The difference between a forgettable movie and a really good one often comes down to one or two small, seemingly random decisions before a single frame is ever shot. Like casting Marlon Brando instead of Ernest Borgnine in The Godfather, or Harrison Ford instead of Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones. In the case of the latest 007 film, Skyfall, one of those decisions was made in Hugh Jackman’s living room.
It was the fall of 2009, and Jackman was hosting a party at his Manhattan apartment to celebrate his birthday. Daniel Craig and Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes were two of the guests. The pair had first gotten to know each other when Mendes cast the then-unknown actor in his 2002 gangster film, Road to Perdition. Mendes and Craig had stayed in touch since then, but still, the director says, he wasn’t prepared for what would happen that evening in New York.
After tossing back a few cocktails, Craig began chatting with Mendes about James Bond. ”I was talking about what I felt the future was for the series, and how it had been really tricky with Quantum of Solace not having good writing, and how I was keen to do something extra special with the next one,” says Craig. ”And I just went, ‘Would you do it?’ It seemed f—ing obvious at the time.”
Mendes wasn’t sure if Craig was serious. ”There was this little feeling in the pit of my stomach,” recalls the director. ”But I said yes right there…. I’m sure Daniel woke up the next day going, ‘Oh, s—, did I offer Sam the movie?”’
Actually, the next day Craig sheepishly called Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the daughter and stepson of the late 007 producer Albert ”Cubby” Broccoli (and the franchise’s producers and all-around overlords), and explained what he’d done. ”I think it really kept Daniel up all night,” says Barbara Broccoli. ”He said, ‘Are you going to kill me?’ We were like, ‘My God, no!’ And then we said, ‘Is he really interested?”’
Craig turns a deep shade of crimson as he tells this story. After all, how could someone who’s paid millions of dollars to be the epitome of suave, unflappable cool get himself into such an un-Bondian jam? ”Well, I was drunk,” he says. ”So if it hadn’t worked out, I could have blamed it on that. I was writing checks I didn’t have the money for.”
Three years later, after one of the longest hiatuses in 007 history, Bond is finally back with a double-0 bang. Skyfall, which is rated PG-13 and opens Nov. 9, has everything we’ve come to expect from a 007 film. There are stunning Bond girls (Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe), exotic locations (Turkey, Shanghai, the Scottish Highlands), and a kinky, twisted villain (Javier Bardem) who ranks near the top of the 007 rogues’ gallery. Thanks to Mendes’ impeccable track record directing capital-A actors in the theater and such movies as American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, Skyfall features a who’s who of Masterpiece Theatre-caliber supporting actors, including Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, and Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) as the natty, nerdy new Q. Judi Dench also returns as M, who, refreshingly, gets out from behind her desk at MI6 and into the field.
The 23rd official Bond installment kicks off with one of the most over-the-top pre-credits Bond openings in ages, with Craig chasing an assassin (Ola Rapace) across the top of a moving train in Istanbul before Adele’s old-school Shirley Bassey-esque theme song kicks in (see sidebar, page 34). Still, the film has more on its mind than just the classic cocktail of guns, gadgets, and girls. The biggest twist on the Bond formula is Skyfall‘s willingness to dig into the agent’s past. Not only are previous 007 films evoked (the classic Monty Norman theme pops up, as does a certain ejector-seat-armed sports car), but longtime 007 aficionados are given a poignant glimpse at the tragic events of Bond’s childhood. In fact, Skyfall is the closest the Broccolis have ever come to telling a 007 origin story. All of which is given an added resonance since both Bond and Dench’s M are forced to grapple with being dinosaurs in a world that’s threatening to speed past them. If Craig’s goal, as he said back at Jackman’s pad, was to ”do something extra special,” well…mission accomplished. Skyfall may be the perfect note with which to cap 007’s first 50 years — and make fans feel bullish about the next 50.
Three weeks before the film is due to hit theaters everywhere from the ski slopes of St. Moritz to the sandy beaches of Crab Key, no one seems more pleased — and relieved — than Bond himself. Fairly or not, Daniel Craig has earned a reputation over the years for being gruff and impatient with the press. But today, dressed in a slim black bespoke suit and skinny black tie, the 44-year-old actor is downright chatty about his new film and the franchise that has changed his life, for better and worse.
When he signed on as Pierce Brosnan’s license-to-kill replacement in 2005, longtime 007 fans were more shaken than stirred. They groused that the blue-eyed Brit was too unknown, too blond, and too short to play Bond (for the record, he’s 5′ 11”). Oddly enough, Craig says he understood the raised eyebrows. ”I heard the reaction, and of course I paid attention to it,” he says. ”It does kind of knock you back…. It took me a while to be convinced I was right for it. At first, I thought [the producers] were smoking crack. I was honored, and it was great for my ego. But I never had any desire to play James Bond. There were a lot of other people I knew who wanted to play it — why not ask them?”
As he says this, Craig comes off as relaxed and loose. Three films into his run as the sixth incarnation of the world’s longest-running and most famous action hero, he finally seems at home in the role (perhaps because he just signed on for two more sequels). When Craig’s first Bond film, 2006’s Casino Royale, came out, naysayers were quickly won over by the actor’s radical reinterpretation of the role. He was hard as nails, but also haunted by the death of his true love, Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd.
Still, if Craig brought sex and danger back to Bond, some felt the film’s violent, quick-cut action scenes were a bit too reminiscent of another fast-on-his-feet secret agent. ”People say Bond became [Jason] Bourne,” says Craig. ”I love Bourne movies, but they only turned up yesterday. Bond’s been around a lot longer than that. We knew that we couldn’t do Casino Royale and have me pretend to be Sean Connery or Roger Moore or Pierce. I couldn’t come in and straighten my tie and [‘Craig turns on a debonair Connery accent here] ‘Martini blah blah blah, you look stunning tonight, dahling, blah blah blah.’ I mean, I could have done it. It’s not beyond me. But it’s not me. I relate to this guy much more.”
Casino Royale became the highest-grossing Bond film ever, pulling in $596.4 million worldwide. But if the film was a hit with fans, Craig admits it also took an unexpected toll on him personally. He’s said he needed a couple of years to know himself again. ”I’ve been acting for a long time, and I really enjoy it,” he says. ”But I didn’t know how to proceed…. Your privacy disappears. It has a major effect on your life.”
Asked if he ever regrets the decision to play 007, though, Craig shakes off the question. ”No, regret is not on the agenda.” But Mendes, who watched Craig’s star rise from a distance, says, ”My insight is that he sacrificed a normal life. And I think there have to be times when he wonders if it was the right thing to do. It’s a very public life to lead.” (Craig, who prefers not to discuss his private life, married actress Rachel Weisz in 2011. He has a daughter from a previous marriage.)
After Casino Royale, Craig says he became insecure about how his new alter ego might define him. He signed on for non-Bond films to show that he was more than just a globe-trotting killing machine. There were indie-ish acting projects like Defiance; attempts at blockbusters that didn’t quite take off, like Cowboys & Aliens; and a bruise-black thriller, last year’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which received good reviews but didn’t fully live up to box office expectations. ”I felt that I needed to do something else. Everyone must know I can act!” he says. ”Now it’s like, ‘I know I can act, I don’t have to prove I can act.”’
In the meantime, Craig had to face the fact that his second turn in the tux, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, had been an underwhelming follow-up. Filming began during a long Hollywood writers’ strike, and Craig & Co. were forced to do the best they could with an unfinished script. The film still grossed an impressive $591.7 million worldwide, but critics and fans were quick to label it a sophomore slump. And though Craig won’t come right out and say it, you get the sense that he agrees. ”Look, I’ll talk about Quantum happily,” he says, shooting a look that seems to imply just the opposite. ”But it always comes across like I’m bitching about it, and so many people put a huge amount of effort into that movie. We were just hamstrung. Going into a movie like that with no script, it’s kind of a living nightmare. You can’t rewrite major plot points halfway through shooting. But that’s essentially what [Quantum director] Marc Forster and I had to do. You’re totally defined by those moments, and the movie was a success. We got away with it.”
Though Craig was under contract to return for a third Bond film, Skyfall was quickly put on hold due to the financial woes of its American cofinancier, MGM. As the studio worked through bankruptcy proceedings, the franchise that had run like clockwork since 1962’s Dr. No was suddenly in jeopardy. After 22 adventures, it looked as if the unkillable secret agent might have finally met his most lethal foe yet: accountants. It was also an open question as to whether Craig would be the guy playing him if and when the franchise resumed. ”MGM needed to get their house in order,” he says. ”I knew that they would, but whether they would within a time period where it felt like the right thing for me to continue doing it. If it lasted another couple of years, it would have been a difficult decision. I’d be 46, and maybe someone else should have a go. And I would have been okay with that. I mean, it would have upset me, but I would have been okay with it.”
With Skyfall, Bond returns to a different world than he left four years ago. Both Craig and Mendes admit that they worried the franchise’s fan base might have found their own quantum of solace in the arms of Hollywood superheroes. But they insist that the sabbatical was actually good for the film. ”The MGM bankruptcy was, in hindsight, a stroke of luck,” says Mendes. ”It was a gap of nine months when all we could do was secretly work on the script with Robert Wade and Neal Purvis [Casino Royale] and then John Logan [Gladiator]. Without that time to cook all of our ideas, I don’t think we’d have nearly as good of a movie.”
Mendes says one of his biggest goals with Skyfall was to make Bond more like the character he fell in love with when he saw 1973’s Live and Let Die as a kid in London. ”I wanted to rediscover MI6, I wanted to reintroduce Q, and I wanted to push Bond to the limit and answer the question: Why are we still making these things 50 years in? Why do we still need him?”
The answer, he and Craig both realized, is that the world is a more dangerous place now than it ever was during 007’s Cold War-era heyday — back when Connery and Moore were quaintly battling SPECTRE and rogue Russkies. In Skyfall, 007 goes head-to-head with a new kind of villain, Javier Bardem’s deliciously creepy Silva — a cyberterrorist with an unslakable thirst for bringing down MI6 and a lecherous hunger for Bond himself (see sidebar, page 33). ”I knew we needed to have a great Bond villain,” says Mendes, ”the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while — someone with real flamboyance.”
Just in case Skyfall‘s investment in star wattage isn’t enough of a draw, the Bond brain trust has unleashed a shock-and-awe marketing blitzkrieg, ranging from a slew of tie-ins (Bond uses a Vaio laptop and drinks Heineken) to the sorts of PR stunts that money can’t buy, like Craig’s skit with Queen Elizabeth II during this summer’s Olympics opening ceremony, when Her Majesty uttered the line ”Good evening, Mr. Bond” before the two appeared to parachute out of a helicopter together. ”My first reaction was ‘How many people will be watching? A billion and a half?! I guess I’m doing this,”’ says Craig, as he begins to laugh. ”She was great, a really good sport. When they brought it to me, they’d already told her that I’d be doing it. I didn’t have much of a choice. It was literally a Luca Brasi situation from The Godfather — an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Besides building awareness for Skyfall, Craig’s bit with the 86-year-old Queen might have had another, more unintended result. It showed people that beneath his brooding and brawny exterior, the actor actually has a sense of humor — something he says he wants to bring more of to future Bond films. ”Everybody always moans, ‘Where’s Bond gone? Where’s all the jokes?”’ Craig says. ”Well, give us time!” As he says this, he picks up an apple and takes a Richard Kiel-size bite of it.
”I always had a plan in the back of my head that with the third movie — if I ever got there — it would be time to take the gloves off and bring the gags back in. That’s why we have the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger and the classic Bond theme in the new one. That’s what people come to see. So that villain with the cat on his lap, let’s bring him back! Mike Myers took him, and we have to reclaim him.”
Javier’s Killer Instincts
When Javier Bardem went to see 1979’s Moonraker as a kid, his favorite character wasn’t James Bond. It was Richard Kiel’s metal-mouthed killer, Jaws. Since then Bardem has played a villain or two himself. He won an Oscar as an assassin with a freaky haircut and a very large cattle gun in 2007’s No Country for Old Men. ”If the character is something that triggers my imagination and seems like it might be fun to watch, I can do it,” he says.
But in Skyfall, the Spanish actor treads into some pretty dark waters, even for him: Bond nemesis Silva is a sadistic cyberterrorist who lives in the ruins of an abandoned island and seeks to take down Judi Dench’s M. And his initial encounter with Daniel Craig’s Bond is sure to get fans buzzing due to its creepy homoeroticism. So, is Silva gay? ”You could read it that way,” Bardem says noncommittally. ”That option was there in the script. But the word that [director Sam Mendes] kept using was uncomfortableness. You don’t know if he’s joking or not.” Craig, for one, thinks Silva is just messing with the macho 007. ”It’s not about homosexuality,” says the star. ”It’s just about sex. I think the guy will f— anything.”
Adele’s Other New Baby
When Bond producer Barbara Broccoli was considering who to hire to record Skyfall‘s theme song, she asked herself, ”Who is the equivalent of Shirley Bassey today?” — referring to the beloved Welsh singer responsible for three signature 007 tunes. For Broccoli (and fellow producer Michael G. Wilson), the choice was clear: ”It’s Adele. No one has the dynamic vocal sense she does.” Happily, the Grammy-winning singer accepted the assignment, after getting a full brief from the filmmakers. ”I told her the story, gave her the script,” says director Sam Mendes.
Last winter, about three months into production, Adele and producer/co-songwriter Paul Epworth returned with a classically seductive Bond ballad that incorporates elements of Monty Norman’s famed theme introduced in Dr. No. (That homage may complicate the song’s Oscar chances; the Academy has no comment on its eligibility.) But the tune has already won over fans — it hit No. 8 on the Oct. 20 Billboard Hot 100 to become the singer’s highest debut to date. ”It works, doesn’t it?” says Daniel Craig. ”It feels right.” —Ray Rahman, with additional reporting by Chris Nashawaty</p