Daniel Craig faces off with supervillain Rami Malek in No Time to Die, his explosive final James Bond film

Go behind the scenes of the 25th 007 adventure.
By Clark Collis
January 21, 2020 at 12:00 PM EST

Daniel Craig is mad as hell.

The actor, dashing in a tuxedo, is shooting an intricately choreographed action sequence for his fifth James Bond movie, the Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed No Time to Die (out April 10) at Britain’s famed Pinewood Studios. This set piece takes place at a hotel in Havana where the MI6 agent and Paloma (Ana de Armas), a CIA agent, are battling members of the secret and sinister organization SPECTRE. On this October afternoon, Craig must catch a gun flung into the air by an injured SPECTRE henchman; embrace the also-armed de Armas; pretend to shoot the gun; balletically circle around with his costar; fake-fire the gun again; and finally disengage from the actress so their characters can find shelter behind a pair of pillars. To an onlooker, all of this looks spectacularly difficult, but it is clear that the trickiest part for Craig is actually catching the weapon. The actor finally manages to snatch the gun out of the air, but then he fumbles it, ruining the take. The Brit’s famous face crumbles into an expression of self-disgust and hot rage as he walks out of shot.

“I beat myself up about these things too much,” Craig, 51, says a couple of months later in New York on the day of his EW cover shoot. “And, actually, the way to get it right is to relax. Once I relaxed, it worked a treat.”

James Bond movies are always huge and testing endeavors; megabudget, stunt-filled productions that routinely shoot in a variety of exotic locales and must compete with both other actioners and, for fans, the franchise’s previous entries. But this 25th installment in the series — which Craig swears will be his last — has been particularly short on opportunities to relax for its creatives. Why all the stress? The project began with a completely different director and writer, while its star required surgery after being badly injured on set. This is also the first Bond film to be released since the advent of the #MeToo era, leaving author Ian Fleming’s womanizing, and far from always PC, character open to criticism that he is out of step with the times.

When EW suggests to Fukunaga that joining the project must have been like jumping on a moving train and then immediately attempting to drive it, the filmmaker counters with an even more perilous scenario. “It would be like jumping on the moving wheels of the train before the chassis were even there,” he says. “And you’re building the engine as it’s barreling towards the point of no return.”

There was a time when the biggest obstacle to Daniel Craig successfully completing his fifth James Bond movie was Daniel Craig. Shortly before the release of 2015’s Spectre, he told Time Out London that “If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.”

Assuming Craig isn’t just appearing in No Time to Die for the cash — which seems unlikely given the Craig household also benefits from the income of his movie-star wife, Rachel Weisz — what changed his mind? “I finished that movie with a broken leg,” says the actor, who underwent arthroscopic surgery after injuring his knee shooting a fight scene with Spectre costar Dave Bautista. “I had to question myself: Was I physically capable of doing [another one] or did I want to do another one? Because that phone call to your wife saying ‘I’ve broken my leg’ is not pleasant.”

Eventually, Craig decided that he was up to the physical challenge of another Bond, with encouragement from the franchise’s longtime producer Barbara Broccoli. “He felt at the end of the last movie he’d kind of done it,” she explains. “I said to him, ‘I don’t think you have, I think there’s still more of the story of your Bond to tell.’ Fortunately, he came around to agree with that.”

On May 25, 2018, Broccoli and producer Michael G. Wilson announced that Craig would be returning to the series with Danny Boyle directing and a screenplay by John Hodge, who had previously collaborated with Boyle on several movies, including Trainspotting. Boyle seemed a sound choice given his commercial successes and experience overseeing the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, which included a taped segment featuring Craig’s Bond and the real-life Queen Elizabeth II. But that August, Craig, Broccoli, and Wilson announced that Boyle had departed the project because of “creative differences.” According to a report in The Sun, Boyle wasn’t keen on Broccoli and Craig’s idea that the actor’s version of Bond be killed off, although a subsequent rumor suggested it was the director who wanted to put Craig’s version of 007 in the ground.

“It was not about anything specific,” says Broccoli. “The movie he wanted to make [and] the movie we wanted to make were not the same movie.” Craig is similarly diplomatic: “I’m a huge fan of Danny and I’d love to work with him. It didn’t work out. It happens all the time in movies. It’s just, in a Bond movie, it becomes this huge event that gets blown up.” Boyle did not respond to EW’s request for comment, but has said, “What we were doing was good. But it was obviously not what they wanted.”

Broccoli admits that she and Wilson considered shutting down the production entirely following Boyle’s departure. Instead they met with Fukunaga, whose credits include 2015’s Beasts of No Nation and HBO’s True Detective, and who had been one of the filmmakers the producers considered before hiring Boyle. “Cary wasn’t available originally,” says Broccoli. “But he became available. He was very excited to join us, and we kept going.”

Fukunaga worked on a new screenplay in collaboration with veteran Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum). In spring 2019, Fleabag creator-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge also contributed to the script on Craig’s recommendation; the actor admired her writing on Killing Eve. “She’s the best f—ing writer around,” he says. Craig previously dismissed rumors that Waller-Bridge was simply hired to flesh out the movie’s female roles, telling a reporter from The Sunday Times that was “f—ing ridiculous.”

Rami Malek, who plays the film’s villain Safin, confirms Waller-Bridge had considerable input on his character. “She had quite an impact on what I was doing,” says the Bohemian Rhapsody star, 38. “I’d have long phone conversations with her, giving her context as to what we were essentially looking for in the scenes, and she would turn things over incredibly quickly. We know her as a very witty and funny writer, but she’s got a knack for drama and tension as well.”

In an interview with the BBC last November, Waller-Bridge said she was not hired on to address Bond’s misogynistic attitudes because the producers “were already doing that themselves.” Broccoli insists Craig’s spy is a good fit for the age of #MeToo. “He’s evolved, like men are evolving, one hopes,” says the producer. “Daniel’s brought a lot of humanity into the role and to his relationships in the film. He’s got vulnerabilities. He’s much more 21st-century.”

Bond will also have a genuine peer this time around in the form of a female double-0 agent named Nomi, played by Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel). “She is a fierce, opinionated working woman,” says Lynch, 32, of her character. In July of last year, the blood pressure of traditional Bond fans rocketed when the Daily Mail reported that Lynch’s character would, in fact, replace Bond as “007.” The “news” became a massive story to both the delight and annoyance of Broccoli. “People write these theories without knowing,” she says. “But we’re always happy that people are interested in what’s happening in our world.” De Armas (who also costarred with Craig in Knives Out) confirms that her character Paloma is no damsel in distress either. “She’s a strong woman, for sure,” says the actress, 31.

The 25th Bond movie was initially scheduled to come out in fall 2019, but the switch in directors prompted the producers to push the release date to February 2020 and then to April. With the script unfinished and the start of production looming, Fukunaga was under the gun. Still, the director had no intention of rushing things. “Cary is more of a scriptwriter than Danny and super interested in making sure every single word was crafted and correct,” says production designer Mark Tildesley, who was originally hired by Boyle. “That took a lot longer than we imagined.” Says Fukunaga: “Haste makes waste. There’s a lot of people around us who are pressuring us to go fast, but we’ve got to get it done right.”

The revamped plot reintroduces the British spy some time after he left the espionage world behind at the end of Spectre to begin a new life with Léa Seydoux’s French psychologist Madeleine Swann. In No Time to Die, Bond is retired and living in Jamaica but, as Broccoli hints, no longer swanning around with his onetime paramour. “He decided to go off with her and try to have a normal life,” says the producer. “Which, of course, we completely blow a hole through at the beginning of this one. He starts off on a romantic journey with Madeleine and then believes that he’s been betrayed by her.” Adds Seydoux, 35: “S— happens! Everything falls apart.”

Bond is lured back into the spy game by his old CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), who asks him for help rescuing a kidnapped scientist (David Dencik from Top of the Lake). This leads Bond to Cuba and onto the trail of Malek’s mysterious Safin. “He’s really a mean old thing,” says Broccoli of the villain. In the movie’s trailer, Safin also appears to have facial scarring. “Let’s just say that there are some immense challenges [he] has faced in his life,” says Malek. In addition to Bond, Swann, and Leiter, other returning characters include Ralph Fiennes’ M, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s Q, Rory Kinnear’s Tanner, and Christoph Waltz’s SPECTRE chief Ernst Stavro Blofeld, whose life Bond spared at the end of the last installment. “Blofeld is in Belmarsh Prison,” says Broccoli. “[But] he’s actually communicating to the SPECTRE agents.”

Shooting on No Time to Die finally began at the end of April 2019 in Jamaica. The island has a particular resonance for the 007 franchise: It was here that Bond author Ian Fleming started writing the novels about the superspy at his estate Goldeneye, and portions of both Dr. No and Live and Let Die were filmed on the island. But Fukunaga’s train threatened to go off the rails when Craig was hurt while shooting a scene. “I was running down a floating dock, and it was wet, and I slipped, and I fell over, and my ankle exploded,” says Craig. “Unfortunately, I’ve been in the same situation before and I know the feeling of a rupturing tendon. I was just like, ‘Oh, f—.’ ”

Craig’s injury required both surgery and a restructuring of the shooting schedule so the actor could convalesce. “I’ve got a great surgeon in London who said, ‘[Have this operation] and you’ll be ready to run in 10 weeks.’ You know, 10 weeks is sometimes the length of a movie shoot. Not on a Bond movie. It’s just a small part of it. So I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’ I was back at work in two weeks, and in 10 weeks I was throwing myself around like an idiot again.”

In New York last December, almost two months after No Time to Die wrapped, Broccoli strikes a much more relaxed figure than the wild-haired producer EW met at Pinewood. Of course, soon she and Wilson will have to start seriously considering who will replace Craig as James Bond. For now, the producer is happy to put off the task. “We still have so much to do to finish this film, to get it right, so we’re really focusing on that,” she says. “I’m in denial, to be honest, about Daniel. I can’t really confront that right now.”

To read more on No Time to Die, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly beginning Friday, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.