“I try to make him real…real within the world that he lives in,” Daniel Craig told FilmInk in 2014. “These are action-adventure movies. With good action-adventure movies, there’s an element of truth in them that you can go with. You believe it. They employ me to do the job, and it’s the only way that I know how to do it. If there’s another way…I’d be happy to know. But I just don’t know any other way of doing it.”
Playing it terse, grounded, and tacitly authentic has worked for Daniel Craig right from the indelible opening scenes of his first run at the iconic character of James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale. Shot in stark black-and-white, Casino Royale begins with Bond cruelly disposing of an enemy in a white-tiled bathroom. It’s a shocking show of violence that unmistakably marked a new era for 007, one seemingly more influenced by films like The Bourne Identity than previous Bond entries. And while Daniel Craig’s run as 007 has been patchy (with 2012’s masterful Skyfall preceded by 2008’s muddled and uninspired Quantum Of Solace and followed by 2015’s similarly lacklustre Spectre), his debut as the character in 2006 remains unchallenged as a game-changing Bond flick.
Daniel Craig’s installation as James Bond came after the series had ground to a horrible halt. The perfectly cast and highly impressive Pierce Brosnan made four films as 007 – GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day – before it was decided that his tenure was up. Though it was a huge success at the box office, 2002’s Die Another Day had pushed Bond into the kind of silly, sci-fi territory not witnessed since Roger Moore’s Moonraker in 1979, with an invisible car and a horrendous CGI surfing scene. While Brosnan’s first three Bond films were rock-solid, the fourth had floated off into the stratosphere, through no fault of the actor. “After 9/11, we felt that we had gone too far in terms of fantasy with Die Another Day,” veteran Bond series producer, Barbara Broccoli, told Ain’t It Cool. “We weren’t unhappy with Pierce. He did an incredible job. We just felt that we had to take a change of direction in terms of the Bond character and the series. We had to go back to reality. After 9/11, frivolity didn’t seem appropriate.”
The desire for change was prompted further when the rights to Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, finally landed back in the hands of Bond controllers, Eon Productions, after it had bounced around for years (Fleming had sold the book to Columbia Pictures, who’d made the infamous spoof adaptation in 1967 starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen). With the longed-for first novel in their possession, Broccoli and Wilson wanted the Bond slate wiped clean, and the character completely rebooted.
Casino Royale was, to use modern parlance, an “origin tale” featuring a younger, more uncertain Bond, and the pair knew that it wouldn’t work with Pierce Brosnan. “It was very difficult,” Broccoli told I Am Rogue in 2013 of essentially firing Brosnan, who she had known since 1981 when his late wife – Australian-born Cassandra Harris – had appeared in the Roger Moore Bond flick, For Your Eyes Only. “We went way back with him, and he was a fantastic Bond. It was a very difficult decision, and he was a real gentleman about it. We’ve all moved on.”
With Pierce Brosnan out of the picture, Broccoli and Wilson set about re-engineering James Bond. To direct, they once again turned to New Zealand-born veteran filmmaker, Martin Campbell, who had successfully relaunched 007 with GoldenEye, and this time, they had an honest-to-god, never-faithfully-filmed Ian Fleming novel to work with, as opposed to the short stories and plot outlines that many of the previous Bond films had been based upon. “My father [the late and longtime Bond producer, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli] would say, ‘Whenever you’re stuck, go back to Ian Fleming,’” Barbara Broccoli told FilmInk in 2013. “We always go back to the books. You think, ‘Christ, this doesn’t make any sense…what would Fleming do?’ And you go back and you think about it. It’s where the answers lie.”
If rebooting Bond was a risk, it was one worth taking. The Bourne Identity and its sequels had shown that Bond in the Brosnan era had become, as M herself puts it, “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur – a relic of The Cold War.” Together with Martin Campbell, Broccoli and her co-producer (and step-brother) Michael G. Wilson went way left of field for their new James Bond, settling on then 38-year-old Daniel Craig, a fine actor known for his edgy performances in films like Road To Perdition, The Mother, Sylvia, and Enduring Love. “Choosing Daniel Craig was a very democratic process,” Martin Campbell told FilmInk in 2007. “We sat around the table and everyone had to agree. If I had said no, the film would have been halted until the issue was resolved. It’s a democratic process. Barbara and Michael allow me to make the movie. I got no interference from them. They come onto the set, and they enjoy it, but they leave me to direct the film.”
Martin Campbell was convinced that Craig had the right stuff when he saw him play a drug dealer in Layer Cake. “He has a darker edge to him than Pierce Brosnan, and more weight to him,” the director told FilmInk. Craig, however, was initially slammed in the press, with literal howls of outrage at his casting. “We’re aware of the negative press,” Broccoli said at the time, “but it doesn’t mean anything to us. There’s always a heightened interest in Bond, and every time we recast the role, there’s even more.” Dame Judi Dench was even more vociferous in her support (“I hate how people have been attacking Daniel Craig. It disgusts me. He’s a fine actor. He brings something new and edgy to the role. His critics will be proved wrong”), while Craig’s Munich co-star, Eric Bana, backed him up too. “He was one of the very few people who I think would be really capable of shifting it in a very interesting way,” he told FilmInk.
More persuasively, Craig also got the nod from Roger Moore. “He’s very good indeed,” the former 007 told FilmInk. “He’s reinventing Bond. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson fought a lot of opposition to cast Daniel Craig, and it was an excellent choice.” Pierce Brosnan also supported the new Bond. “It’s great casting,” he told FilmInk in 2005, prior to Casino Royale’s actual release. “Daniel’s a fantastic actor. A year from now when he delivers the performance, everyone will forget their reservations. You have to have broad shoulders and thick skin to step into Bond’s shoes, whether it’s me, Daniel, or anybody else.”
Martin Campbell was even more dismissive of the media hubbub surrounding Daniel Craig. “They can write all their bullshit,” he told FilmInk. “There’s no point contesting it, because they’ll simply write more. You just have to let that happen and not think about it. They clearly have nothing to write about. It just seems like they pick anything they want – whether it’s true or false – and just write about it.”
It took this “rebooting” of the franchise to bring Martin Campbell (whose credits include The Mask Of Zorro, Vertical Limit and Beyond Borders) back into the fold, after he had turned down several offers to helm subsequent films in the series. “I don’t want to repeat myself,” he told FilmInk. “It’s always a variation of the bad guy taking over the world and it always ends up like it does in GoldenEye, with control rooms blowing up. I simply felt that I had nowhere to go with it. There was nothing that I could do with Bond. He is what he is. Working with Pierce Brosnan again would have meant that I couldn’t really contribute anything. It’s only when it went back to basics that I was inspired to do it.”
Campbell was also involved in the extensive rewriting process, with Crash and Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis brought in to give the script an overhaul. “We realised that we needed a character draft because it was a new Bond, and the film has a lot to do with his relationship with Vesper Lynd [Eva Green],” Campbell explains. “We worked very hard on the script and we all liked the script.”
With Christopher Nolan’s 2005 smash hit, Batman Begins, offering more than a couple of tips of the hat to the Bond films, the decision to do something of a “Bond Begins” was made, utilising the original source material of Ian Fleming’s book. The story follows James Bond’s efforts to stop Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker to the world’s underworld and terrorist organisations, who is planning to win a high-stakes poker tournament at the titular casino in Montenegro. Losing the tournament, and his funds, would destroy Le Chiffre and his organisation. Aiding Bond in his mission is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) from the English Treasury, CIA man Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), MI6’s local man in Montenegro. Bond travels the globe, first to Madagascar for a thrilling action sequence where he attempts to capture a bomb maker, and then on to the Bahamas, as he tracks down a known terrorist only to realise that his best chance to stop the bad guys lies on the poker table.
Tough, taciturn, and violent, but with just the right injection of charm, Daniel Craig answered his doubter with a fine performance in Casino Royale. Pierce Brosnan once said that every penny he was paid for his work on the Bond films was well earned, and Craig agrees. “He’s right,” the actor smiled to FilmInk in 2008. “Playing James Bond is a very tough job, but it’s a very nice job to do, and I get a lot of joy out of it. It is, however, incredibly hard work. You’re working with about a thousand people to make the movie, and we’re all working incredibly hard, and I’m at the front end. I’m the guy out front, that’s all. Like everybody else, there are days when I don’t feel like going to work. It’s 5:30 in the morning, it’s freezing cold outside, and I’m a bit sore…it can be a little difficult.”
Making the decision to become Bond was equally difficult. “It was a long process deciding to do the part,” Craig told FilmInk in 2008 of the process of coming on board Casino Royale. “It took eighteen months. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson approached me a long while ago. I was very honoured, but I needed to see a script. I needed to see what they wanted to do with it. Once it came down to it, I said that I’d have a go at it. If I didn’t do it, I’d regret not having a go at it. I screen tested. Barbara did a lot of winking at me, and told me that it was okay. So I had some confidence. Then when I got the call that the job was mine, I got blindingly drunk on vodka martinis. After a couple of days, it sank in. When I did the first press launch in London, I just thought, ‘Okay, let’s make the best movie that we can. Let’s get on with it, and apply the things that we know how to do, which is to make movies.’”
Along with the role of James Bond came a hefty pay cheque, though Craig was quick to point out that it wasn’t about the cash. “It’s not the driving force in my life,” he said at the time. “It never has been. There are other things more important. I mean, money brings you lots of wonderful things. I would like to earn lots of money. I’m not silly. I would love to earn millions and millions of dollars, but it can also mean that you need to buy yourself a bigger gate, and you need to make life more secure. I’d love to have more money to allow myself more choices. Maybe I could get involved with producing films on a creative level, but I don’t know if it will ever be the driving force of my life.”
The first thing that Craig did in preparation for playing Bond the first time was to hit the gym. “I wanted to do as many of the stunts as I possibly could,” he explained while doing press for Casino Royale. “I also thought that Bond should at some point take his shirt off. Because he’s been a commander in the navy and because he’s been in the special services, he should look physically imposing. It was important to me. I owed it to the part, so I hit the gym. I did five days a week, and even while we were filming I went to the gym every night after work.”
Was the now famous opening scene of him coming out of the water intended as a homage to Ursula Andress’ entrance in Dr. No? “In my bikini?” Craig joked. “A little bit. Those two movies, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, are two of my favourite movies of all time, and not just because they’re Bond movies. They’re exceptional, and not just for their time. I looked at them very carefully and tried to get at some of the essence of what was going on. Sean Connery did something extraordinary with that role; there’s always a wink at that. I watched every single Bond movie two or three times.”
With Casino Royale a smash hit – and Craig finally a hit as James Bond after the initial outcry – the actor seemed intent on keeping his life on the right track. “I have good friends and a very close family, so I’m hoping that they keep a good eye on me and knock me down so I don’t change too much,” Craig said. “In terms of work, I’m going to apply the same methods I’ve always applied. I’m going to read as many scripts as I can, and hopefully shoot other movies. Being typecast as James Bond is a very high-class problem to have as an actor, and I will try to get as much out of it as I can. Of course, you’re always going to think about it. Is it going to limit what I can do? I plan for it not to, but if it does, I will approach the problem as it comes. The thing to do is not force it and not react to this event that’s happening at the moment. To go off and do something different in response to this role would be wrong. I’m sure that there will be problems, and there will be things that I’ve got to consider.”
Garnering $594 million at the box office, and wildly positive reviews, Casino Royale proved the most successful Bond film of all time. As well as reinvigorating the 007 franchise, it also changed Daniel Craig’s life in very specific ways. “I can’t sit in a pub for very long without having somebody hassling me,” he says. “I can’t visit The Tate Gallery, but that’s nothing that I would ever complain about because I have huge benefits, like getting a private viewing at Prado when I was in Madrid last year. Celebrity doesn’t really interest me. It makes me very nervous, but being famous gives you more choices. You can use your fame to get films made, which would be ideal.” So, what are the challenges of fame and success? “I don’t think there are any,” Daniel Craig replies, his blue eyes glistening. “I just try to remain as normal as possible.”
Casino Royale will screen at The Sydney Opera House with a live score performed by The Sydney Symphony Orchestra from February 28-March 2. For all ticketing information, click here.