Monday, 2 November 2015
Bond-ed: Daniel Craig and Naomie Harris Join Forces in Spectre
Our meeting with Daniel Craig to talk about the latest James Bond movie,Spectre, opening Nov. 6, falls on the day that London Underground workers have gone on strike, suspending all train services and causing traffic chaos across the capital city. Roads are gridlocked and London is at a standstill.
Craig, however, still manages to arrive unruffled and on time. Was the man currently playing the world’s most famous secret agent whizzed in via helicopter or with a military escort? Was he perhaps given access to secret sections of the labyrinthine tube system that runs beneath London’s traffic-clogged streets? Perhaps he took a speedboat up the Thames.
“No,” he says, “I rode my bike.”
But the 47-year-old actor who plays James Bond looks decidedly cool, clad in a waist-cut bomber jacket, with not a single bead of sweat upon his brow. Did he really travel by bike?
Craig smiles—aha, possibly not. Like 007, he is enigmatic, evasive and hard to pin down.
The comparisons to the character he’s played in four Bond films, though, aren’t plentiful. “I am not James Bond,” he says several times during the course of our interview.
No ‘Bond’ at home
Like Bond, Craig enjoys the occasional martini. “But I like all sorts of drinks,” he says. “I would happily drink a beer. There’s a complete separation between the character and me. And if I went home and acted like James Bond…” His eyes roll, contemplating the potential reaction of his wife of four years, actress Rachel Weisz. “I’d get thrown out, believe me.” He laughs. “Honestly, I’d get in serious trouble if I did that.”
Though Weisz (and Bond’s many fans) would no doubt disagree, film biographer David Thomson claims that Craig is the “least handsome” of the actors who’ve played the spy, an esteemed lineage that includes Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and George Lazenby. Thomson also says Craig is the most taciturn, “almost as if he had always wanted to be an actor instead of a star.”
And yet from his very first outing in Casino Royale (2006), Craig has been a very believable Bond, a fully formed human with a wide range of emotions. He has been through the wringer, losing characters he loves—from secret-intelligence assistant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to agency boss M (Judi Dench)—while struggling to reconcile the brutal mechanics of Bond’s job with the innate compassion that Craig has always felt was a part of the role.
‘A good guy who kills’
“I wouldn’t know how else to play it, quite honestly, when you have a character as rich and complex as this,” he explains. “He’s the good guy who kills people for a living. I have always thought you have to answer questions about that. You have to be comfortable with it. How does killing make Bond feel and how does it affect him? All of those questions I would ask with any character that I play.”
When Craig first agreed to slip into 007’s shoulder holster, he spoke at length with the series’ producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. He told them that if he were to take the role, he would do it in his own way.
“I said at the very outset that I needed to be given the confidence to be James Bond, because I am not that man,” Craig says. “I’m a long way from being like Bond. Thankfully, they listened to me.”
It was a wise decision.
The first three Craig films—Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall(2012)—have scooped in more than $2.2 billion at the worldwide box office. The series continues to thrive in an increasingly crowded marketplace where Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, the Mission: Impossible team and now Kingsman and TheMan From U.N.C.L.E. vie for pieces of the cinematic spy pie. Despite the competition, many believe that the suave secret agent, created by author Ian Fleming, still holds the higher ground.
Changing with the times
The reasons for 007’s continued success are many, though one of the primary factors is the producers’ ability to move with the times. When Craig signed on to the franchise, the filmmakers not only pared back their secret agent’s larger-than-life, wiseacre personality, they also simplified the world in which he operates. Neither Casino Royale nor Quantum of Solace featured Bond’s elaborate gadgets or his longtime flirting partner, the ever-popular Miss Moneypenny.
It was only when Sam Mendes signed on to direct Skyfall that gadget master Q and Moneypenny returned to the franchise, with Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris cast in the respective roles.
In Spectre, which sees Mendes return for a second stint as director, there are expanded roles for Q, Moneypenny and the new M, played by Ralph Fiennes, while the new Aston Martin, a DB10, is tricked out with an array of hi-tech doodads. It all feels more akin to the Bond films of old.
“I wanted to bring that feeling back into the films with this one,” says Craig. “There is humor too, which comes alive, for example, during the Aston’s race through the streets of Rome. I think that is what this movie has been about more than anything—just bringing all that together and saying, ‘OK, this is the Bond movie that you’ll all love.’ ”
In their bid to reflect contemporary times, the filmmakers have made references to covert warfare conducted via remote and the unlawful surveillance of citizens, and they have also cast the oldest “Bond girl” to date, Monica Bellucci, 51, in a prime role as a widow named Lucia.
“I think the Bonds have always managed to touch a little bit on what is going on in the world at the time,” Craig says.
All Bond’s women in the movie prove pivotal to the plot, whether it’s his primary love interest Madeleine (played by French actress Léa Seydoux), Bellucci’s Lucia or Moneypenny, a character that started out in the early films as a lovestruck, somewhat matronly secretary but has now evolved into Bond’s sexy partner.
Harris, the British actress who plays Moneypenny, says that she would have reservations about playing the role if her character hadn’t matured.
“I would definitely have had some soul-searching moments if presented with a role in Bond that wasn’t the kind of badass feminist that Moneypenny is,” says Harris, 39. “I love the fact that she is much more of an equal to Bond and that he respects her.”
In Spectre, Moneypenny puts her career on the line to help Bond. “He chooses her as the only person he truly trusts when he reveals the true nature of the mission that he is on and what is really happening,” Harris says. “Bond genuinely relies on her, trusts her and believes in her capabilities.”
Craig certainly approves of the new Moneypenny and her expanded role. “No one is denying that, traditionally in Bond, female characters have often been portrayed as arm candy. But we employ the best actors that we can, and with Naomie, Monica and Léa we have got such quality that we’ve got to use it. The fact that we did makes for a much more enjoyable movie.”
Now that he is 47 years old, some believe that Spectre might be Craig’s last Bond movie, and Craig himself has even suggested as much. “Will I retire into a sort of stupor and not do anything?” he asks. “I hope not. I hope I can continue to work as hard as I have been doing for another couple of years, but I honestly haven’t given a great deal of thought to what will happen after Bond.”
Craig grew up a Bond fan and is honored to have played his part in the franchise’s success. The first Bond film he saw in the movie theater was Roger Moore’s debut, Live and Let Die in 1973, which famously opened with a New Orleans funeral procession.
“I loved Sean Connery’s movies too, watching them on the TV,” he says. “With Bond films, I liked the fact that they picked you up and transported you somewhere, and every time you watched a Bond movie you would suddenly be in Jamaica or Shanghai; you would get a glimpse of the world. We have tried to continue that excitement with these films, and especially with Spectre. Location-wise, we tried to take the audience to as many places as possible.”
In Spectre, Bond moves from Mexico and a wild Day of the Dead procession—which, in a fashion, recalls the opening to Live and Let Die—to London, Rome, the Austrian Alps, Tangier and the Moroccan desert before he heads back to London for the climax. “This movie has genuinely been one of the nicest experiences I have had, a culmination of 10 years of working on these films,” Craig says.
And what has he learned during his decade in the role? “Don’t lose your sense of humor. Keep smiling.”
Is there anything about 007 that he admires? He pauses. “I don’t judge the character in any way. I don’t judge him because he is complicated and he has issues, but I hope there is a hero out there watching everybody’s backs.” He smiles. “It would be nice to think there is someone out there looking after us.”