Skyfall, the 23rd official James Bond adventure that opens today, has already been crowned one of the best Bonds ever, recapturing the critical goodwill that Daniel Craig helped establish in 2006’s Casino Royale. The new film has opened in several countries already and earned more than $320 million, a pace that should eventually help it become the franchise’s highest-grosser ever. Yet after three undeniably successful films — Quantum of Solace grossed $586 million worldwide — Craig seems to have entered that phase that all-Bond actors eventually discover: ambivalence.
The 44-year-old actor told Rolling Stone magazine in its November cover story that the thrill that comes with a license to kill is gone. Or never was there to begin with. “I’ve been trying to get out of this from the very moment I got into it,” Craig said, “but they won’t let me go, and I’ve agreed to do a couple more, but let’s see how this one does, because business is business and if the sh– goes down, I’ve got a contract that somebody will happily wipe their ass with.”
Craig thinks Skyfall is a good film, but you get the idea he doesn’t really respect it. “It’s got a lightness of touch and wink to it, because, after all, this is a James Bond movie, for f–k’s sake.” His comments could be construed as a tad ungrateful, considering the relative obscurity he knew pre-Bond and the non-Bond misfires he’s starred in since becoming 007 (The Invasion, Dream House, Cowboys & Aliens).
But he wouldn’t be the first Bond to chafe at the demands of playing the character. At the height of Bond mania, the original 007 himself Sean Connery expressed his weariness after the first four Bond films, telling Playboy magazine in 1965 that he was already “fed up to here with the whole Bond bit.” He added, “This Bond image is a problem in a way and a bit of a bore, but one has just got to live with it.”
Connery felt constrained by Bond, which he thought limited his ability to star in a more eclectic variety of movies. He went on to make three more 007 adventures (if you count 1983’s Never Say Never Again), but he grew increasingly disgruntled with the job and eventually ceased discussing his experience with the media.
In a way, playing Bond can become a trap, golden handcuffs for any actor who has, perhaps, more artistic ambitions. Craig told Rolling Stone about a group of street urchins who described his Bond films as “white-man porn,” a view he seemed to appreciate. “I completely understand that,” he said. “That’s where I fit into the pecking order. That’s my place. I’m that guy. I’m the guy who does the white-man porn.”
Craig gives the impression that he’s looking forward to doing other things — recall that he is the same actor who starred in less mainstream films like Sylvia, Enduring Love, and Infamous, in addition to gritty thrillers like Layer Cake and Munich. But no one forced him to sign on for two more Bond films. (Did they? Because that would be a story.) It’s difficult for audiences to sympathize for his plight — not only do most fans think he’s great as 007, but they suspect he’s also well compensated for the privilege.
So I wonder what his real intention was with his comments to Rolling Stone. By comparing his contract to toilet paper, was he implying that it’s flimsy and that he might attempt to get out of it? Or was he just expressing his frustration while throwing back a couple of beers? When he spoke to Entertainment Weekly for the Skyfall cover story, he lamented the costs of playing James Bond: “Your privacy disappears. It has a major effect on your life.” He denied any real regret, but Skyfall director Sam Mendes, a longtime friend, said “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”
Fans have called Craig the best Bond since Connery. With all due respect to the other 007s, the bookend Bonds might be the only two men alive who know the agony of this particular kind of success.