As Daniel Craig dons James Bond’s tuxedo for Skyfall, Jade Wright traces his path from Hoylake to Hollywood
WHEN it was originally announced that Daniel Craig would be the new James Bond, an internet hate campaign began, fuelled by personal attacks on his credentials to play 007.
But Casino Royale was the most successful Bond film in history, and the critics were silenced. Surely ahead of the release of Skyfall, his third film in the franchise, it must be easier as he’s already won his wings?
“I don’t feel it is easier,” says Craig, all blue eyes and craggy jawline.
“It feels harder. We’ve got expectation on us now which can be double-edged. We’ve had to make this one better. People always talked about the fact that Casino Royale was a departure for Bond and this has to be a departure again.”
He has proved the naysayers (Skyfall director Sam Mendes included) wrong by bringing a dramatic depth to the character.
Now, on the 23rd movie in the franchise, it becomes clear that a lot has changed in the 50 years since Sean Connery debuted as the smooth MI6 spy in Dr. No.
Wirral’s Craig, the sixth incarnation of 007, knows only too well that Bond has to compete against high-octane thrillers such as the Bourne films in a busy market these days, but he believes there’s still a demand for the gentleman spy.
“There’s a humour and campness to Bond movies that have made them very entertaining and a reason to go and watch them,” says the former Hilbre High School pupil.
“They’ve become an event in people’s film calendars.”
The gritty Casino Royale in 2006 reinvigorated the series, and the edgy Quantum Of Solace came two years later. That film was critically panned for boasting too much action and too little story.
And the road to Skyfall has still been far from slick. First, there was the writers’ strike during 2007 and 2008, and then MGM’s financial woes in 2010 threw doubt on whether Bond would ever actually be back.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle getting this movie made, but we haven’t been idle,” says 44-year-old Craig.
“We’ve been putting the right people together, we’ve been working on the script. It’s been a lot of hard work but it’s been a joy to do.”
Craig is involved in all aspects of the Bond production and that includes choosing a director to helm these gargantuan movies.
This time he turned to Sam Mendes, the man behind American Beauty, whom he worked with on 2002’s Road To Perdition.
“It’s been great for me to get back together with Sam and work on a movie of this scale. I’m very excited about it because Sam and I are huge Bond fans and there’s a lot to celebrate this year,” he says, referring to the film franchise’s 50th anniversary.
They’re also both ambitious in the way they approach movie making.
“I felt that we wanted to make it bigger and better than what’s come before and I think we’re getting there,” he says.
Both Mendes and Craig re-read Ian Fleming’s books and looked to the early Sean Connery and Roger Moore movies for inspiration.
“There’s a tone that’s in all those movies that you can’t try to recreate. If you do then it’s a pastiche and neither Sam nor I want to make a pastiche of an older movie. But you have flavours of it,” explains Craig.
The result is a certain Sixties richness, from the costumes and sets to the colour palette.
And the iconic original Aston Martin DB-5 used in Goldfinger makes a very welcome cameo appearance.
Craig’s naturalistic acting style was inspired by the plays he saw at the Everyman as a teenager.
“It was a huge influence,” he says. “The Everyman was a big part of my life growing up. I saw some of the best actors of their generation and it was a home from home for me at the time. It was inspirational for me, seeing plays there, and being backstage in the theatre.”
After brief spells living in Chester and Liverpool, the nine year-old Craig settled in Hoylake in 1977 with his mother Olivia, sister Lea and later stepfather Max Blond. Craig was a keen sportsman, playing rugby for his school and for Hoylake RUFC. His father Tim Craig says he would have taken his rugby career further if he hadn’t gone into acting.
But from an early age he made his mark as an actor. He appeared in school plays, and in amateur dramatics with Heswall Woolgatherers, before being spotted by the National Youth Theatre and then the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
From there he went on to the Royal National Theatre and to star in Our Friends in the North, making his name in character roles.
But it was his Ursula Andress moment in Casino Royale that catapulted him to heartthrob status, where he emerged glistening from the sea in a pair of snug swimming trunks to match his piercing cobalt eyes.
“No, I haven’t kept those trunks,” he smiles. “Why would I? I’m not going to put them on for a bit of a giggle.”
Although rumour has it that Daniel likes to have a laugh on set.
“I don’t know where you heard that,” he grins. “That’s a dreadful rumour.
“I crack jokes,” he admits. “Really rubbish ones. I think it’s important to keep things as light as possible. You have long days. Everyone is away from home for a long time. Everyone is missing their loved ones and you’ve got to keep them happy.”
And his comic partner is none other than Dame Judi Dench.
“Judi likes a joke, although I can’t think of any off-hand. I wouldn’t want to embarrass her.”
In Skyfall, Bond’s loyalty to his MI6 boss M (Dame Judi Dench) will be tested when her past returns to haunt her. The movie was filmed on location in Turkey and China and that the villain of the piece will be played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
“He’s one of my favourite actors,” Daniel admits.
Ralph Fiennes pops up as a government bigwig and The Hour’s Ben Whishaw plays Q, while Naomie Harris as field agent Eve, and French actress Bérénice Marlohe as the enigmatic Severine, provide the film’s allimportant glamorous element.
Daniel is famously reluctant to discuss his own personal life, but there’s been a definite spring in his step since he married actress Rachel Weisz just over a year ago, following a whirlwind romance.
It seems that playing Bond is no good for his home life though.
“When I am doing the movie, I am totally single-minded. It is to the detriment of my personal life,” he has said. “Fortunately I have a very understanding family and they understand that that is part of it and that it is all-encompassing.”
The question is, will he return for a rumoured two more films?
“Of course, I’d love to do another one, given the chance,” he says. “As long as the suit keeps fitting, I’ll have a go.”
Skyfall opens in cinemas tomorrow night. See our review pages 8 & 9.