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New 007 nemesis Simon Kassianides: I`m Bond to secrecy

18-Oct-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

What will new Bond baddie Simon Kassianides reveal about his role? A correspondent for The Times tries tough questioning...

You hear the words and you think, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, you think Auric Goldfinger, and you even think Dr Kananga and Scaramanga. To this noble list we will soon be adding, er, Yusef. Or at least we will when we know exactly what he does; how he deals with Bond; and how he shapes the worldview of Quantum of Solace, the new and highly anticipated movie from the rebooted franchise of Bond reborn, Daniel Craig.

In fact, the anticipation for Quantum of Solace is so high, and the security surrounding it so enormous, that Yusef himself, aka his off-screen alter ego Simon Kassianides, is sworn to secrecy and can reveal precious little about his role other than that it’s pivotal, charming, and quite dark.

Instead, and in a battle of wits not unlike a fantasy face-off between Bond staples Rosa Klebb and Solitaire, the 28-year-old Kassianides (of Greek origin, pronounced ‘Kassia-neee-days’) will sit behind a plush London restaurant table in white shirt and denims and dazzling brown Mediterranean eyes, and field questions that have been cunningly designed, by me, to expose more of the Quantum universe than he would like. And truly to catch him off-guard they will be delivered, in classic Bond villain style, when he is, yes, least expecting them.

For the moment, though, what we do know about Quantum of Solace is that Bond is back and hell-bent on revenge, this time hot on the trail of the man who betrayed his dead girlfriend Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green in Casino Royale). Along the way he uncovers an evil international organisation called Quantum, tangles with its sinister leader Dominic Greene (French actor Mathieu Almaric), sizzles with some Bond babes (the Ukrainian-born actress Olga Kurylenko and Kent’s own Gemma Arterton) and ends up mano a mano with his prey, the French-Algerian double-crosser Yusef.

“You know, you s*** your pants, obviously, because it’s Daniel Craig!” says Clapham-born Kassianides, describing how the whole movement of the film is towards this one monumental confrontation between Bond and Yusef (internet leaks have suggested that Yusef is so pivotal to the new Bond story that Kassianides has already been signed on for the follow-up Bond, too, but more of that later). “Daniel is a formidable presence when he walks into a room,” he adds. “I’ve not seen a man with bluer eyes. It’s completely unnerving.”

First cunning question: so, do you make physical contact with him? “Well, we don’t dance, and that’s for sure,” he says, slightly puzzled. So, would it be fair to say that you fight? “No, it wouldn’t be fair to say anything really,” he replies. “It is something that a lot of people are excited about, and it’s integral to the story. You want these two people to meet, you want Bond to find me, but I can’t say more than that.”

He adds, happily and openly, that the film has been a dream come true for him. He was on his way to a stag night in Barcelona last winter, just switching off his phone on the boarding ramp in Gatwick airport, when he got the call from his agent – “Bond are looking at a handful of actors today, and they want to see you! Be there in 90 minutes!” He says that he had been acquiring a certain reputation in casting circles as a bit of a method nut. For his role as an Albanian sex trafficker in ITV’s hitman series The Fixer, he spent a month “hanging out” with Kosovo-Albanian gangsters in London. “I needed to spend some time with them, to get the accent right, and to do justice to them according to the story,” he says. For a small part in Holby Blue, playing a drug-addicted, gay psychopathic bouncer, he turned up to the audition in character, and frightened everyone in the room into submission.

He says that the great thing about Bond was that, contrary to all expectations about the big soulless branded machine, it was actually a tight little unit of warm, creative players. “Daniel Craig was completely humble and had none of that big star bollocks about him,” he says. And even better, Kassianides was allowed input into his character by the director, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland). “It was like, at one stage I said, I wanted to, er, eh, it’s so hard for me to talk about this,” he stops himself, preventing a revelation, and decides that we need to move on to seemingly safer terrain. The set itself? “Yes!” he says, with obvious relief. “The only time you realise the size and the scale of what you’re in, is when you’re standing in the middle of the set opposite Daniel Craig and you’re asked to go for a take. At that point you just look around you, at all the, er, eh, well, I can’t really talk about that, but anyway, you realise that you’re involved in this thing that is just massive!”

Perhaps now is a good time for another cunning question. “So [casual delivery], I hear that you’re in the next Bond movie, too? [this is crucial – a “yes” will reveal that he doesn’t die at the end of Quantum of Solace, while a ‘no’ will mean that he does, and Bond wins] I, er, I eh . . .” he loses it, briefly, but he’s too fast. “I know my main concern is really not to do or say anything that would jeopardise the enjoyment of the movie,” he says. “But honestly, I’m not involved that deeply in the machinations of the franchise to know what their plans are.” Another hard-hitter. Are you the Quantum of Solace of the title? “Um, well the title refers to the smallest amount of love needed for a relationship, but it can be interpreted, in a film which is about revenge, as the death of someone’s love or, er, eh, I dunno, it’s all just going to be great!”

Kassianides admits that only four years into his career he is lucky to have such a role. He got a taste of fame while in a pub recently. A production employee who had seen some Bond rushes grabbed him, crying, “You’re Yusef! You’re Yusef! I’ve seen you!” “And then, when I did the Quantum of Solace video game, that was weird,” he says, describing the effect of being reduced to a computer cipher. “My brother was like, ‘Great, this means I get to finally kill you!’ ” He was invited to the premiere of the Robert De Niro and Al Pacino movie Righteous Kill. He brought his mother and sat behind Pacino. His mother turned to him, pointed to Pacino, and whispered, “That’ll be you soon!”

Kassianides claims that any success he’s had is due to two people – Woody Harrelson and his mother. The latter, who works in a bank, supported the 12-year-old Kassianides alone after divorcing his father, and put him through the best London schools and an MBA at Edinburgh University.

“I wish we had been posh,” he says. “It would have made everything a lot easier, but we weren’t. I spent a lot of time with my mother living in rented rooms while she tried to make ends meet.” He says that she was shocked by his decision to abandon any plans for the business world (his brother works in the City) but she supported him nonetheless. He is thus, he says, motivated by the sacrifices that she made for him.

He encountered Harrelson when they starred together in his first West End play, The Night of the Iguana. “I had completely transformed my body to play this wiry, sinewy Mexican cliff diver, and Woody just totally got me,” he says. “He took me under his wing and introduced me to people like Edward Norton (Fight Club). Every time I get a part I let him know and he’s like, ‘I knew you’d do it, man! It’s all good!’ ” Another casual bombshell. So, is it true that Daniel Craig punches like a girl? “What?!” he says, baffled more than bemused. “Have you seen him lately? I think if Daniel Craig punched you, you’d know about it!” Damn. Foiled again.

He says that he can’t quite enjoy the Bond hype because he’s already preparing for his next movie, a lead role as a persecuted Algerian immigrant in Between Two Fires, a Swedish-set love story from the Polish director Agnieszka Lukasiak. He says that his ethnicity and skin pallor has been a boon in casting circles, and that he’s played everything from South American to Italian, to Eastern European to Egyptian.

Right now, he says that he finds it hard to switch out of acting mode. He says he’s single, but corrects himself: “Actually there is a girl, but she’s not single.” He sighs. His concern is turning his current professional success into a long-term career.

Which reminds me, what was it like when you got shot by Bond at the end of the film? This time he doesn’t even answer. He just looks over, suppressing a smirk, while a flicker of pity crosses his impassive features. He glances down at the table. If he had an ejector button he’d use it now.

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