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In-depth interview with Daniel Craig on `Quantum of Solace` and being Bond

11-Oct-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

When Daniel Craig accepted his first 007 assignment, he knew he would be the focus of a storm of hysteria the world over. On the eve of his second Bond film, Quantum of Solace, Richard Grant of The Telegraph finds him determined to cling on to reality as he once knew it.

Daniel Craig is sitting in a London hotel suite with his right arm in a sling, talking about the weirdness of being James Bond and what he does to counterbalance it: 'I go to the States, I get in a car with my girlfriend, I pick a direction and go that way, because you can go that way for a very long time. And once you get away from the cities and into the middle of nowhere, even if people recognise you, they've got more important things to think about, like getting on with life. If I didn't have that, if I couldn't escape, I'd go insane.'

Quantum of Solace, his second Bond film and the follow-up to Casino Royale, is about to be released and the whole flashbulb-popping hullabaloo is at maximum warp speed, although it is currently focused on Craig's injured shoulder, rather than the film, which strikes him as very weird indeed. 'I've been in New York for the past couple weeks, and I've just got back to London and now I've got 10 photographers chasing me around and they're in cars, trying to force us off the road because a shot of me in a sling is apparently a news story. It's just incredibly odd.'

Daniel Craig used to be a character actor, valued for his versatility and the intensity of his performances. Now he has become a brand, an icon, a figure from modern mythology, and the expectation follows him around that he should be like Bond off-screen, in his private life, all the time. Bond is supposed to be invincible, so when word gets out that Craig has his arm in a sling, a pack of photographers appears and tries to run him off the road - this is the ordinary madness of his new life, and if he ever starts to think of it as normal, that is when he will know that he has completely lost touch with reality.

'It's a labral tear,' he says of his injury. 'A kind of separation of the shoulder. I've had it for years and I've probably aggravated it by jumping around on Bond movies. I've had it fixed now. It wasn't an essential operation but if I don't do it now, I could do something on the next movie and rip it out of its socket. It's just a pain in the arse, really, and it'll be a long wait before it heals properly.'

Daniel Craig had been a James Bond fan ever since his father, a publican in Cheshire, took him to see Live and Let Die at the cinema, but when he was first offered the part, in late 2004, he thought probably not. The producers, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, didn't have a script yet and he was troubled by the smoothness and perfection of Bond. As an actor, he had always found it hard to get purchase on a character with no flaws. It was also true, although you won't hear it from Craig, that the Bond films had been getting sillier and more gimmick-laden for years. After the first round of negotiations, he told the producers to forget it, and went off to play a South African-Jewish assassin for Steven Spielberg in Munich.

Nearly a year later, Craig read the script for Casino Royale and absolutely loved it. The Bond franchise had been rebooted, taken back to the beginning, stripped of its gloss and gimmickry, and 007 had become a more flawed character. Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning writer and director of Crash, had done the final rewrite and 'sprinkled it with his magic dust', as Craig puts it. But still he was reluctant. It wasn't the fame - how hard could that be? He was worried about being typecast and derailing the career he had worked so hard and carefully to assemble. He had a drink with Pierce Brosnan, the retiring Bond, who advised him to 'go for it', and finally he said yes because he didn't want to be drunk in the pub, aged 60, saying, 'I could have been James Bond.'

Craig officially accepted the role in October 2005 and there was an immediate, massive, hysterical outcry among Bond fans, who said he was too blond (all the other Bonds have been dark-haired), too short (5ft 11in), too coarse-looking and scruffy, too thespian with his National Theatre background and, at 38, too old. A venomous website, craignotbond.com, appeared on the internet, with doctored photographs showing that he looked like Vladimir Putin, and things got worse at the official unveiling.

Craig arrived at the press conference in a Royal Marines speedboat, wearing a beautiful Italian suit by Brioni, but the effect was ruined by the bulky orange lifejacket he was forced to wear and his white-knuckled grip on the boat rail. After thanking the Marines for 'scaring the shit out of me', he gave a brief, evasive and rather testy series of answers while chewing gum. He refused to say anything about his rumoured affairs with Kate Moss and Sienna Miller - as he still refuses - and one tabloid described him the next morning as James Bland.

Now, of course, the criticism seems very silly indeed, partly because Casino Royale was the highest-grossing Bond film ever, and mainly because no one could take their eyes off Craig. He was the most muscular 007 to date, having worked out like a beast for months with a personal trainer. He was also the first genuinely dangerous-looking Bond, and his edgy, kinetic performance turned him into an international superstar and sex symbol.

'Everything I brought to the character comes straight from Ian Fleming,' Craig says. 'I went back and read all the books and found that Bond's always in trouble, Bond's always fighting with his inner demons, and I thought, "There it is." The other thing I wanted to instil in the part, which also comes from the Flemings, is the idea that Bond has just come out of the service and he's a killer.' On the set of Munich, and again during the filming of Casino Royale, Craig met some real spies and assassins - Mossad agents and British secret service - who were there as advisers. 'You can see it in their eyes,' he says. 'You know immediately: oh, hello, he's a killer. There's a look. These guys walk into a room and very subtly they check the perimeters for an exit. That's the sort of thing I wanted.'

Of all the actors who have been 007, Craig is perhaps the least Bond-like off-screen, and he seems particularly unlike his own volatile, dangerous, coiled-spring interpretation of the character in Casino Royale. He is not as ripped and hulking for one thing, having lifted fewer weights and done a lot more running, and his face, so rough-hewn, proud and flinty on-screen, looks a little more tired and honest in the flesh.

He does have those extraordinary, piercing, glacial blue eyes but he keeps them turned down low most of the time, and listening to him talk, in a generic London accent that clings on to a few last syllables of his native Wirral - us is still uzz, one is wan - the hotel suite melts away and you hear a bloke chatting away over a pint in the pub, matey and affable, lively and intelligent, laughing a lot in a high-pitched chuckle, swearing exuberantly but keeping a very close watch on himself for signs of pretentiousness, luvviness or being too big for his boots.

'Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to get this right if I was American, because I'm deeply English,' he says. 'I'm always trying to self-mock. I'm always trying to put it down, or laugh it off, and you've got to be careful because false humility is not a great trait. It's kind of horrible, in fact, but it's also where I'm from. The tall poppy syndrome is a way of life in this country. We cut them down to size. On the one hand I f***ing hate it, because I get on the receiving end of it occasionally, but on the other hand that's how we are, and there's something I always liked about that. Of course I never thought I'd be a tall poppy myself. It was supposed to be some other tosser.'

He grew up mainly in Hoylake and West Kirby. His parents split up when he was four and he lived with his sister and his mother, who was an art teacher and a theatre-lover and encouraged his childhood interest in acting. He was in his first school play at the age of six and basically never stopped, going straight into the National Youth Theatre at 16, and then to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he honed his skills alongside Ewan McGregor, Alistair McGowan, Joseph Fiennes and others, graduating in 1991.

'There wasn't really a film industry in this country at that time,' Craig says. 'There was Merchant Ivory films and the floppy fringe, and I could never really pull it off - the Rupert Everett sneer, the Jeremy Irons thing. Luckily enough, I got into a good BBC television series, Our Friends in the North, and that was the springboard that got me into the National Theatre, where I played a lot of tortured parts, I suppose. People with problems: those are the ones I always find most interesting.'

He started getting a lot of television offers, but turned most of them down because he had always wanted to be a film actor. Then he started getting offers from Hollywood and he kept saying no because the parts were so cliched: 'Baddies mostly, literally with the twirling moustache. Lots of Nazis. Any sort of European villain with a slightly sinister accent. And I thought, "I can't. If I do this, that's it. I'll never get out of it."'

Mercifully, he was picked to play the artist Francis Bacon's gay, sado-masochistic, drug-addicted, alcoholic lover in John Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998), an arthouse film that he will always remember for the indignity of standing around naked, day after day, covered in surgical adhesive and red paint, and which he credits for launching his film career. He went on to play Paul Newman's vicious, spoilt son in Road to Perdition (2002); the brooding, philandering poet Ted Hughes opposite Gwyneth Paltrow's Sylvia Plath in Sylvia (2003); a suave, deluded drug dealer in the British gangster flick Layer Cake (2004) - always trying to pick interesting parts in quality films, and making one early blunder with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) opposite Angelina Jolie.

In Quantum of Solace, he is very much the same Bond, and the film is a direct sequel to Casino Royale. 'It begins right after the other one ended, with Bond interrogating Mr White,' he says. 'There was unfinished business and it was important to me that we finish it off. I mean, here's this guy who never loses, never loses at cards, never loses at life, he's always at the top of his game and will kill anybody who gets in his way. Along comes a woman who dupes him. As far as he's concerned, she was only in it for the money, for ulterior motives, and it just didn't seem right to leave that hanging there. So it's a revenge-led movie.'

Once again, Craig was heavily involved in the stunt sequences. 'I really think it makes a huge difference,' he says. 'No matter how good the CGI is, however good the double is, if the audience can see it's you, and they have that moment of, "F*** me, it's him!" they get more involved in the movie. So then it comes down to getting the balls to do it. I'm not good with heights. I'm not an athlete, although I've always enjoyed keeping fit in between bouts of minor alcoholism. So it's a big challenge. You're up there on top of a building and it's a long way down, and the explosion is going to go off, and you have to go on "Action" and look cool while you're doing it. I go for it because I'd be pissed off with myself in the future if I didn't. I'm 40 now and I can only give my body so much more punishment.'

When people ask Daniel Craig about his hobbies, they usually want to know if he base-jumps or paraglides. 'I say, "F*** off! I read books, go to the pub and drink." I fulfil all those needs completely by doing these movies.' Bookwise, he is currently into Robert Fisk's 1,130-page War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, and in the pub he usually gets a window of about half an hour before it gets too crazy and he has to flee. He stays well away from nightclubs and the celebrity circuit, avoids the media unless he is promoting a film, and to guard against typecasting and simply to inhabit another character, he does other films between Bonds. After Casino Royale, he appeared as a washed-up movie star in Flashbacks of a Fool, the debut feature of his close friend Baillie Walsh. After Quantum of Solace wrapped, he went to Lithuania to make Defiance, Ed Zwick's Second World War drama about a Jewish partisan group who spent four years surviving in the last primeval forest wilderness in Europe.

'My life is basically a ramble,' Craig says. 'I live out of a suitcase, which I found tremendously exciting and romantic when I was younger, and is a pain in the arse now. I don't have any order in my life except when I'm working. Then I'm meticulous; I'm disciplined as much as I can be, because otherwise I can't do it.'

I ask him what discipline means in this context, so he takes me through a day on a Bond set: 'I get there early, eat breakfast, talk to the director. I hate staying in my trailer, so I'll stay on set all day and annoy people between takes. Then I go to the gym and work out for an hour. I rehearse my sequences for half an hour, I eat and go to bed. That's my life six days a week, six months a year. Maybe on Saturday night I'll get shitfaced and sleep it off on Sunday, because if I didn't I'd go insane.'

It is not clear how his girlfriend, an American film producer called Satsuki Mitchell, fits into this schedule and I have been warned not to ask him about his love life, which he considers strictly off-limits. Reportedly, they met on the set of The Jacket in 2005 and have been together ever since. Judging from his use of 'we' in reference to trips to Japan, Oregon, New York and London, the couple spend plenty of suitcase and hotel time together. There are rumours of imminent marriage, but Craig says only that he is looking forward to their next road trip together.

The intrusions on his privacy - the people who try to take photographs with camera phones when he's peeing in a restaurant lavatory, the tabloid reporters hounding his young teenage daughter from his failed marriage in the early 1990s, the commotion and hysteria that forms around him in public - these are the downsides of being James Bond. You think you know all about celebrity until it happens, he says, and then it's weirder and more intense than you ever imagined.

The best thing, he says, the biggest bonus of all, is going off on the exotic location shoots and seeing the world. When he starts talking about the places he has been to, his eyes glow and a tingle of wonder comes into the voice: 'Northern Chile is an extraordinary place, a shingled desert, high plains and nothingness, and we were up at 10,000 feet and the sky is beyond big. It's horizon to horizon, uninterrupted, and the stars - just a complete canopy of stars, and you can watch them move over as the night goes on.'

In Italy, the Bond cast had a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel. It was very early in the morning and he was feeling a little thick-headed as he struggled out of bed but then it struck him with full force: my God, this will never happen again. In Panama they went to Colón on the Caribbean side, which doubles as Haiti in Quantum of Solace. 'It's an incredibly poor city with all this crumbling deco architecture and no running water, and shit running in the streets, gunfire going off at night, and all the kids are wearing perfectly pressed white clothing - I don't know how they do it,' he says. 'The first night we were there a thousand people came out with their families. I got out of the car and they all said, "James Bond!" It was the last place on earth I was expecting it.' Normally hundreds of flashes go off in these situations but in Colón the people were too poor to afford cameras.

'I'd love to travel like Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, just get on a motorbike and take off, but unfortunately I've become a bit of a commodity and I've got security guys around me most of the time,' he says. 'I do try to slip the net as much as I can and get out and see places. Otherwise you're getting the big gate up and hiding behind it and losing touch with reality. I say that but actually I think by doing Bond I've lost touch with reality quite a lot.'

The real danger, he says, is losing touch with himself. 'Fortunately I've got a great family and really close friends and they really give me a hard time, and I encourage them to do so, because otherwise I will disappear up my own arse. I mean, six months a year, six days a week, all you're doing is Bond, all you're talking about is Bond. For nearly three months before that, you're doing pre-production on Bond, and when the movie comes out, you're doing this, the promotion.'

From London, he goes to Moscow, Scandinavia, the US, back to London for the premiere, then seven premieres in seven European capitals in seven days, back to America and on to Australia and Japan. He sincerely hopes the film will be a success, because he wants to do more of them, but when his tour of duty is over, he will be out on the open road, driving one-armed if his shoulder isn't healed, putting as many miles between himself and James Bond as possible.

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