Feature Interview by Brad Balfour
With terrorism afoot seemingly everywhere, where is agent 007, James Bond, when we need him? Well, he may not be available to save us in all his athletic and dashing glory, but in Quantum of Solace—the 22nd official installment—Bond exhaustingly gives it a damn good try. If he can't defeat the bad guys who pose the threat of corporate terrorism, then he at least exacts retribution for the death of his love, Vesper Lynd (who died in Casino Royale).
Not only is this the most traveled James Bond film ever (they shot in 17 countries), but its star, Daniel Craig, has been talking about it to everyone, everywhere (from TV talk shows to newspapers to a HuffPo vidblogger), and even to a small band of reporters—including this one as well. Though he talked for a prim 21 minutes, Craig spoke fast, packing in as much as he could that would serve his interrogators. But judging by the hard-driving workout this 34-year-old British actor endures as the revamped and rebooted Bond, handling wimpy journo queries was the least of his travails.
While the compact Craig has had his limits tested by this character and the demands of extending Bond's emotional color, Craig still has had other opportunities to apply his actorial skills to characters that offered different challenges, such as the Jewish resistance fighter he plays in director Ed Zwick's Defiance (due out at year's end).
Q: Bond is being reinvented in a different world and time now, so he was cast differently. Is there some—if not a "responsibility"—the possibility to add a fresh interplay with the real world and give the Bond saga more of a mission?
DC: They've always done that to a certain extent. It's just that you have to remain apolitical. I don't think you can start getting into making huge comments about society with a Bond movie. Otherwise that defeats the object, really, because it's a fantasy movie, and as soon as you start giving it worthiness, you're shooting yourself in the foot. But it's going to be influenced.
I like that there is a sort of morality to these movies, and I think you should play around with that. That's interesting. People talk about this movie being about vendetta, and I say it's not. It's actually about the fact that when he gets the chance to shoot the guy in the head, he doesn't. He says, "No. You're coming in." And I know that's ingenuous, because he's shot lots of other people [laughs]. But it's an important statement to make. It's not deep and meaningful, but it's there.
Q: You're born with desirable blond hair and blue eyes—the standards of good looks. Then you're up for this role, and it's, "Oh, a blond Bond? What!?" Did you feel a reverse prejudice?
DC: No, I did not [laughs]. I mean, what could I do? "You're blond, you're too blond." I'm too blond? Someone said to me, "Did you ever think about dyeing your hair" and I went, "God, no."
The whole thing was a nightmare to think about. I couldn't argue... especially when I got older, and started dyeing my hair [for that reason] as well. I mean, a lot of the criticism was directed through the internet, because that's where a lot of people—obviously, for good reason, it's good place to get things off your chest. But I couldn't respond. There's nothing that I could say. I could start my own blog going, "I don't think I'm too blond." But what do you do? You only enter into a crazy world.
Q: It's still going on; on The Today Show they kept saying, "Blond Bond, Blond Bond!"
DC: They're never, ever ever going to get rid of that line. Ah, never mind....
Q: Executive Producer Barbara Broccoli has said you had a hand in collaborating on the script in parts, where the character goes and what he does in these films.
DC: I'm a big Bond fan, always have been. So the idea of introducing, let's say, Moneypenny and Q, into the next movie is very exciting, but I want to give those parts to proper actors, and say "invent it." I mean, because the gags are movie history, to just drop the gags into Bond movies—I don't think it stands up anymore, not with what we've done with the films. So introducing the gags, and the lines, the Bond line, [like] the martini [bit]—I want them in the film, but we need the right to say them.
Having Q and Moneypenny back in—we've got this organization now. We know they're everywhere, we know they're in control of the world, so submarine bases are definitely on the cards. I mean, we can do anything. Because we've opened up this world of fantasy—and it is a fantasy world—as long as we root ourselves in some reality, we can then do what we want.
Q: Was it necessary to enhance Judi Dench's character, M, with more dialogue?
DC: We got a bit more in there. The role wasn't quite as big when we got the first draft of the script. Whether it was me or Mark or whoever, I just thought that we needed to make that relationship solid. She needed to not trust him and think that he failed, but instinctively know that he hadn't. And that little journey that she goes on—she says, 'fuck you, he's my man,' and he feels confident about that. It's that whole mother-son thing—I've got no problem with it, it's all great—more of that, why not?
Q:This movie is populated with great theater actors who know how to build characters and add subtleties that you wouldn't think could be in a Bond movie.
DC: If you get the chance, you give these jobs to the best actors you can find. For me, it cuts my job in half. Acting with Judi Dench, I'm just going to stand there, and I just let her talk. She's phenomenal. She's incredibly skilled as an actress, but she gets a huge kick out of it and enjoys it. Like all actresses or actors I know that have been around for long enough—stars, we call people stars—those that still love what they do, it's always really inspiring. I want to be doing this for awhile yet and be still getting a kick out of it.
Q: Last time you were here [like this] with the film you did with director/producer Matthew Vaughn...
DC: It was "Layer Cake." It's been a few years.
Q: You still look as fit and fine as those days.
DC: Thank you very much [chuckles]. I'm keeping body and soul together somehow.
Q: With that in mind, how much are you like James Bond?
DC: Oh, I'm not even slightly like James Bond. Not even—nothing, absolutely nothing we share.
Q: Does that make him easier to play?
DC: I think we can take him wherever we want to take him. I think that with this movie, the idea was to finish off the story we started with "Casino [Royale"] and now he can be who he [is]—he can be Bond now.
Q: There's a lot of work spent getting in shape for these films, isn't there?
DC: Yes, it is—it's dreadful. It's seven days a week of obsessive behavior. It's not healthy. It's something we really need—keeping fit's good—but so is drinking, and eating, and enjoying life.
Q: Does it amuse you, that though your chief nemesis smokes, drinks, is rail-thin and doesn't look very healthy, he puts up quite a fight? Meanwhile you were working out every minute of the day to stay fit.
DC: I was, I was. There's narcissism involved, and I'm sorry, I'd be lying to you if [I said] there wasn't. They said, "there might be a scene where you're taking your shirt off" and I [thought], "Hmmm, I should get in shape then."
I love the casting of Mathieu [Amalric] because in fact that was a great thing. And the fight at the end, I could squash him like a bug. But actually, it's about his character and the fact that he's just waving his arm around and that plays into it. I mean, there's something about having someone like that—Mathieu wields power really well. There's a great line about walking out with your balls in your mouth, and with your successor smiling over you... He delivers just bang-on.
Q: There's this feeling that you were a lot more reticent to talk to press until these films came out and you were settled into it. Now you've gone into the whole marketing thing.
DC: I knew that when we made Casino, we had made a good movie. That's all I could do. Beyond that, I had this reputation for being anti-press, and "Oh, he won't talk to the press," because I saw no reason why I needed to be out there and self-promoting myself.
Well, when it came to Bond, they asked me, "Are you going to do press?" and I went, "Of course I am." I mean, I can't get all Greta Garbo about it. You cannot say "James Bond" and 'I want to be alone'. They spent how-many-millions of dollars on a movie, and I go and hide away from selling it. That completely made no sense whatsoever.
Q: People have asked a million times before, how many more of these Bond films are you going to do? and you point out, "Well, I've got two more in my contract."
DC: So I'm nearly there [chuckles].
Q: There a certain shelf life to playing Bond—you get punished playing this character—so I can't help thinking that you must say "How much longer am I going to do these things?"
DC: God yes, I think so. There is some quote from Harrison Ford which I love, and particularly now it makes much more sense. It's something about his knees going. And we do it until we do it, and we make it as safe as we can. But I'd genuinely love to do another one. I mean, I had surgery on my shoulder this year, which is a long-term thing, that I ripped out when I was doing this movie, and it's crazy. I've seen more doctors this year for stupid things, like stitches and cuts and things like that, than I've seen in the past 20 years of my life. But you know, it really is part of the job. As long as it's still coming across and it's real enough and entertaining enough, I'll continue doing it.
Q: Instead of doing one big franchise, you might have ended up in two if "The Golden Compass" had been more successful. In some alternate universe you might be talking about playing Lord Asreal in "The Subtle Knife." As an actor—Is that strange when you don't know which film is going to be the real winner or not?
DC: I made two movies: this one, which is seeming to become a success, and "Casino Royale," which was a huge success. Before that, box office was just not on my agenda. Well, it is, yeah, but it was [to make] a little big movie. It was never about the money it would make, it was about making the movie. And that's the way I've always made movies.
If I'm sitting there with the director in a cinema, and I've looked at it and gone, "Wow, we made it! We made it into a cinema!"—that was my criteria. So the whole idea of whether or not a movie's made millions and millions and millions of dollars is still, for me, an anathema. I still can't quite relate to it.