After months of hype and expectation the 22nd Bond film, Quantum of Solace, has been released around the world to a flurry of red carpets, analysis, and unabashed panting from Daniel Craig fans everywhere.
The man himself appears to be largely unmoved by the fame and the media circus that has accompanied the release. While being very protective of his family’s privacy he is realistic about the immense interest in his professional life and refuses to become, what he calls “Greta Garbo” about it. He laughs easily and his conversation, while articulate, is peppered with a natural humour and a spontaneity that offers more colour than the average sound bite. Even his lined face makes him a stand out from the botoxed, heart-throb throng; his only facial surgery appearing to be the eight stitches he received as a result of an injury sustained during the filming of Quantum of Solace.
When the Bond star walks into the room for today’s interview, there is a swagger to his walk that speaks to the effect he is accustomed to having on his audience. His stylish black suit and shirt are slick and tailored over his equally tailored physique. In fact, he is the very picture of elegance. That is until his publicist trips and pours a large jug of milk into his lap.
Without a hint of celebrity tantrum, he laughs at the incident, mops himself down and makes a wisecrack about what the stain may resemble on his trousers.
Basically, Daniel Craig is still positively human for a man who is every inch the movie star.
“I have all the same people I have had around me always. I think that is very important. Professionally the same rules apply. There are a finite number of good scripts out there. Just because you get a little success doesn’t mean that a whole lot more boxes open. Some things just don’t change. It is still about what appeals and what you feel you can do. There is a whole library of books out there but only a third of them are worth reading and the same applies here. Just because you up the number it doesn’t mean that the quality gets better.”
Of course, some things do change. Thanks to his success as the sixth Bond, he is now the highest paid actor in the United Kingdom. Not bad for a Chester-born son of a teacher and Merchant Navy midshipman who got into acting because it was all about “dressing up and showing off”.
“I have been dressing up and showing off for as long as I can remember. Though I think it is a worthwhile profession. I think we need it as an outlet as human beings so we can figure out emotions outside ourselves. You want people to walk out of your movie and communicate. That is essentially what movies do”.
While he claims not to take his character home with him, Craig does confess to becoming quite obsessive when he is working.
“You have to eat, drink, sleep and live it. It is a seven day week for me. I don’t just do the five or six days of filming on set. I also have meetings and training. I have stunts to work on and scenes to figure out with the director. That is my job for six months. And it is a good job.”
One aspect of the job that clearly demands a lot of his attention during the making of a Bond film is the stunt work. He describes the choreography of a knife fight with relish and the importance of him participating as much as possible rather than handing the entire responsibility over to a stunt team.
“We choreographed that over a 6 week period. I was working on that before the movie started and working on it every single night coming up to it. It is like a dance routine. To be honest that is what they boil down to these fights, a dance. And it needs to be me doing it. There are a couple of moments when my stunt double, Ben Cooke, comes in but for 90% of that fight, it is me.”
While Craig will talk happily about the physicality of becoming Bond, he laughs off questions about his injuries.
“I have very little of the fingerprint left on this finger because I ripped the pad off,” he says holding up a fingertip. “I also had stitches in my face and shoulder surgery but that was more of an old injury that I needed to get fixed.”
“A lot was made of the injuries. I am not trying to be macho I promise you. It is just that I work with stunt guys and those guys are working through pain barriers that I couldn’t even imagine. For me to start whinging about hurting my little fingers,” he laughs, almost with embarrassment, “I will get text messages from them saying: ‘Wuss!”.
This same level of preparation went into his discussions with director, Marc Forster, in the development of Bond’s character. They also worked together to forge the look and feel of the film. Due to the impending writers’ strike they “had a script but not the script they wanted” and were forced to create much of the film as they entered production.
“We had lots of conversations. Both of us agreed that we wanted to capture something about the early movies. The style of those movies was just innate. If you look at a film like Goldfinger it is kind of ridiculous but is beautifully stylish. Everyone looks fantastic and if we can achieve a little bit of that in a modern setting using modern facilities then we would have achieved that which makes it a Bond movie.”
The question of what makes a Bond movie, and how it is possible to satisfy the fans’ desire for the traditional elements of the franchise is an inescapable discussion when a new Bond film is released. One aspect of Quantum of Solace that truly pays tribute to the tradition is its number one ranking as the Bond film shot across the highest number of exotic locations.
“Dr No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger are all stylish movies. They went on location. They put the money up on the screen and we continue to do that now. We go on location. It’s up there and you know you are watching a movie that has cost money because hopefully it has been spent in the right place.”
He believes strongly, however, that a good Bond film can’t rely entirely on the constructs of its franchise. He is quick to point out that there is a generation of people who have never seen a Bond film and as such the film must work in its own right. It is not enough to drop in lines, gadgets or characters just because one person in the audience has an expectation that they should be there regardless of good plot or characterisation. A case in point being the gags and humour that are traditionally scattered throughout Bond films.
“I love those lines and I think they are absolutely valid but we have to find a new way of doing them. We owe it to Bond. If you drop them in just because a member of the audience thinks that it is not a bond movie without them, they are bad gags. With good writers, and good actors we can find a way. We did it a bit with Casino and we did it a little bit with Quantum of Solace.”
Not only are gags for the sake of gags dropped from the repertoire in Quantum, but here we have a Bond, a heartbroken Bond, who appears almost respectful of women, particularly strong women.
“The days of the misogynistic Bond are sort of over. It doesn’t stop him from being misogynist at times but if he comes into contact with strong people, not just strong women, but strong people, it is just sexier. It is more interesting if someone challenges him and it is a woman.”
“We felt if we got this right it would make the movie. She doesn’t trust him because her bosses are telling her to figure this guy out. She is in a dilemma because she thinks that she can trust him but has been ordered not to. I am really happy where we got it to and I hope we do get to make another one because that relationship is really solid.”
Also evident is his pleasure in working with the actor behind M, Dame Judi Dench.
When asked about her sense of humour he laughs that he has “known dirtier senses of humour but hers is pretty dirty.”
“I have never worked with her before. It has obviously been a dream of mine to do so and this dream has been fulfilled. Maybe we will do something serious one day but this ticks all the boxes.”
Another actor he respects in the film is Rory Kinnear who plays M’s aid, Bill Tanner. Craig laughs that he is basically the modern Moneypenny.
“He plays it beautifully and gives a brilliant performance in this. He has a really small role but he does it pitch perfectly, the way he plays off Judi. It is a very subtle performance going on in the movie.”
Craig sees Kinnear’s performance as a key example of why you don’t just throw traditional Bond characters into the films, anymore than do gags and gadgets.
Like Moneypenny, Q is an obvious and much loved character missing from the franchise. Craig would love to see Q come back to the modern Bond but not just for the sake of having him there.
“We should give Q to a good actor. We should find an actor and find out what they think and find a good story. If we just drop it in there and then go to the basement and there is Q with exploding bananas, it is not going to work. Q has been done and it has been done brilliantly and with great humour. We have to find a way to bring Q into it properly. I think we owe it to the franchise.”
For all this discussion, does Daniel Craig like James Bond?
“I don’t dislike him I just don’t want to judge him really. I think he is totally morally ambiguous as a character; he kills people for a living. If I start judging him or taking the piss out of him, which would be the worst thing to do, then it is all over and there is no room to go. I think it would be nice to get to know him a bit more in the next movie. I think he could be relaxed. I do think Quantum of Solace is the end of this sort of intensity. The next version of the intensity we will come from a different angle. It won’t be so balls to the wall. It will hopefully be something that we can slowly come into and explore in a different way. Also, there will be a lot more gags.”