Heading into casting for Casino Royale in 2004, Daniel Craig held little hope of becoming the sixth man to portray James Bond on film. Simply put, the British stage and character actor didn’t see himself as that guy. He had little interest in cycling through timeworn tropes of kiss-kiss-bang-bang established by such Double-0 progenitors as Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. And at the time, the series was disintegrating into Austin Powers territory with 007 driving an invisible car and dodging killer sun lasers in 2002’s Die Another Day.
“It was going to be an easy decision for me,” says Craig, seated in a posh London hotel suite. “They were going to show me a script that was like other Bond movies. It was going to have the gags in it, what Pierce did, what Sean had done. They’d all be in there. And I could go, ‘Thank you very much, good luck with that.’ And that would have been wonderful. I would have been totally at peace with it.”
“But they didn’t,” he continues. “They gave me Casino Royale. It was brilliantly written because Paul Haggis had given it his all. And I went, ‘That’s what I can do something with! I can’t do an impression of anybody else.’”
Thus began Craig’s Bond trifecta—Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (2008) and 2012’s Skyfall—the three most successful installments of moviedom’s longest running franchise, with each film hauling in more than the last at the box office. Credit the mean-mugging, serial F-bomb dropping former rugby player with widening 007’s parameters. Craig traded Moore’s libertine insouciance for deadly seriousness of intent, Connery’s gimlet eye for a career assassin’s personal solitude. Every generation can be said to get the Bond that they deserve. And Craig’s is the one who actually bleeds for Queen and country (especially after getting shot off a tall bridge from a moving train by a co-worker with a sniper rifle) and feels feelings deeply; he’s tortured by love lost, job bureaucracy and creeping obsolescence.
Spectre (Nov. 6) marks Craig’s first outing as co-producer on a Bond movie. As the type of person who has always comported himself more as a Serious Actor than any kind of popcorn movie star, Craig wanted to ensure the character would work in the service of story rather than just as the fulcrum for a bunch of inevitable action sequences like so many yesteryear 007s.
“I didn’t want the character to just be what a lot of the older Bonds were,” he says. “Not sort of a criticism of them. The character was there. He was Bond, these f—ing amazing things happened and then it ended. Great! Wow! F— it. I don’t know how to do that. I’m not wired that way. For me, to tell a story, to tell an emotional story, that’s what you’ve got to do. We spent months and months before we started this hammering out the script to make it do that. So that it was possible for that to happen.”
But when Skyfall director Sam Mendes initially declined an offer to direct the sequel, Craig faced the limits of his ambition. The performer admits he didn’t want to continue without Mendes on the project. “They were very keen, as studios would be, to ride the wave. ‘Let’s do another one. And another one! Before everybody forgets!’” Craig says. “[Mendes] had a lot of other commitments. He needed that space to go, ‘F— this! I don’t want to think about Bond!’… I just was like, ‘Ew.’ At first, it was like, ‘Oh f—.’ I thought, ‘I’m gonna do it with him. I’m not going to do it with anybody else. I want to do it with him.’”
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Under a five-film contract with Eon Productions, Craig was, in all likelihood, obligated to make the sequel with whomever the producers installed as director. However, the actor never explored his opt-out clauses because Mendes was ultimately persuaded to return. His impetus: to tell the “Bond creation myth,” providing back story in Spectre about key events and people from the agent’s past who made him the “blunt instrument” for Her Majesty’s Secret Service that 007 eventually became. (For more on that, check out this week’s cover story in Entertainment Weekly.) “We’ve squared a few holes in this and made a conscious decision to wrap up some loose ends,” says Craig. “That’s not the main thrust of the film. It’s the foundation of the film. It does pay in somewhere.”
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Although the actor, 47, has never been shy about his ambivalence toward playing 007—infamously telling another recent interviewer, “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists” than appear in another Bond film—it’s clear he takes the responsibility as serious as a heart attack. And even while pre-release tracking estimates indicate Spectre could take in as much as $80 million over the movie’s opening weekend in theaters, Craig is quick to diss himself while attempting to adjust expectations downward.
“Who knows what the movie is going to be like because the worst thing you can do is go, ‘Yeah, f—ing hell, we made a great movie!’” he says. “But I know that we gave it the best we could. We threw as much money—and we had a lot of money to spend—at the screen. The audience deserves it, as well. They’ve stuck with me for three movies!”
To continue reading more on Spectre, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.