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Daniel Craig talks candidly about how 007 has changed him, prepares for Bond 22

24-Nov-2007 • Quantum Of Solace

Daniel Craig can pinpoint exactly the moment his world changed - reports The Times. He was sitting in a hotel room in Switzerland when the producer Barbara Broccoli – the keeper of the James Bond flame who had selected Craig to become the new, postmodern 007 amid a storm of scepticism – rang with the news that the box office for Casino Royale was looking good. Very good.

“It was surreal,” he recalls. “Just surreal. The numbers kept going up and up and up and it was like, ‘That’s it! We’ve done it.’” Those numbers did in fact keep soaring, to nearly $600 million (£300 million), making it the most profitable Bond film to date. Add to that a host of international reviews that hailed his performance as a triumph, and you certainly have a reason to celebrate.

Suggest that he might have uncorked a bottle of vintage champagne, perhaps, and his face – the one that looks like it was hewn out of a chunk of rock – creases up into a smile and those piercing pale-blue eyes light up as if they’re powered by halogen.

“You’re joking, aren’t you! Champagne? No way. I had a couple of very large vodka martinis. I went to the bar and it was like, ‘Three please! Shaken, stirred or however you want to serve them.’”

As he knocked back Bond’s favourite tipple, Craig could certainly be forgiven for flipping a two-fingered salute in the general direction of the doubters who said that he was the wrong man for the job. “Yes, when it came out and people liked it, believe me, there was no one happier,” he says. “But I wasn’t going to say, ‘F*** you.’ Because there was no need.”

Craig now has the kind of career that few achieve – he’s a box-office star with street cred, and there aren’t many of those around. From Bond he went straight on to film The Golden Compass, the first part of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, in which he plays the rugged Lord Asriel, equal parts explorer and scientist.

The Golden Compass, with a budget rumoured to be $150 million (£72 million) or more, will open next month to a fanfare of publicity and could even outdo Bond in takings. If it’s a success, then Pullman’s two other books will be filmed, and Craig will find himself starring in two of cinema’s biggest franchises. “I know,” he groans with mock despair. “Who’d have guessed?”

At one point, it did indeed seem very unlikely. When it was announced in 2005 that he was the new 007, websites were set up with the express purpose of rubbishing a man who hadn’t yet shot a single scene. One organised a petition calling for him to be replaced, and another raged that he was too, er, blond to be Bond.

“The stuff that people were saying [he adopts a whiny voice]: ‘Oh, he can’t do it.’ I’ve just spent six months doing it, I’ve done it. And it’s funny but, I think because of the furore that was going on, some people were going to come along to see how rubbish it was, so we had that on our side. I wanted people to see the film and be surprised, I wanted them to say, ‘We didn’t know it could be like that.’ But, to be honest with you, all of that was a defence mechanism, so I didn’t have to think about all the s*** that was going on. I was determined to keep my mind on the game.”

We meet in the Soho offices of Craig’s publicist. He’s wearing jeans and an open-necked shirt and he looks remarkably fit – he’s started training again in preparation for Bond 22 (as yet untitled) – although not quite as buffed up as he was for Casino Royale.

I mention the now famous scene in which he emerges from the sea in Casino Royale looking like a poster boy for a muscle magazine. “Yeah, I know,” he interrupts, laughing. “Arrghh! I was big for the last one, and it wasn’t a mistake, it was a definite statement. This guy, when he takes his shirt off, should look like he could kill someone.

“After it finished, I stopped training. I got drunk for three months! No, I didn’t, but certainly relaxed for three months and ate what I wanted, and then it’s hell because as soon as you get back in the gym, you have to work all that off, and it takes much longer than it does to put it on. Last time I did a lot of weights to bulk up because I had to do it quickly. This time I’m going to do more boxing and more running. I need to be physically strong for Bond and, as much as I looked in great shape, I got a lot of injuries, probably due to the fact that I wasn’t doing enough running and jumping, which is what I needed to do in the film. I won’t look physically much different, but I won’t be as ‘no neck’ as I was last time.”

The year since Casino Royale was released has been packed: Craig has travelled around the world, made another two films (Flashbacks of a Fool and Defiance) and attempted to adjust to his new life. The promotional tour for Bond was a whirlwind of airports and hotels, accompanied by his girlfriend, producer Satsuki Mitchell.

“I couldn’t get through it without her,” he says. “You’ve got to have a sense of perspective and she gives me that. It’s a strain on a relationship because we are never in one place and there’s never a lot of time. I have to fight for that, and for my family.” Craig was married, briefly in his twenties, to the actress Fiona Loudon, and they have a teenage daughter. Now he seems settled with Mitchell, whom he met in 2005 when she was a producer on The Jacket.

“It’s a struggle, but I couldn’t do it without having that closeness to somebody,” he says of maintaining his stability during the pressures of the past year. “Being on your own would be sad, sick and weird. I don’t trust myself. I need that balance, it’s crucially important. And we’ve been to some amazing places. I remember one night we were in this sky bar at the top of a beautiful hotel having a drink looking out over Beijing and just being blown away.

You have to have someone to share this stuff with. We got a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel. A fantastic guy took us around and told us the history of all the paintings. How cool is that? I said to Sats, ‘We have to remember this.’”

It is, of course, very cool. But when you are James Bond, it comes with the territory, such as the men’s magazine GQ recently naming him the Best Dressed Man in Britain. “Oh yeah,” he groans. “I mean, that’s very nice and everything, but now when I take the rubbish out wearing a pair of flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt, some paparazzo will snap me and that’ll come back to haunt me.”

Craig is now in a world where, just as doors open to a life of wealth and privilege, others close behind you – you are fêted all over the world, but a pint down at your local is likely to turn into an unseemly scrum with phone cameras flashing all around you. He laments the loss of the latter, but knew that was part of the price he would have to pay. “You know, if I'm up for it, fine. I have to keep hold of my sense of humour, because you can lose it very quickly and you start retreating into yourself; then you can’t go anywhere unless you are with armed guards, and the whole thing becomes ridiculous. So you have to smile about these things.

“But I tell you, trying to take pictures of me when I’m having a piss is not welcome and never will be. And yes, that’s happened.”

Born in Chester, 39 years ago, Craig grew up in Liverpool. He attended the National Youth Theatre at 16 and then the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. In 1996 he starred in the highly acclaimed BBC drama Our Friends in the North, a corruption and crime saga regarded as one of the best television dramas of recent times. That led to feature films, and along with Sylvia (playing poet Ted Hughes) and The Jacket, Craig has been sought out by directors such as Steven Spielberg (Munich), Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition) and Roger Michell (The Mother, Enduring Love). Craig himself continues to look for more edgy roles to play alongside the big-budget extravaganzas.

Earlier this year, he signed up to play a fading Hollywood star looking back on his youth in England in Flashbacks of a Fool, directed by his friend, Baillie Walsh. The film has a relatively small budget, but with Craig on board it was green lit and in production. “I think we probably could have done it [pre-Bond], but it would have been harder, and a struggle in a different way. It’s not going to be a huge money-spinner because it’s not that kind of movie.

“But to be able to make films like this is important to me. I have to be all these other things now and acting starts dropping down the list, which is bizarre. You go, ‘Hang on a minute, I just want to be an actor, I want to just turn up and do the gig.’”

In musical terms, The Golden Compass is stadium rock, set in a brilliantly conceived landscape with parallel worlds where people’s souls manifest themselves as animals known as Daemons. Craig’s Asriel is the uncle of Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), the 12-year-old heroine of the story. “It clings on to the story of Creation, but it’s also about growing up, about being a human being and figuring out who you are, and becoming better because of that,” he says.

Pullman’s novels are controversial, too, because they feature a strong theological element that casts the Church as an oppressive organisation out to stifle individuality. Some Christian groups have condemned them, and it’s not clear yet how much of this will feature in screenwriter and director Chris Weitz’s epic.

Craig met Pullman on set and they have stayed in touch. “He feels passionately about the books, obviously, but also passionately about life. I’m a huge admirer of his, and I genuinely like him very much. My take is that there is a fundamental right to discuss all sorts of things, particularly at the moment with the way the world is. All we’re saying is faith always needs to be questioned.”

Now Craig is back into Bond mode, involved in every stage of Bond 22. Marc Forster will direct, and writer Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) is finalising the script. Forster, who directed Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland, isn’t an obvious choice. He’s just shot The Kite Runner and isn’t known for action and adventure.

“If we are going to do this, we have to create something that is going to last, that we are going to look at and say, ‘They were different,’” argues Craig. “It’s a risk, but the last one was a risk just because it was me getting involved, and we seem to have ridden that one out. So now we have to go to the next stage. I want to make sure the next two, three, four, whatever films I manage to do before they chuck me out, or before it goes tits up, sit nicely within this era.”

Craig’s enthusiasm is infectious. Bond has changed his life, in both good and bad ways, for ever. He has to deal with that, but there’s part of him that’s determined to cling on to where he comes from, and not let it all go to his head. “I mustn’t get complacent,” he says, “because if I start relaxing about all of this, then I’m going to turn into a dick. I don’t want to do that if I can possibly avoid it.”

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