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November 16, 2006

Bond For Glory

Daniel Craig discusses the 007 legacy and the 21st-century spy of Casino Royale

When Sean Connery walks into a room for an interview, phrases suggest themselves: devil-may-care, “who cares about you,” cock-of-the-walk, and masculine and assured. But the 21st century James Bond -- Craig, Daniel Craig -- comes into a room slightly slighter -- a claimed six-footer, a freshly minted brand name encased in a fitted Brioni suit a lighter shade than the blade-sharp ones showcased in the latest Bond film Casino Royale (opening Friday). He’s got more of the lad affability: a big smile on his boxer-like mug as he pushes into a suite at New York’s Regency Hotel.

Craig’s played a righteous killer in Munich, Francis Bacon’s bit of rough trade in Love is the Devil, an American solider in Fateless, a thoughtful stalkee in Enduring Love and a brooding Ted Hughes in Sylvia. When I bring up the likenesses of Hughes to Bond -- tall, brooding, taciturn, darkly masculine cultural figures whose women tend to die -- Craig grins, showing some dimple: “Not guys anybody should be dating, right?”

More pointedly, there’s Craig’s nameless hard-case gangster in Layer Cake, which did away with talk of other actors like Clive Owen taking on the Bond license and simply dropped the 38-year-old Liverpudlian in a stripped-down Bond-style template. The frosting on this particular cake is Paul Haggis’ dialogue-and-character polish to the fisticuffs and the gunfire-laden outline taken from Ian Fleming’s first novel; the movie hits the ground running with two major action scenes in a row, and for once, a Bond picture seems to draw from other styles and trends of filmmaking instead of the series’ camp-drenched corpus. The very grown-up dialogue, especially in Bond’s flirtations with love interest but non-Bond girl Vesper Lind (Eva Green, of the immense blue eyes and English-French accent, from Bertolucci’s The Dreamers), doesn’t wink at the audience but instead flirts and deceives to engaging effect. There are a couple of stretches of poker-playing ennui, but Martin Campbell, who also directed Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance in GoldenEye, is good with the grit. “I think GoldenEye was a template of the old Bond and that Pierce never really developed Bond much as a character," Campbell said. "I think that the writing in this film allows Daniel to have some interesting elements to his character. I think he can keep developing the character because, unlike Pierce, he is taking it from nothing.”

But Craig did take aim at his forerunners. “I watched every [Bond] movie, every moment of every movie," he said. "Quite avidly. I checked out really what was done wrong, and what I thought was done right. But then you have to kind of move on. You have to say, 'That’s there, that’s set, that doesn’t go away, now what about this?' Connery, that was him -- he personified the Fleming character and made it, I think, as enduring as it has been. I didn’t really take [from Connery’s performance]. What is fascinating to me about this is that people talk about this being a violent Bond, but you watch Dr. No, and From Russia with Love, especially, it’s just as violent. If you think about it [in the context] at the time, it’s probably more violent, relatively. He’s just… It’s that darkness that he brought into it. The complication, this is a complicated charter, it’s not two-dimensional. This guy has a past and has a reason to behave this way. And that, for me, was one of the reasons I wanted to do this. The script explained a lot of what was going on in his head.”

So why is Bond a masculine ideal instead of just macho? “He’s a guy and a hero figure, [but] he’s a guy who just knows what’s what. That, in a way, I think, all of us, we struggle a little bit; we go, ‘What’s what? How do we deal with this?' He walks into a room, he sees the situation, and he goes, 'I’m going to make this decision, and I’m going to make it now.' And that’s exciting. There’s an unpredictability, but also things are going to be OK -- he’s going to work it out. I tried to put in this a little bit more, to make it more dramatically interesting; he’s a pretty good decision maker, he just doesn’t tell people about it.”

Craig combines his rugged handsomeness with the charismatic performance Bond has needed for eons: Men and women alike won’t want to look away, even during an intense torture scene. As far as his own first exposure to slow, sustained drip-drip-drip, Craig wasn’t flummoxed by the Internet-borne thumbs-down by longtime Bond fans at the news of his casting. “That's to do with passion isn't it? It has to do with the fact that people feel very strongly about this.” Yet, he adds, “There was nothing I can actually respond to. There's nothing I can say. Normally, I do a movie, and we premiere it or we show it to the press and they watch it and they give comment. They either like it or they don't like it. But this was coming three weeks into shooting. It was like: Hang on. Give me some time. Let me get into this a bit."

The story’s a fitting origin tale, down to its final shot. "At the beginning of the movie, I don't think he cares if he lives or dies," Craig said. "It's his job. It's what he does. And this woman [Vesper Lynd] blows his mind, exposes him to something and breaks his heart. It's that whole process of change, I thought, that's going to make it an interesting movie. I wouldn't have touched this script, and I wouldn't have touched this film unless I thought there was an element of something like that. It also gives us a springboard. I never thought that far ahead, but if you get on to do another movie, we've got somewhere to move with this."

And he intends to be able to keep moving. “I was pulling muscles all the time. I would wake up in the morning going: I. Can't. Move. I can't get up. That's what it was like. I had to gently roll myself out of bed and get under a hot shower and get the muscles working. Collectively, we made a fantastic movie. I'll keep doing it for as long as I can -- as long as there are painkillers on this planet."



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Comments (4)

He did great as 007. With the London Premier of Casion Royale. It was Excellent & Cool. With the Queen arrival. Keep up the good work Daniel.

Finally, someone to really challange Connery to the throne.

Daniel Craig IS James Bond

lOVED IT--SEEN IT TWICE IN TWO DAYS. WILL SEE IT AGAIN, AND AGAIN. NEW BOND--SUPERB!

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