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Bond Reinvented

An exclusive look inside the making of Quantum of Solace, and Daniel Craig's next turn at playing superspy James Bond.
David Giammarco
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008

(continued from page 1)

How Craig ended up as James Bond, 007, one of the most enviable and recognizable roles in cinema history, is a study in contradictions. As a kid growing up in Chester and then neighboring Liverpool, Craig never remembers "posing in front of a mirror pretending to hold a gun" and saying those immortal three words: "Bond . . . James Bond." He's probably the only guy in the U.K.—heck, the entire Western world—who didn't do that at some point in his adolescence. "I guess I just really didn't make that kind of connection with the character," he figures.

Craig does remember 1973's Live and Let Die as his first experience in a cinema. He was enthralled with all kinds of films, he says, from old Westerns, gangster flicks, comedies and Star Trek (he admits to harboring a secret ambition to appear in one of the Trek films or TV shows). Craig's parents—an art teacher mother and a father in the Merchant Navy who went on to manage local pubs in the neighborhood—divorced when he was four years old. Craig, along with his older sister, moved with their mom to central Liverpool.

The three frequently made trips to watch plays at Liverpool's famed Everyman Theatre, which Craig remembers as having a profound influence on his life. "I was at a very impressionable age, and that became such an amazing experience for me . . . it was all very exciting." It's why he left school at 16 to join the National Youth Theatre in London, struggling to support himself with odd jobs in restaurant kitchens and as a waiter.

These were hard times for Craig, but he was admittedly bitten by the acting bug and was determined to further himself by studying at London's prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. From 1988 to 1991, Craig received one of the country's finest—and harshest—acting educations. Some of his contemporaries at the time included Rhys Ifans and Ewan McGregor, and later Damian Lewis and Joseph Fiennes. Fresh out of school, Craig would get his first break playing a pro-apartheid cadet in director John Avildsen's 1992 film The Power of One, and was then cast as a sinister German soldier in an episode of the TV series "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles." All the while, Craig continued indulging in countless theatrical productions in London, honing his craft while taking parts in various British TV shows, the most notable being the popular BBC miniseries "Our Friends in the North" in 1996.

Though he was often in demand, it was not a meteoric rise to fame for Craig. Rather, he slowly simmered as one of the industry's best-kept secrets, which partly stemmed from Craig's aversion to interviews and steering clear of the "whole media-circus fame game." Instead, Craig chose to focus on an eclectic array of intense, offbeat and complicated characters, in a series of independent films and in such productions as Elizabeth (1998), opposite Cate Blanchett, where he had a small but impressive role as a monk involved in a murderous plot against the queen.

His jump to bigger-budget Hollywood fare was slow and steady, first as an old flame and fellow tomb raider opposite Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and then as the angry son of Paul Newman's Irish mobster patriarch in Sam Mendes's acclaimed Road to Perdition (2002). He followed that as poet Ted Hughes, the husband of feminist icon Sylvia Plath (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) in the biopic Sylvia (2003) and then received stellar reviews as an average bloke caught in the middle of a deadly obsession, opposite his old Guildhall peer Rhys Ifans, in the 2004 adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love.

But it was in his next film that Craig found his most memorable role to date, playing a coke dealer seeking early retirement in the 2004 British gangster flick Layer Cake. It was that acclaimed performance that immediately put Craig at the top of Broccoli's list of possible Bond contenders. But she wasn't the only one who wanted to swoop up Craig's services. Steven Spielberg, who was equally impressed with him in Layer Cake, cast Craig as a Mossad agent pursuing the Palestinian terrorists behind the massacre at the 1972 Olympics in 2005's Munich. That same year, after more than two dozen films and countless stage and television roles, the offer of a lifetime finally landed in the lap of the 37-year-old Craig. The only problem was he had no interest in playing James Bond.

"When Barbara and Michael asked me to do this, I turned around and laughed at them because I just thought it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard," Craig admits, shaking his head. "I guess because I'd just never thought about it, and the way they made their movies—while I thought they were great fantasy films, I never pictured myself doing [them]. Don't get me wrong. I was extremely flattered, and I hoped to be involved with them in some form, but I just never thought about playing James Bond. But after I got to talking with them, I realized that they wanted to do something completely different and go back to basics, and that they were open to suggestions . . . "I mean, I've made enough movies now—God knows how many, and not all that good either," he laughs, "but all that experience . . ." Craig's voice trails off, and he suddenly turns serious. His steely blue eyes narrow. "I said to them, 'Look, if you give me scope to have a say and some involvement in the story—or at least humor me in the best possible way—I can walk onto that set and be James Bond.' "Because that's what it really boils down to," he continues. "I mean, you walk onto a set and we've got maybe 300 crew members here who've seen it all before. This crew that we work with have made films with every single movie star that you've ever known, and that's very intimidating. So I've got to be able to have the gravitas to walk on that set and say, 'It's OK . . . I've got this covered.' If I can say that to them, then that's where it starts for me." Craig admits that the script, penned by Crash writer-director Paul Haggis and the writing duo Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, was what finally persuaded him. "It was just too much of a challenge, really too much of a challenge, for me to turn down," he says. "I never expected it to be that good."

Quantum of Solace is the first of the 22 James Bond films considered to be a true sequel. The title comes from an original Ian Fleming short story penned as part of his 1960 Bond anthology, For Your Eyes Only. However, the similarity between the film and story is in name only. The key to Quantum of Solace is Bond's grief over the betrayal and death of Vesper Lynd, the love interest played by Eva Green in Casino Royale. And in fact, this film picks up exactly 20 minutes from where Casino Royale left off, where the sinister Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) is shot and captured by Bond at Lake Como, Italy. Quantum's spectacular opening sequence, which took eight weeks to shoot, involves a precarious 125-mph chase of Bond's Aston Martin DBS by an Alfa Romeo 159 along the hairpin twists and turns of the mountainous cliffs and tunnels. The sequence culminates in a pulse-pounding foot pursuit through the crowded cobbled streets and across the sprawling rooftops of Siena, then down below the city into the cavernous medieval aqueducts while Il Palio, the famed horse race, thunders above in the Piazza del Campe. "It will absolutely blow people away," assures Craig.

But perhaps just as powerful is the pivotal interrogation by Bond and M (Judi Dench) of the dying Mr. White, who impudently sputters forth details of his shadowy organization—which blackmailed Vesper—called Quantum (shades of SPECTRE), which is far more complex than they could possibly imagine: Quantum's tentacles spread across the globe, and its double agents are inserted deep within the British government, MI6 and the CIA.

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