The Man Behind Bond
As Daniel Craig gears up for his last stint as 007, we look back at the career of a modern icon.
Being James Bond is as much burden as boast. The role has defined, and in many cases limited, the actors who have embodied it on the big screen, from the imitable first-timer Sean Connery and long-running Roger Moore to briefer leading men George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. The same will no doubt end up being true of Daniel Craig, who has played the British secret service agent in four movies so far and will reportedly have a fifth and final outing in an as-yet-untitled series entry set to premiere this year.
But Craig has also done something unimaginable since Connery’s days as 007: He has made the 65-year-old spy all his own, ushering the character into a thoroughly modern era and making clear that we won’t be forgetting him any time soon. From the opening moments of his first Bond movie, 2006’s Casino Royale—an updated take on author Ian Fleming’s original Bond novel of the same name published in 1953—the steely, menacing glare in his blue eyes and his impossibly bulky, ripped body signaled that he was nothing like the others.
It was a reboot in every sense of the word. Craig’s Bond was no longer going to pretend to be nice, nor would he enjoy such treatment in return. At one point in Casino Royale, Mads Mikkelsen’s villain, Le Chiffre, brutally tortures Bond while the agent is strapped fully naked to a chair—something that’s hard to imagine Moore undergoing. The later films have shifted to a more honest depiction of the brutality of spying and geopolitical subterfuge, even while being raucously entertaining and far from believable in their plot points.
“Craig has brought a ruggedness that borders on nastiness to the part, which has been a refreshing change of pace after the more polished and debonair variations of the character that we’ve seen in the past,” says Nick Schager, a film critic whose work appears in The Daily Beast and Variety. “While his Bond can definitely wear a tuxedo and mingle in high society, he’s also something of a bruiser, which I think has allowed the character to develop in interesting ways.”
It’s also evidently taken quite a toll on Craig himself. While doing press for 2015’s Spectre, the English actor admitted to feeling depleted by the intensely time-consuming production schedule and its physical demands. “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists,” he told Time Out London when asked if he could imagine doing another Bond movie. “No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.” He also said, “If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.”
Craig has since softened the blow of those comments, which sent fans on the Internet into a tailspin wondering whether the beloved star was walking away from the franchise. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best job in the world. I’ll keep doing it as long as I still get a kick out of it,” he said at the New Yorker Festival in 2016. He added that, “If I were to stop doing [Bond movies], I would miss it terribly.” (He also blamed his previous hyperbolic words on having just wrapped a year of filming and being away from home.)
And as Schager sees it, Craig’s frankness to a fault is something to applaud. It’s another way in which he stands apart, particularly in today’s hyper-aware media climate that threatens to take down any celebrity who says the wrong thing. “Most stars speak in PR-approved sound bites these days, so I think Craig’s candidness is refreshing, if not to be taken seriously at all times. As we’ve seen, sometimes his critical comments about the Bond franchise have just been a case of blowing off steam.”
Still, it’s clear that the 50-year-old actor can’t keep up his fitness regimen or the grueling shoots for very long. If the 25th Bond film is his swan song, he will walk away having completed a tremendously successful stint lasting over a decade. And, just maybe, he can get back to being Daniel Craig again.
While Craig was far from a household name before stepping into his sleek, Tom Ford-designed Bond suits and high-dollar Omega watches, he was also no slouch in the acting world. Born in 1968 in Chester, England, he quickly developed his bona fides as a thespian, though that’s hardly what his background would’ve suggested. His mother Carol was an art teacher, while his father Tim was a pub landlord and midshipman in the Merchant Navy. His parents divorced when he was four, and he moved in with his mom and sister outside Liverpool. At 16, he shipped off to London to join the famed National Youth Theatre (Daniel Day-Lewis, Idris Elba, and Kate Winslet studied there), and graduated from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 1991.
That set him up for what would turn out to be a prolific, acclaimed, if not exactly blockbuster career on the stage and screen in the UK. He broke out in the BBC’s 1996 miniseries Our Friends in the North, an epic nine-episode drama about four friends shown over decades, playing the prison escapee with the highly unusual name Geordie Peacock. That was, in fact, where longtime Bond producer, Barbara Broccoli, who took on the duties of her father Albert Broccoli, first spotted Craig.
He quickly developed a reputation for playing men who come off as aggressive and abrasive, but who suffer deep psychological wounds—and who, seemingly against all odds, happen to be irrepressibly charming. That involves a whole lot of layers. And it’s not a coincidence, but something the actor has continuously sought out in his work both in film and TV and on the stage.
“I’m not about to do a rom-com. It would be a disaster,” Craig told Esquire UK. “Good movies aren’t just funny. Good movies aren’t just sad. Good movies aren’t just serious. They’re all of those f—ing things. In good movies you should be involved in the characters. Not getting deep about it, but I think that’s more interesting.”
What’s more, it got him noticed by major directors across the globe. In 1998’s Love Is the Devil, a biopic about the painter Francis Bacon, he plays Bacon’s lover with a criminal past and, as a sign of things to come, doesn’t mind baring it all. A 2001 television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour grabbed the attention of American Beauty director Sam Mendes, who cast Craig in the dour gangster film Road to Perdition, despite an “absolutely terrible” audition for which the actor apologized, according to the director. Craig continued his theatrical work, as in Caryl Churchill’s acclaimed play, A Number, at London’s Royal Court in 2002. For the two-actor production, Craig played a trio of cloned brothers, without bothering to change his outfit for each character, yet clearly presenting them as distinct individuals in a virtuoso performance.
Then Craig got the call every actor eagerly awaits and usually never gets. Steven Spielberg plucked him to play a brutish, slightly unhinged Jewish assassin in 2005’s Oscar-nominated Munich, a thriller based on the true story of the Israeli government’s retaliation against Palestinians for the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Despite his hopped-up edge in the movie, always ready to pull the trigger, the blond Craig flashes a toothy grin that makes him hard to resist. He had homed in on the uncomfortable duality of a man who’s capable of extreme violence and, well, kind of fun.
The black comedy Layer Cake about Craig’s British-criminal character trying to leave the drug business behind held more promise. But it was clear the actor hadn’t quite achieved what he was capable of, at least in Hollywood. “Before Bond, I think he was searching a bit for a part that really took advantage of his particular brand of charisma, and only found a few vehicles like Layer Cake and Munich that really took advantage of it,” Schager says.
Bond, of course, changed the trajectory of everything Craig has done. It’s hard to overstate the impact that entering the lineage of men serving as Bond will have on both your professional and personal life, so when Craig was finally given the opportunity for Casino Royale, he mulled it over carefully. He was, “very reluctant,” coproducer Michael Wilson told Vanity Fair, and required some convincing from Broccoli.
“I think I was intrigued by reluctant,” Broccoli told the magazine. “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.”
While there were the usual fan outcries after the announcement of his casting, with some believing he was too serious for the part, they fell silent when Casino Royale came out and proved hugely lucrative after the Pierce Brosnan-era movies had petered out.
People were indeed ready for a new, rougher, but still sexy, Bond. An image from Casino Royale of Craig walking around in ultra-short, ultra-tight blue swim trunks became instantly viral and has followed him everywhere he goes. But it’s Craig’s commitment to the no-nonsense rigors of the films—including executing some of his own stunts—that has allowed them to thrive. “I always think about the early [Casino Royale] sequence in which he chases a bomb maker through an African embassy. It’s a master class in action staging, and works because of Craig’s muscular physicality,” says Schager, adding that Craig is unique for being, “more of a battering ram-type badass.”
That’s high praise in Bond world. While a direct sequel, Quantum of Solace, was hamstrung by a Hollywood writers’ strike and a difficult shoot, it went on to gross nearly $600 million worldwide—not too shabby for an estimated $200 million budget.
That was eclipsed and then some by the unprecedented reception to 2012’s follow-up, Skyfall, for which Craig brought on Sam Mendes as director and returned to what they both called, “classic Bond.” That didn’t mean Moore-like gags, but rather a bit of levity set against the darker, gray-hued moments. Plus, bringing back old delights like Moneypenny and gadgets that the Craig-starring movies had mostly ditched. With rave reviews, Skyfall brought in more than $1 billion, with particularly rapturous audiences in the UK, where it became the highest-grossing movie ever at the time.
Pressure, understandably, mounted. “I think everyone was just daunted,” Craig said. “Where do we go from there? How do you process that? It could have been an albatross around everyone’s necks.”
Producers wanted to capitalize on the attention by rushing out another Bond movie. While Spectre, for which Craig again teamed up with Mendes, didn’t quite live up to the benchmarks of its predecessor, it cemented Craig as the Bond to beat, possibly for all time.
Living up to that hype can be overwhelming. Craig, for his part, has never been quite comfortable with the intense public interest that comes with carrying Bond’s license to kill. Fond of drinking beer and wearing T-shirts, in stark contrast to his alter-ego, he lives a very private life by the standards of an A-list star. He married the Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz in 2011, after they met working on the movie Dream House, and they live together in upstate New York. While each has a child from previous relationships, in 2018, Weisz announced that she and Craig are expecting a baby of their own.
Craig has repeated again and again in interviews that he has no interest in talking publicly about his romantic life with Weisz or their family. He seems to relish whatever time away from cameras he can get. But he has gotten more acquainted with being the focus of attention. When Esquire asked if he hesitated about being with Weisz given that their celebrity wattage would bring more paparazzi and headlines, he replied, “Not even slightly… How can you calculate something like that, or quantify something like that? You can’t.” Getting heated, he added, “I want to be the person I want to be. It seems little to ask.”
He has continued to expand his workload beyond the spy stuff, including an uncredited part in a Stormtrooper costume in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the fulfillment of a fan’s dream. And he brought a wild energy to a smaller part in director Steven Soderbergh’s crime-comedy Logan Lucky, which performed poorly at the box office but is worth watching. “It’s pretty fantastic,” Schager says. “It allows him to be both funny and menacing in a really volatile way.” Craig has even found time for photography, a personal hobby, and was appointed as the first United Nations Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and other Explosive Hazards—a cause Bond could get behind.
And Bond is mostly what’s on Craig’s mind now. With rumors swirling that Craig will indeed take off his Tom Ford suit for the last time, talk about the franchise’s future is at a fever pitch. Many fans are simply preoccupied by debating who should—or will—take the baton from Craig. Fellow British actor Idris Elba of Luther has had to repeatedly face questions about possible casting, denying that he’s being groomed for the role (he would be the first black Bond). “I think it’s a bit much,” Schager says of the speculation. “Still, if I had my druthers, I’d choose someone really out of left field to replace Craig as Bond, like Chiwetel Ejiofor [of 12 Years a Slave].”
Meanwhile, the 25th Bond movie has plenty of tumult of its own. It brought in a splashy director with Danny Boyle, the English filmmaker known for Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire, among many others. But Boyle suddenly exited the project in 2018, amid casting, with an official announcement citing creative differences. Reports of a clash with Craig and Broccoli surfaced. One even suggested that Boyle quit after the idea of killing Bond at the end of the new film was floated, which he found outrageous.
Craig is keeping quiet. If his past is any guide, he’ll throw himself fully into whatever Bond work he has left ahead of him—and then emerge with more than a couple pithy one-liners. He similarly doesn’t have many words to offer his successor, except for some characteristically blunt wisdom: “Get it right. Don’t f— up,” he told Vanity Fair with a laugh. “Be good.”
He’ll continue doing what he does best: being himself, even when all people can see is Bond. “It sounds awful, but I’ve been left a wealthy man by doing this. I can afford to live very comfortably. Things are taken care of. Family and kids are taken care of and that’s a massive relief in anybody’s life. I’m incredibly fortunate,” Craig told Esquire. “But the other stuff that goes along with it… The day I can walk into a pub and someone goes, ‘Oh, there’s Daniel Craig,’ and then just leaves me alone, that’ll be great.”
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