As he makes his third appearance as 007, in the 23rd James Bond film, Daniel Craig is coming to terms with the extraordinary pressures of portraying a half-century-old icon. He even agrees that Bond needs to lighten up. Hearing how the reluctant actor was drawn into the franchise, Juli Weiner reveals the influence Craig has had on next month’s Skyfall—from character development and dazzling stuntwork to the choice of director Sam Mendes. But don’t ask to see his blooper reel.
Among the great lost works of modern cinema is The Day the Clown Cried, Jerry Lewis’s 1972 film about a clown who entertains children at a Nazi concentration camp. Screened in an incomplete version by only a few movie-business insiders over the past several decades, it is perhaps the most famous unreleased film in history.
Cinema historians haven’t yet crowned a most famous unseen DVD extra in history, and so we humbly submit for future consideration: the blooper reel for Skyfall, the 23rd official film in the James Bond series and the third starring Daniel Craig as 007. This is not a movie from whose blooper reel one would expect great things—indeed, it is not a movie one would assume would even have a blooper reel. (What would it contain? Co-star Dame Judi Dench screaming obscenities? Craig tripping and splitting his Tom Ford pants?) But according to Craig himself, an honest-to-God blooper reel was shown to the cast and crew at Skyfall’s wrap party.
“I mean, Judi is always hilarious,” said Craig one muggy summer morning over a cappuccino at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel. “There’s a lot of very, very funny moments. But no one’s going to see them. It’s what happens on a film set. You want to be in film? Get a job.” Despite his somewhat dour reputation, Craig finished this statement with a rapturously conspiratorial giggle—the kind of laugh two friends might emit upon sharing a bitchy secret about a mutual friend who just walked into the room.
“I genuinely believe that if you want to get in the film business, get in the film business,” he continued. “People are like, Show [the outtakes]! And it’s like, No! It’s a secret. It’s like smoke and mirrors. It’s like that magician thing of giving the gag away. I really kind of respect that—I think it’s great that you can keep a secret. ‘How does that trick work?’ None of your business! Figure it out! Magic! As a kid, I kind of spent my life being amazed by being tricked. I love being tricked. I still love it today.”
Despite midmorning traffic, Craig, 44, dressed in jeans, a beige T-shirt, and white sneakers, had arrived five minutes early. The hotel’s high-ceilinged space suggests Hemingway’s foyer as redecorated by Anthropologie: it’s lined with artfully mismatched couches, the walls are covered in eclectic cultural artifacts. There is also a bar, though unlike that of Hemingway, it appears mostly untouched.
Craig and I selected a couch by the window. He sat in one corner with his arms folded over his midsection and his shoulders hunched forward. His eyes are a truly arresting shade of blue, just as remarkable here as they were amid the snowy landscapes and equally pale ex-Nazis of 2011’sThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (“Wonderful blue eyes. Sensational blue eyes,” Dench agreed in a later phone interview.) His face and body are equally striking. If there is a word that implies biceps that cannot be said to flex because their natural state appears to be one of perpetual plyometric engagement, that is the best descriptor of Craig’s upper arms.
Said upper arms were crossed in front of his upper stomach at the beginning of our discussion—a kind of man-made safety harness. But the longer he sipped his cappuccino and the longer we sat and talked, the more relaxed his body language became. His arms would gradually unfurl until, by the discussion’s end, they had flopped over a pillow, as languid as an odalisque’s, his fingers fiddling with a fringe.
He seemed least comfortable talking about the occasional tedium of movie-stardom—least comfortable, really, issuing any sort of complaint. (It’s a modesty born, perhaps, of a middle-class English childhood; he was raised in Chester, near the border with Wales, the son of a publican and an art teacher.) He appeared most comfortable demonstrating his sense of humor. For instance, he revealed he sometimes uses one of his stunt doubles, Ben Cooke, as paparazzi bait: “When he gets dressed up is when he can really double me very well. I kind of send him out sometimes if I’m in foreign climes—‘He’s here, he’s here!’ ”
On doing the international talk-show circuit: “There are panels; they have, like, 10 hosts—you don’t know who the host of the show is. And then there’ll be a bank of Japanese girls sitting on stools, just giggling. It’s like a good or a bad acid trip, whichever way you look at it.”
On an American town that’s considering outlawing swearing: “You just kind of want to go, ‘Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!’ ”
Bond fans have seen another manifestation of Craig’s sense of humor, though they wouldn’t have realized it at the time. When a teaser photo for Skyfall was released at the beginning of 2012, it showed Craig, as Bond, sitting poolside without a shirt and facing away from the camera.
“They wanted a picture of me with my shirt off,” Craig told me. “And I said, ‘You can have the one with my back turned.’ That’s as simple as that.” Smiling, he mimicked studio executives: “ ‘Please, can we have the one—’ ‘No, you can have the one with my back turned.’ ”
Judi Dench was delighted by such playfulness and mischievousness—presumably more so than were the aforementioned suits. “The glorious thing about him is he has a great sense of humor,” she told me. “That’s essential—the whole essence of Bond is that he doesn’t take himself so seriously.”
Craig, Dench, and their colleagues do not agree with the critical consensus that the contemporary Bond is ponderous and melancholy, and at times frustratingly depressive. TheNew York Times film critic A. O. Scott called Bond a “grieving, seething avenger” in his review of 2008’s Quantum of Solace and then asked, “Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?”
If the story merits it, then maybe so. In 2006’s Casino Royale and its direct sequel, Quantum of Solace, Bond “fell in love, his love of his life was killed, and then he goes off on revenge; it’s a really dark story,” Craig pointed out. “So, this one is a completely new story. He’s not just dark—he’s got all sorts of other things as well. That’s kind of the idea. And we weren’t making decisions about the story over the way things have been or the way things should be. It’s like we just wrote the best script we could—well, [screenwriter] John Logan certainly did—and we put it together the best way we could. So, we didn’t get overly literary about it, I promise you. We took the piss out of it and just kept it as light as possible.”
That point made, Craig was just as adamant in defending Bond’s celebrated machismo. When I noted that Bond had cried in Casino Royale, Craig interrupted.
“He didn’t sob,” he corrected me. “There was, like, a tear in his eye.”
“I know he didn’t sob,” I said. “I know he didn’t weep and write his diary.”
Craig went for a topper. “No snot coming out of his nose, you know,” he said, laughing.
It is unlikely that Bond fans who dreaded further such brushes with despondency were comforted by the hiring, as Skyfall’s director, of Sam Mendes, Oscar-winning chronicler of historical dejection (Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road) and modern ambient malaise (Away We Go, American Beauty). Mendes and Craig have some history. The director had noticed Craig in 2001 via a television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Sword of Honour” trilogy in which Craig starred. Not long after, when casting Road to Perdition, Mendes flew Craig to Chicago, where he auditioned in front of studio executives for the role of Paul Newman’s son. “It was one of the worst auditions I’ve ever seen,” Mendes told me, laughing. “Absolutely terrible.” Craig was apologetic, though, and was eventually cast.
According to Mendes, Craig hasn’t changed much since then. (“He’s richer!” Mendes noted.) Back when they were making Road to Perdition, Craig “was delightful and funny and much goofier than people might imagine him to be. He’s extremely fast-thinking and lively and alive as a person. The kind of brooding intensity that he sort of got known a little bit for is not who he is at all.”
Mendes signed on to Skyfall after Craig approached the director at a house party and asked him if he would be interested in collaborating on the new film. “Obviously I’d had way too many drinks, because I just offered a job which is not my job to do, or my position to do,” Craig told me. “There was this flush on Sam’s face, and anyway we talked about it, and I mentioned it to the producers the following day, and they were very excited about it. He went in and saw them, and here we are.”
“I’d never have known how interested I would have been in Bond until I watched Daniel play it,” Mendes said. “We thought very much alike about the whole project. He felt that perhaps in the last movie Bond had become slightly humorless and so that was—” Mendes cut himself off. “As I’m talking to you I’m literally driving past—I’m on the way to an airport, the airport in London—and I’m driving past the front window of Harrods and there’s a Bond display!”
Another Bond display of sorts, though on a scale somewhat larger than a department-store window: the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, which was seen by an estimated 900 million viewers worldwide. In a five-minute sketch, Craig, as 007, enlisted no less a Bond girl than the 86-year-old Queen of England for a mission whose aims were foggy but whose means included collecting Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in a helicopter and parachuting alongside her into Olympic Stadium. The aerialists were stunt doubles, but Her Majesty was otherwise real, as were the palace interiors.
Craig, the Queen, and opening-ceremony maestro Danny Boyle shot the sketch on one of Craig’s days off during the production of Skyfall. “I didn’t really talk to her,” Craig said of Elizabeth. “We just sort of did what we did.” A Bond girl of the highest order, then: enigmatic, succinct, and professional.
Craig says he didn’t have much input into the Olympics sketch—“Danny Boyle just asked me to do it; I just did what I was told”—but back when he signed on as an initially reluctant Bond, he got in the habit of contributing ideas about the scripts, marketing, and character development for the films.
Longtime Bond co-producer Barbara Broccoli, daughter of the original Bond co-producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, had first seen him on the British mini-series Our Friends in the North, on which Craig played a prison escapee/lapsed musician with the impossible name of Geordie Peacock. “I always felt that he was an extraordinary actor and he was destined to become a star,” she said, but she did not immediately imagine him as a future Bond. “I always say when you’re making a James Bond film it’s like being married: you’re not thinking of who your next husband’s going to be.”
During the period Craig was appearing on Our Friends in the North, in 1996, Broccoli’s work-husband was the slick, chipper Pierce Brosnan. But as she prepared for Casino Royale, it was time for a new marriage. Craig “was very reluctant,” co-producer Michael Wilson remembered during a joint phone interview with Broccoli. “Barbara had to talk him into it.” They both laughed.
“I think I was intrigued by reluctant,” Broccoli said. “There was a period of trying to woo him. We had several meetings with him. We talked him through his concerns. He’s someone who’s very professional, and he throws himself into whatever he’s doing, and he understood it’d be a long commitment, over at least a decade.” Indeed, Craig recently signed on for two more Bond films, which will likely keep him in harness as 007 through 2016, at the earliest.
In addition to making the lives of people in the marketing department (promotional-materials subdivision) more exciting, Craig has worked closely with designer Tom Ford to create Bond’s exquisitely tailored, slim-lapelled, bullet-grazed suits. The actor said he “spent weeks” in costume design, looking at inspiring images and submitting his body to rounds and rounds of tailoring.
Craig does not wear the suits post-shoot. “Literally I wear the same one for, like, six months, and then I’m like, I’m fucking sick of this.” Think of the Ford Bond suit, then, as the world’s chicest, most blood-soaked school uniform.
Other items from his wardrobe Craig donates to thrift stores. “I know there is some stuff out there that was in Bond movies,” he said. “Just like T-shirts and things I’ve worn in the movies—nothing too out there.” So no holsters, but perhaps some lucky Salvation Army or Oxfam customer is wearing a piece of movie history.
Stunt coordination is another area in which Craig has particular interest and influence. Thanks to a protracted Writers Guild strike, the Quantum of Solace script wasn’t finished when shooting began. Craig said on that set he was “sort of improvising stunts.”
Though Skyfall’s stuntwork was planned farther in advance, Craig still picked up an injury. “I tore a muscle right at the beginning of this one, crazily, in a kind of warm-up for something, which is what happens,” he said. “The weird thing is, where I hurt myself more is, like, when I have to run down some steps, across a room, sort of through a door. And I’ll have to do it 30 times. And we’ll be on the 29th take when I come down the steps and sort of twist.”
He had many, many opportunities to “hurt his muscle a little bit,” as I perhaps too delicately, or girlishly, put it later in our interview. (This prompted him to do a pretty good impression of me, a 24-year-old American female, mid-Atlantic accent and all: “Oh, you hurt your muscle a bit. Did you really?”) Skyfall took more than five months to shoot, plus additional second-unit work. That the movie came to fruition at all required heavy pre-production lifting. The November 2010 bankruptcy of MGM Studios resulted in a longer-than-planned-for hiatus betweenQuantum of Solace and the next installment. Frenzied Internet commenters—redundant!—Internet commenters feared that the studio’s financial trouble would mean the end of the Bond series.
What it ended up meaning was a new, recession-friendly Bond series. While Quantum of Solacewas filmed around the world, Skyfall largely confined itself to the United Kingdom and Istanbul. Though the franchise has always (literally) dined out on product placement—Bollinger champagne, say—Skyfall’s deal with Heineken, which required Craig as Bond to quaff one and appear as well in a series of ads, provoked another round of Internet commentary, with die-hard fans worried that Bond was being coarsened by commercial imperatives.
Craig would have none of it. “A movie like this costs $118 million to make—it’s the nature of it, the size of the movie. And it costs another $200 million to sell it. So, the $200 million has to come from somewhere,” he said. “Now, product placement, whichever way you look at it, whether you like it or you think it’s disgusting, or whatever, it’s what it is. Heineken gave us a ton of money for there to be Heineken in a shot in a bar. So, how easy is that? Just to say, O.K., there’s Heineken. It’s there—it’s in the back of the shot. Without them, the movie couldn’t get sold, so that all got kind of blown up. ‘Bond’s new drink is a Heineken.’ He likes a lot of drinks—Heineken, champagne; it’s all in there.
“I’ll drink a beer in the shot, I’m happy to, but I’m not going to do an ‘Ahhhhh,’ ” Craig continued, pantomiming an actor looking preternaturally refreshed. “And I would say this because they’re paying, but they’re kind of respectful about it. They don’t want to screw the movie up.”
To screw up Skyfall would be to screw up a half-century-old, $5 billion franchise whose plots have spanned the globe, the sexual revolution, the conclusion of the Cold War, 9/11, the titleOctopussy, and the rise of George Lazenby to his rightful place as a reliable bar-trivia answer. And yet, despite Craig’s hesitancy to take all that on, the actor did not seek advice from any of the five previous 007s. Aside from Sean Connery and Roger Moore, the men aren’t known to be friends with one another.
“I don’t think they have even all been together at once,” Craig told me. “I’ve met Pierce a couple times, but I’ve not met the other Bonds. There’s no special pass, like, ah, sure, have a drink in a clubroom somewhere. There isn’t.”
Not that any advice, even an encouraging guttural growl from Sean Connery, could have really prepared Craig for the metamorphosis from respected British television star and Royal National Theatre alumnus to photographer-trailed cultural icon and occasional tabloid presence.
“He realized that he was going to have to give up some of his privacy,” producer Michael Wilson said of Craig. “But I’m not sure he was aware of how much that would intrude into his life, being James Bond. It’s almost unbelievable how much you give up your privacy.”
“We knew enough to tell him that it wouldn’t be unbearable!” Barbara Broccoli piped up, perhaps the more positive-thinking partner.
“He probably sat there thinking he could imagine what that would be,” Wilson continued, “but I think in the last five years it exceeded his expectations.”
This has entailed, among other things, learning how to navigate the attendant prides of paparazzi and fielding the usual questions about his private life. To wit: Craig married hisDream House co-star Rachel Weisz in 2011 and has one child, teenage Ella, from a previous marriage, as well as a stepson, Henry, from Weisz’s long-term relationship with director Darren Aronofsky. Craig has lived in New York for 10 years, and lately he and Weisz have been house-hunting around Manhattan—an $8 million Alphabet City town house here, an $11 million SoHo penthouse there—between weekends spent at their home in upstate New York.
As for paparazzi, Craig said, “There are weird things in this country that I have a problem with, like taking pictures of children.” But there are also more Bond-specific challenges that are not so much invasions of privacy as they are gin infusions of privacy. “It’s amazing how many times I’ve sat in interviews like this in a bar or a hotel, and it’s 11 o’clock in the morning and someone sends a martini over,” Craig said, laughing. “And it’s like, Really? It’s 11 o’clock! Cheers! I’m not going to drink it.”
Respectable hours are not the only thing discouraging Craig from indulging in pleasures more befitting of Bond, at least in public. “You talk to people in the movie business who have been doing this 40 years and they all say the difference is that, back in the day, you could go and have a drink in the bar, get drunk, fall over, have a good time, relax, whatever, and no one would know about it. But now everyone’s got a camera. Not that all I want to do is get drunk in a bar, but that’s an example. So you can’t live a normal life anymore. Because it will become public knowledge that you’ve whatever—gotten drunk in a bar or skinny-dipped on a beach or something. Things that normal people do occasionally. And in a way that’s kind of—I’ve got to be high-class. I’ve done a lot of things in my life. But you have to think in that way. Which is sad, because I like bars.”
Craig is cagey about specifying exactly how many more times he’ll play Bond. There are other roles that interest him, too: he’d love to be involved if someone adapts the 1967 Russian satireThe Master and Margarita. He’s also game to star in a Christopher Guest or Armando Iannucci comedy, though he admitted that improvisation is not his strong suit. “I’m quite scared of those guys because they’re so brilliant. But, again, I’d kill to work for those people,” he said.
When he does eventually relinquish his M.I.6 post, he said, the only advice he’d give to his successor would be: “Get it right. Don’t fuck up.” He laughed. “Be good.”
Like a heavily armed snowflake, each Bond is different.
“What I’m doing is not what Pierce was doing, and Pierce wasn’t doing what Roger Moore was doing, or what Sean was doing, or what Timothy [Dalton] was doing,” Craig said. “Things have changed. It’s just kind of the ride of it. Pierce used to say that it’s like being responsible for a small country. It’s kind of like you have to look after it diplomatically. I kind of get that, but I can’t really say that’s my deal. I’m not going to be the poster boy for this. Although I am the poster boy.”
Shirtless but face turned away from the camera, he’s the poster boy.