Stripping the spy down to his manners
It took two years of high-level negotiations to arrange a meeting with Daniel Craig. In an era when MI6 â the agency that employs his best-known character, James Bond â blithely advertises for agents on the Internet, Mr. Craig may well be the worldâs most elusive pretend spy, reports the New York Times
The long wait allowed plenty of time for disturbing rumors to marinate. For instance: He is surly and defensive, a reporter-averse utterer of combative monosyllables. Or this, from two women working on his publicity: He has more sexual magnetism than anyone we have ever met.
Perhaps nothing short of Mr. Craigâs materializing in his snug powder-blue bathing trunks from âCasino Royaleâ and offering to shake the martinis himself could have realistically lived up to all that anticipation.
But there he was in normal jeans, his arm in a sling from recent shoulder surgery. He was wearing a thick cardigan that, truth be told, walked a sensitive line between doofusy and stylish. He was, of course, unfairly attractive anyway, in his craggy, lived-in, blue-eyed way, but not so much as to render anyone speechless or unable to operate a notebook.
He was polite to a fault. He stood up when his publicistâs assistant brought in a cup of tea. He apologized several times for being five minutes late. He acted as if he were not sitting in a soulless conference room, which he was, and as if he had all day to chat about Bond and other interesting topics, which he didnât. (He had an hour.)
Unlike many movie stars who come to believe the myth of their superiority, Mr. Craig, 40, tends to mock his own celebrity. Now that he is too famous to go to the movies without being recognized, he said, he might be forced to install a screening room at home. Not. âI could stick it next to the indoor swimming pool,â he said sarcastically.
Passing beneath two celebratory posters of himself as James Bond in his publicistâs office here, he grimaced and muttered, âThatâs my Dorian Gray portrait.â Asked whether he saw himself as a natural leading man, he said, âFat chance.â And then, âThereâs not a skin-care product in the world that would have made that happen for me.â
When he was cast as Bond, filling the position most recently vacated by Pierce Brosnan, Mr. Craig did not seem like an obvious choice. He was an actorâs actor known for his intensity of focus and his wide range of challenging, counterintuitive roles. He has played, among other things, a sharp-lapeled pornography baron from Manchester in the BBC mini-series âOur Friends in the Northâ; a college professor pursued by a male stalker in âEnduring Loveâ; a builder sleeping with his girlfriendâs sexagenarian mother in âThe Motherâ; a drug-dealing businessman in âLayer Cakeâ; a killer full of murderous rage and heartbreaking tenderness in âInfamousâ; and the poet Ted Hughes in âSylvia.â
âEverybody said, âOh, arenât you afraid youâll be typecast?â â he recalled of taking the Bond role. âAnd I said, âOf course I am,â but if it has to be this â well, thatâs not too bad.â
Traditionalists were appalled. The British tabloids, whose writers possibly had not seen Mr. Craig in his other films, sniped that he was too short, too blond, too actory, too potentially Lazenbyesque; they spread the rumor that he didnât know how to drive a stick shift, let alone one attached to an Aston Martin.
But from the first scene in âCasino Royaleâ (2006), in which Bond brutally kills a man with his bare hands and then coolly shoots and kills his own corrupt boss, Mr. Craig proved to be a rare combination of plausibility, physicality and charisma. He got rave reviews, and not just from Bondâs traditional fan base.
(Full disclosure: Mr. Craigâs mix of emotional vulnerability and cocky insouciance discomfited to an alarming degree many a journalistic associate. One saw âCasino Royaleâ five times in two months. Another received an e-mail message from a flustered pal: âWhat are we going to do? About Daniel Craig, I mean.â Efforts to find a way for interested outside parties to pose as a reporterâs assistant during the interview or to dress as plants and hide on the windowsill proved unsuccessful.)
The latest movie, âQuantum of Solace,â which opens Nov. 14, is full of the usual Bondian big guns, big explosions, big-busted women and big, improbable, high-testosterone stunts, many of them performed by Mr. Craig. While he bulked up for âCasinoâ â he wanted to âlook as if he could kill people just by looking at them,â his personal trainer, a former Royal Navy commando, said recently â in this film he focused on building up his stamina, going for lean and mean over brawn.
(Mr. Craig was recently quoted in The Times of London as saying, âI am not an athlete, although I have always enjoyed keeping fit between bouts of minor alcoholism.â)
Mr. Craig said that he had been determined to ensure that the story made logical and emotional sense. âQuantumâ begins moments after âCasinoâ ends, with Bond, wielding an enormous firearm, on the island where he has just shot one of the men responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd, the treacherous love of his life.
âTheyâre two separate movies, but if you were to punish yourself by watching them back to back, youâd see a through line,â Mr. Craig said. He particularly wanted Bond to have to contend with the emotional repercussions of Vesperâs death.
âIt was very important that we deal with that,â he said. âI just felt that you canât have a character fall in love so madly as they did in the last movie and not finish it off, understand it, get some closure. Thatâs why the movie is called âQuantum of Solaceâ â thatâs exactly what heâs looking for.â
He added: âBy the end of âSolace,â thereâs a conclusion that Iâm hoping will set us up, if all goes well, for a third movie. And we can set it someplace warm and quiet.â (He was kidding, he said, about the âquietâ part.)
Last fall he and the director of âQuantum of Solace,â Marc Forster, set out to fill in the gaps in the script, left incomplete because of the Hollywood writersâ strike. Mr. Forster said he was struck by how much Mr. Craig wanted to get the story right and ensure that his interpretation of Bond was ânot just a clichÃ©, but a character that people can connect to.â
He added: âHeâs very shy and slightly modest and humble, and he doesnât like to be the center of attention. Itâs more like, âLetâs make good movies and tell a good story and do a good job.â â
Along with âQuantum,â Mr. Craig is appearing this fall in âDefianceâ (set to open Dec. 31), based on the true story of the Bielskis, a trio of freedom-fighting Jewish brothers in World War II. Defying the Nazis (and the odds), they set up an unlikely community of tough, armed refugees in the punishing Belarussian forest. Mr. Craig plays Tuvia, their complicated leader â sometimes hot-headed, sometimes coolly rational; now seeking revenge, now preaching restraint.
The shoot was tough. The actors had to speak Russian in a number of scenes; they also had to live more or less in the woods, in sometimes extreme frigid conditions, for three months. Most of the cast came down with some sort of bronchial flu, Mr. Craig said, âbut when we started drinking more, it seemed to get better.â
The director of âDefiance,â Edward Zwick, said it was interesting to watch Mr. Craig take on the role, with all its ambivalence and inner conflict, in tandem with playing the self-assured Bond.
âYou see very clearly his ambition as an actor; he refuses to be just one thing,â Mr. Zwick said in a telephone interview. âWhat you have to understand about Daniel is that he is a working actor who considers himself that. He began in the theater and did all sorts of ensemble work, and in some ways this was a territory in which heâs more comfortable than in being the star whoâs out in front of the movie.â
Mr. Craig grew up in Liverpool and spent much of his spare time watching movies, sometimes by himself, in a small cinema down the street from his house. He left home as a teenager to seek his fortune as an actor in London. He worked with the National Youth Theater, went to drama school and began being cast as romantic leads, a designation he brushes aside.
With each part, he explained, âI said to myself: âRomantic lead â what is he? Is he an alcoholic? Whatâs his deal? Whatâs his problem?â For me, that has always been the way. Thatâs what I did for Bond and what I try and do with everything.â
He is determined to continue pursuing extra-Bond roles.
âIâve been so fortunate to land this amazing role in a huge franchise,â he said. âItâs set me up in a really good way for life, and thatâs wonderful. But I love acting, and I genuinely think itâs an important part of what life is about. I get a kick out of it, and Iâm not good at sitting around.â
Mr. Craig, who has a teenage daughter from an early marriage, genuinely seems more interested in talking about other topics â the books of Philip Pullman; the exciting-to-him proposition of Barack Obama being elected president; movies he likes â than he does in talking about himself.
But he mentioned his longtime American girlfriend, Satsuki Mitchell, with whom he lives in Los Angeles and London. He wears a silver necklace inscribed with a quotation âabout taking your heart wherever you go,â he said when asked, sounding suddenly shy.
Recently, he said, the two drove up the American West Coast, through to the Pacific Northwest. They ducked into a small-town movie theater to see the Guillermo del Toro movie âHellboy II: The Golden Army.â
Someone approached Mr. Craig.
âHas anyone ever told you you look like Daniel Craig?â the man asked.
âNo,â Mr. Craig answered, and walked on.
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