench], who's the only person he cares about in the world. With Judi as M in the film, you have to have respect for women.

"I also wanted the love story to be convincing. In a sense, it's the story of two equals. That we got Eva Green to do it [play his love interest] was really important. They spar with each other, but they are both vulnerable, which is something you don't expect of Bond." Green plays Vesper Lynd, a Treasury functionary who accompanies him to a poker game in Montenegro in which he must play a man with a bleeding eye called Le Chiffre, who has more than a hint of Austin Powers' nemesis Dr Evil. He must win to bankrupt Le Chiffre, who is the banker of choice for global terrorists, and who himself needs to win because he's come up a bit short with the terrorists' money and they'll kill him if he doesn't cough up. Or something. The plot is unutterable guff. But then, we'd have been disappointed if it wasn't.

"I'm not trying to kid anybody here: it's a Bond movie - it's not Ingmar Bergman, for Christ's sake. That's not to say anything against Martin's direction. But it needed to have some emotional content to it. So we started filming and nobody stopped me delivering that. So I felt I must be doing something right."

It must have been difficult to make Bond a credible hero, given that he's been satirised wonderfully three times by Mike Myers. "We had the Austin Powers alarm on set," replies Craig. "We had to. If something's been parodied as much as that, there's a reason for it."

Hence the dearth of gadgets in the film, which may upset Bond purists. "I love the fact that Roger Moore drives a Lotus into the water and it becomes a submarine. It's a great movie moment. But that wasn't our plan and it wasn't our remit."

One thing Craig does do is remove his shirt, often, to disclose a ripped torso on which he spent a great deal of gym time. For all Roger Moore's other achievements, when he took off his safari jacket he never elicited the cry: "Give me a piece of that!" With Craig, it is otherwise. "I wanted to be like, if Bond takes his shirt off, the audience thinks, 'Oh he can do those things, those mad stunts and violent scenes.'"

Costume designer Lindy Hemming has said that because of Craig's more muscular physique, Bond's evening suit is a new shape. By which, presumably she means it is more commodious in the chest. Surely, though, it is at least ungallant for James Bond to have a bigger bust than his leading lady. And surely it is symptomatic of something or other (the mores of post-feminism; the commodification of homoerotic allure; the inflated vital statistics deemed necessary for the plausible spy in the new millennium) that not only are Bond's boobs bigger than ever, but his body is fetished more than hitherto and that he is deployed mostly naked more than anyone else in the film. Even the hotsy-totsy women keep their kits on. Straight men will be yearning for more airtime to be devoted to his leading lady's body for the next Bond film in two years' time. Only then will we find out if Bond, made cynical by his experiences with the diverting Vesper Lynd and her disappointing cleavage in Casino Royale, will become incapable of love and more like the 007 of old - a boyish sex pest with the emotional maturity of a breeze block.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Were the parameters of your rippedness set out in the script? "No! I just had to get fit." Craig stopped smoking and took on Simon Waterson (of Commando Workout notoriety) as a personal trainer. Isn't it time he got in touch with his feminine side? "I'm never going to worry about that."

A cappuccino arrives and Craig manfully sees it off without mishap. As he sips, I furtively survey Craig's assets. He's wearing a cardigan and a tie, and it is hard to tell if he could still bench his own body weight. He retains smouldering, steely-blue eyes that have captivated, among others, Kate Moss and Sienna Miller. That said, I find it hard, despite Craig's charm and suave demeanour, not to detect something of the Wilfrid Brambell (the man who played Albert Steptoe) in his jutting lower jaw.

Do you feel like the saviour of British masculinity which, in American popular culture (notably The Simpsons), is regularly trashed for plummeting into irremediable effeteness? "You know as well as I do that that's not the case. We just tend to keep it hidden. I'm not going to get into a thing comparing British and American masculinity. It's cold here. We keep our clothes on." There's nothing effete about Casino Royale's Bond, who is more violent than his predecessors. "Look. He's a killer. He's a trained, serious and dangerous killer, and maybe things evolved as we made the film. I was kind of tested out by the stunt team. When they saw I was up for doing it we could push those films in a different direction."

How long will you stay as Bond? "I'm contracted to make two more. I don't know beyond that." He's pleased that he has been able to take on other roles: currently, he's filming the first screen adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. In The Golden Compass he plays Lord Asriel. It must be hard to focus on that with all this Bond hoopla? "That's very true." Craig says he will check the opening weekend box office figures, hoping that Casino Royale's reviews are good indicators of ticket sales. But you get a sense of how conflicted Craig remains about the role when he injects a note of worry about his future: "The more success this film may have, the more restricting that may become for my career." A beat. "But it's not a bad problem to have. When I was at the Guildhall, we'd go to these meetings with Equity accountants and they'd say 90% of you aren't going to work. I've been very lucky."

Thanks to `Brokenclaw` for the alert.

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