An exclusive look inside the making of Quantum of Solace, and Daniel Craig's next turn at playing superspy James Bond.
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008
London's famed Pinewood Studios is abuzz. Not only is the colossal 007 soundstage—the largest in the world—engulfed in flames and pyrotechnic explosions for the harrowing climax of the 22nd James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, but it's the last day of principal photography for what has been one of the most ambitious and tumultuous Bond films in the legendary franchise's 46-year screen history.
Two years ago, producers Barbara Broccoli and her stepbrother, Michael G. Wilson, took an enormous gamble on Casino Royale—amid much media and fan uproar—by completely rebooting the 007 series. Their back-to-basics decision meant jettisoning both the trademark fantasy formula for grittier storytelling, and the ultra-suave and sophisticated Pierce Brosnan for the more rough and rugged Daniel Craig. But the payoff proved to be an unexpected windfall, garnering not only glowing critical raves around the globe, but a record-breaking box office jackpot of nearly $600 million worldwide.
Now, in an effort to raise the bar even higher, more changes are in store for Quantum of Solace. Having proven himself worthy of the iconic tuxedo, Walther PPK and "00" license to kill, Daniel Craig considers that success double-edged. "Now people may look back and say, 'Oh, Quantum of Solace isn't as good as Casino Royale,'" muses the 40-year-old Craig. In other words, the fear is that Casino Royale's success was due in part to "the curiosity factor about the new guy," he says with a smile.
"So now if this one goes wrong, it really is all my fault," quips Craig with a huge burst of laughter.
But make no mistake: Bond is serious business. Especially for Craig. He repeatedly stresses the need to push the series even further with Quantum of Solace. "We can't just repeat what we did last time," states Craig. "Otherwise, we really will fail. What we've deliberately done, and I've really put all my energy into doing, is once again creating a very different movie. We have to. Because I feel we owe it to the people who loved Casino Royale to give them something different, and something even better."
The heat is on. Quite literally. The special effects team reignites the inferno for another take of Craig and Ukrainian-born actress Olga Kurylenko—playing the feisty femme fatale Camille—fighting their way out of a collapsing hotel, the exteriors of which have already been filmed on location in the desolate desert landscape of Chile (doubling for Bolivia) three months earlier. A team of makeup artists carefully applies one last coating of flame-retardant gel to the faces and extremities of Craig and Kurylenko.
The two get into position just outside a doorway jamb. Craig gives a confident nod to Kurylenko as they both pause to exhale a deep breath. "Action!" suddenly echoes loudly throughout the set. Right on cue, plumes of smoke billow out of the charred remains, ear-piercing detonations begin discharging and flames soar around the pair as they race through the collapsing building, dodging explosions and falling debris.
As the temperature inside the 007 soundstage quickly rises to stifling levels, the only person not breaking a sweat is the director, Marc Forster. With three cameras rolling simultaneously on the dangerous action sequence, Forster is calmly watching the pivotal stunt on multiple video monitors, intensely studying the pair's escape route through the crumbling smoke-filled set.
"Cut!" he yells over the controlled chaos. Breathless, Craig and Kurylenko return to Forster's side to watch their choreographed maneuvers on the playback monitors. If Forster strikes you as an odd choice to be helming a $200 million James Bond thriller, you're not alone. The soft-spoken, German-born filmmaker was just as perplexed when producers Broccoli and Wilson approached him with the unusual offer. Acclaimed for his low-budget, Oscar-nominated, intimate character-dramas like Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner, Forster admits he initially thought it was a practical joke when he received the phone call. "My first words were, 'I think you've got the wrong director,'" recalls the 39-year-old Forster with a laugh. "Then, 'Why me?'
"But Barbara said that because they started taking Casino Royale in a different direction with Daniel, they wanted to take it even further with a real storyteller. And they offered me total creative freedom . . . so I felt I could explore the fascinating psychology of the beginnings of James Bond. Plus, Daniel is such an interesting actor, and I had never done an action movie, let alone a movie with a budget over $20 million. So I figured I could learn a lot from this . . . "I mean, if you're going to make a commercial film, then why not do the crown jewel of them all," chuckles Forster. "And that's James Bond!"
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.
Forensic intelligence links one of those MI6 traitors to a bank account in Haiti, with Bond immediately in hot pursuit. There, he encounters the rogue agent Camille (Kurylenko), who has a deadly score to settle with the apparently benign eco-friendly billionaire Dominic Greene (played by acclaimed French actor Mathieu Almaric), the chairman of Greene Planet who is in fact fronting for Quantum in orchestrating a Bolivian coup in exchange for a seemingly barren piece of desert land. In reality, that parched property will secretly allow Quantum to seize control of South America's water supply. But Bond's thirst to avenge Vesper's death puts MI6 in jeopardy after his reckless disregard of M's orders forces her to cut him loose from Her Majesty's Secret Service.
"There's a real internal struggle going on within him," explains Craig of Bond's self-destructive plight, "because he soon finds that everything he understood about the world has been turned upside down. What we set in motion in the last film escalates much further." It's why Broccoli and Wilson insisted on the film's ambiguous title, which some felt would leave filmgoers stumped and hinder the film's marketability. "It's an original Fleming title and it's very appropriate in telling the journey Bond is on in this film," explains Broccoli over afternoon tea in her Pinewood Studios office. "There was such a big brouhaha about using 'Quantum of Solace,'" she admits, rolling her eyes, "but everybody seems to have calmed down and accepted it. People are remembering the title because it is so unusual . . . and when audiences see the film, they'll completely get it."
Craig enthusiastically agrees with Broccoli. "Yeah, of course we could've gone with a snappier title, but we made such a huge effort on Casino Royale to take the series to a new place, and we wanted that to continue," he asserts. "I mean, this title is meant to confuse a little . . . it's meant to make you wonder, and that's exactly what we want as people come into the film. Ian Fleming always has a very emotional line through his books, and Quantum of Solace is quite a moving story for him—it debates relationships and how they hurt.
"And actually, I think it comes from the way Fleming was feeling in his personal life at the time," Craig elaborates. "What he suggests is that if you don't have that 'quantum of solace' in your relationship, you should give up. It's that level of comfort . . . and at the end of the last movie, Bond doesn't have that because the love of his life was taken away from him."
Craig praises Forster's skill at probing those darker recesses of Bond's psyche, but also is quick to point out that Quantum of Solace is not going to be some deeply disturbing psychological drama either.
"After all, we are making a James Bond movie," chuckles Craig. "But hopefully we've created something that is more a look back at the earlier Bond movies about style and locations and romantic ideas of how the world is." That retro feel extends to Craig himself, who many now consider the heir apparent to Sean Connery's brutal and brash interpretation of the iconic superspy. While Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan each brought a charming playboy panache to the role, Craig's Bond is dark, dangerous and menacing. Ironically, those singing Craig's praises the loudest are some of the same Bond purists who initially unleashed such vicious and vitriolic attacks on Craig when he was first announced as the new 007. Yet Craig remains modest about those comparisons to Connery. "It's hard to comment on something like that, but yeah, I can't help but be very proud . . . it's very nice of people to say that," he says, smiling. "Although not everybody thinks that . . . believe me, I know," he quickly adds. "Some people still don't think I'm any good!"
Flash back to March 2006, and Craig wasn't nearly as sure-footed when I interviewed him on the set of Casino Royale along the sun-drenched shores of the Bahamas. Though 007 had tangled with the world's worst villains and megalomaniacal madmen over four decades, Bond's greatest nemesis during the production of Casino Royale proved to be the media. SMERSH, SPECTRE, Auric Goldfinger and Blofeld were mere paper tigers compared to the Fleet Street tabloids, which locked Craig firmly in their crosshairs, taking potshots at the classically trained stage actor on an almost daily basis. Deposed dictators usually received a much warmer welcome from the populace. Hounded by the brutal and highly personal critiques of his seeming lack of necessary Bondian attributes, Craig tried his best to take it all in stride.
"Quite honestly, I didn't really expect this at all," Craig told me at the time, when his most recognizable films in North America were Munich and the little-seen Layer Cake and The Jacket. "I mean, I've been acting a while now, and I've been in some big movies before, but certainly nothing near this level. And I guess I'm learning that you can't believe the good stuff and you can't believe the bad stuff. You kind of still take it in, but I'm really trying to ignore it. I have to. I'm getting on with this."
Craig did admit, however, that the furor back home—where James Bond is a matter of national pride, considered as much a British institution as afternoon tea, the queen and the Beatles—helped him up the ante on his performance. "I've been giving 110 percent from the very beginning, and maybe now after all this criticism, I'm trying to give 115 percent . . . but I mean, I'm giving everything I possibly can," he insists. "We're making a fabulous movie here, and therefore, I think we're going to make a fabulous Bond movie. "So once it's all done and dusted, and the movie is out, then people can say whatever they want," he shrugged. "They can bloody criticize it then. But it's so silly for anyone to attack what we're doing because nobody has seen it yet."
Of course, the tide quickly turned once critics and audiences glimpsed Craig in action when Casino Royale premiered in November 2006. He recalls finally breathing a sigh of relief as the opening weekend box office figures started rolling in while he, Broccoli and Wilson were at a hotel bar in Switzerland on a promotional stop. "Suddenly, the studio starts texting all these numbers to us, and they kept coming and coming and going up and up and up . . . and that's when I really felt it. That's when the surprise really happened for me. I mean, we always knew we had a great movie, but people reacted way beyond how we thought they would." But he humbly admits there was no gloating on his part. "There was never a point where I punched the air," Craig says with a genuine sense of humility. "There was no kind of, 'See, I told you so!' I just always kept saying, 'We're making the best movie we possibly can . . . just wait.' And thankfully, that worked."
Despite the initial media backlash, Broccoli says they never doubted their choice to succeed Pierce Brosnan. "Those people who came out against Daniel weren't as familiar with his work as we were," she says. "Because we live here in the U.K., we're very familiar with the actors here. I remember I saw Daniel in 'Our Friends in the North.' I saw him in Elizabeth. I thought, 'My God, he has such an extraordinary presence.' When you look at his body of work, he can be both a character actor but also the leading man. And a star. That's a rare quality to have all those three. We had absolutely no doubts. "Plus," she adds, "Daniel is very much of this century. He's not afraid to peel back the layers on the screen. He's not afraid of Bond's emotions. And as you know, in Fleming's books you found out a lot more about Bond's internal state of mind and emotions, and it's very hard to translate that into film without the character sounding too verbose. So a lot of that has to be conveyed from the inside out. And Daniel is able to do that because he's such a phenomenal actor. He's taken it to a whole other level, and I think that's what people really responded to. They like the fact that you don't know what Bond is going to do. He's not predictable. There's a real internal struggle going on, and he lets you get glimpses of that. But he can also be as powerful and dangerous as he needs to be, and yet also accessible emotionally. That's a very potent cocktail."
But shaking and stirring the Bond franchise by hitting the reset button for Casino Royale was tricky business, especially considering that Brosnan's last outing, Die Another Day, had grossed nearly $450 million. The question was, why toss out all the beloved ingredients—Miss Moneypenny, Q, the gadgets, the cheeky humor—long cherished by Bond fans? Why risk messing with success? "Well, I think we've seen Bond films go through different periods of change," explains Wilson, who first served in a producing capacity on 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me along with his late stepfather, Cubby Broccoli. "In the 1970s they got bigger and bigger and more fantastic until we reached Moonraker (1979) in outer space. And we realized that it was going in the wrong direction and we brought it back to basics with For Your Eyes Only (1981). "So what we saw with Die Another Day is that we got to that same point," he candidly admits. "We started getting too high in the sky—outer space, invisible cars—the technology began to overwhelm the story and the characters. We felt it was very important to bring it back down to Earth."
Wilson agrees that tinkering with such a proven formula could've had enormous financial repercussions, but he and his stepsister both felt that this Bond redux was a risk they were willing to stake the series on—as well as their family legacy. "At the end of the day, what's really important—not just for the audience, but ourselves—is that we are doing stuff that we believe in, that makes us enthusiastic. And if we're enthusiastic about it, it will come across as a great film. Because after Die Another Day, we were confronted with a situation where we said, 'We'll have a guaranteed winner if we just do the same thing over again.' But I think we would've lost a lot of what we think is important to this series." Though Q and Miss Moneypenny won't be back for Quantum of Solace either, Wilson doesn't rule out their return at some point in the future. "Those characters will come into his world when they're needed to tell the story," he figures.
It's now a few weeks after filming has wrapped on Quantum of Solace, and over a lunchtime interview at London's posh Landmark Hotel, Daniel Craig is noticeably more relaxed, if not downright giddy. Dressed conservatively in a powder blue shirt, navy cardigan and gray pants, Craig reflects on the past six months of what has been a grueling, often 18-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule. "The last one seemed like a walk in the park compared to this one," he admits. And he has the battle scars to prove it. He's still sporting a facial scar along with a bandaged and splintered index finger, all incurred in the line of duty, while traversing the globe from Chile, Panama and Mexico to Spain, Italy, Austria and, of course, the MI6 home base here in London. Craig says the amount of intensive fight sequences and elaborately orchestrated stunts was purposely amped up on Quantum of Solace, necessitating an even more demanding physical commitment.
"The last time, I pulled my Achilles tendon and was limping around a lot—I was in major pain through a lot of the shooting . . . but now, it's a whole new set of injuries," he laughs, waving his broken finger. "For Casino Royale, I really pumped a lot of weights and bulked up, because I wanted him to look like someone who literally just dropped out of the Navy and was Special Services. But this time I wanted him leaner and have been doing a lot more running and stamina exercises. But because I've been even more physically involved in every aspect of this film, accidents are bound to happen."
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