Daniel Craig has earned his license to kill. When it was announced that he would replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, the near-universal reaction was outrage. Bond fans in the U.K. went so far as to launch a website that included doctored photos of Craig as Vladimir Putin and Al Bundy and called for a boycott of the actor. The press skewered him as “Bland, James Bland.”
But then came Craig’s performance as Bond in Casino Royale, arguably one of the best 007 pictures. The new Bond was favorably compared to the legendary, adored Sean Connery, who also sang Craig’s praises. Craig’s former critics ate crow, admitting he was the first to truly capture Bond creator Ian Fleming’s dark, occasionally vicious characterization. The Boston Globe wrote, “The most mocked of Bonds is now fast on his way to generating perhaps the best reviews of anyone in the 007 club for his brutal and engrossing performance.”
The film grossed nearly $600 million, trouncing earlier 007 films and setting the bar high for Quantum of Solace, the new Bond installment, opening this month. In the movie, which picks up an hour after Casino Royale leaves off, Craig, 40, is back—moodier and more pissed off than ever. Bond’s overriding modus operandi: revenge, following the murder of Vesper, his lover in the earlier film.
Craig is from Chester, England, where his father was a merchant seaman and owned a pub called Ring O’ Bells. After his parents split, in 1972, Craig was raised by his mother, an art teacher, in Liverpool. He left school at 16 to study at the National Youth Theater in London. He earned his living as a waiter and enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama at the Barbican, where he studied alongside Ewan McGregor and Joseph Fiennes. He graduated in 1991.
When Craig was selected to play Bond, much was made about his size (at five-foot-11, he’s the shortest Bond), his piercing blue eyes and his hair color (he’s the first blond). But he has subsequently been crowned one of the sexiest men by Elle magazine. And apparently he’ll soon leave bachelorhood behind: He is romantically linked to Satsuki Mitchell, the actress who accompanied him to the Casino Royale world premiere. He has a teenage daughter, Ella, from a previous marriage.
Soon after Craig completed the filming of Quantum of Solace in Italy, Australia and South America, Playboy sent contributing editor David Sheff, who recently interviewed Fareed Zakaria for the magazine, to meet Craig in London. Sheff reports: “When I arrived in the U.K., a customs agent asked if I was there on business or pleasure. I explained I was in town to interview Daniel Craig, at which point her mood swung from chilly and suspicious to swooning. ‘Oh my God,’ she said, almost hyperventilating. ‘His photo’s near my bed. He’s the sexiest.’
“He’s also an impressive actor, as I was reminded before the interview when I attended screenings of Quantum of Solace and Defiance, in which Craig plays one of three brothers who hide, and save, hundreds of Belarusan Jews from Hitler’s local collaborators. The contrast between the roles couldn’t have been more extreme, but Craig rose to the occasion in both the action-adventure and dramatic films.
“And yes, he’s charming and suave. He drank coffee, not martinis, but he’s Bond-like even in blue jeans instead of a Brioni suit.
DANIEL CRAIG: It’s a very high-class problem to have, I suppose. The reverse would have been just awful. Had Casino Royale failed, everybody would have been insecure: the studio, the producers—everybody. Me.
PLAYBOY: Is the bar set too high?
DANIEL CRAIG: Well, we had to do better. And I was keen on taking it to new places.
PLAYBOY: In Casino Royale your Bond, a brand-new double-0 agent, is less polished and more ruthless than in the earlier films. Was that intentional?
DANIEL CRAIG: It was. For that movie my feeling was he should look like the man who had yet to make his first kill. I wanted to play around with the flaws in his character. It was much more interesting than having him be perfect and polished and so suave as to be flawless. I got most of my inspiration from Ian Fleming’s books. I reread them. In the books Bond is suave and sophisticated, yes—Sean Connery really nailed it—but there’s also a flawed aspect of Bond. In the novels he is quite a depressive character. When he’s not working, he’s at his worst.
PLAYBOY: How about you? Are you at your worst when you’re not working?
DANIEL CRAIG: I’m not that bad, but I can relate. What’s there when we’re home alone with ourselves? The deeper, darker stuff comes out. I’m fine when I’m not working, but I feel happiest working, yes.
PLAYBOY: Is the darkness in your Bond more reflective of Fleming’s character or you?
DANIEL CRAIG: Probably both. It’s probably a reflection of where I am in my life and also my cinematic influences.
PLAYBOY: Which are?
DANIEL CRAIG: The psychological thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s, British spy movies like those with Michael Caine and the early Bonds like From Russia With Love. They have a huge amount of style but are tense and taut and deal with emotion. To make it interesting I had to bring those emotions in. Otherwise I’d go insane.
PLAYBOY: Compared with his predecessors, your Bond doesn’t rely as much on ejection seats, jet packs and exploding pens.
DANIEL CRAIG: We’ve kept it all a bit more low-fi. I’ve got nothing against gadgets, but these days we’re surrounded by them. If you want gadgets, pick up a gadget magazine. The stuff you can buy over the counter is insane. For $300 you can listen to a conversation three miles away while watching somebody in infrared. People aren’t that impressed with it anymore. It’s normal. Whereas with the earlier films, people were stunned to see the fantasy gadgets. In fact, the early films actually influenced technology we now have.
PLAYBOY: Bond also influenced the culture with his sexual double entendres.
DANIEL CRAIG: Yes. That’s all Fleming. In my imagination, Fleming—sitting in his home, the Goldeneye in Jamaica, with his cigarette holder, his 80 cigarettes a day, drinking martinis—wrote religiously. He’d get up in the morning, write and then have cocktails in the afternoon. His wordplay, including the double entendres, was part of his life. I can imagine the conversation at his dinner parties, the quips thrown about, the jokes. Pussy Galore. These days I don’t think you can make puns as easily as in those days. We don’t do it naturally anymore. Now a pun’s a bad joke. In fact, in the movie we had to be careful of them. They’ve been sent up in such a way that they almost ring like parody. Austin Powers did them in the extreme. So making a Bond movie, you have to keep that in mind. As soon as you go that way you’re making a parody of a parody. It looks like you’re doing Mike Myers.
PLAYBOY: Were you cautious of doing Austin Powers?
DANIEL CRAIG: Especially when I made the first movie, yes. I had an Austin Powers alarm. On set I’d say, “That’s Austin Powers. We can’t do it.”
PLAYBOY: What set off the Austin Powers alarm?
DANIEL CRAIG: There is a chase sequence in the beginning of Casino Royale. I run through a room past 10 workers who are sawing planks. These guys had to look as though they were working; they couldn’t just look like guys banging nails. There is an explosion, and they look up. We had to go back to the choreography and make it real, because at first it looked like Austin Powers.
PLAYBOY: How have Bond’s relationships with women evolved in your movies?
DANIEL CRAIG: In Fleming there’s misogyny till the end. Rereading the books reminds you of the time they were written. They are sexist and racist. It’s time to put all that in its place. One thing that remains from Fleming is that the women always leave Bond—as opposed to his leaving them. It’s the opposite of the way we think of him, that he beds a woman and says bye-bye and flies out the window. In the books he has relationships and occasionally is nearly getting married when she dumps him because he turns moody and dark.
PLAYBOY: Not because she turns out to be a double agent who tries to murder him in his sleep?
DANIEL CRAIG: No. It’s that his true personality comes out, and he’s impossible to live with. It suits M, his boss, just fine. M is terrified of Bond actually settling down. His inability to have a relationship keeps him working.
PLAYBOY: Bond films were criticized in the past for being out of sync with the feminist movement. Has that changed?
DANIEL CRAIG: Beautiful women are always part of the story. In the past maybe they were more objectified. They were just eye candy. Now they’re integral and powerful in their own right. They’re beautiful, but now things are almost reversed. In this movie I don’t think we objectify women. I’m the one taking my clothes off most of the time.
PLAYBOY: More than Sean Connery took off his?
DANIEL CRAIG: Actually, he took his top off all the time. He was always in these tiny towels.
PLAYBOY: The Bond girls had their fair share of bikinis and often less.
DANIEL CRAIG: Yes, but the main difference is that we’re genuinely trying to find fully formed characters—fully formed women—integral to the plot. For me, the sexiest thing in a movie is equality in a relationship. It’s much sexier when Bond meets someone who’s a challenge—someone who says no. There’s a sexually charged battle. So I think we’ve successfully left behind the misogyny. It was something of its time; it’s not of this time.
PLAYBOY: When the AIDS crisis hit, Bond films were criticized for the bed-hopping, which appeared irresponsible. Does Bond use condoms?
DANIEL CRAIG: Yes, though we don’t have to show it. We don’t need to see him fling one out the window afterward. I think we’ve kind of made the leap that you would expect someone to use one now.
PLAYBOY: Reportedly, Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron turned down the Bond girl role in Casino Royale that ultimately went to Eva Green. True?
DANIEL CRAIG: Whether Angelina and Charlize were approached I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that when Eva came in to screen-test on M’s set, I knew immediately. She was incredibly nervous, but when the camera rolled, I knew she was the girl.
PLAYBOY: You worked with Jolie earlier, in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Afterward she said you were a good kisser.
DANIEL CRAIG: If she said that, I’m flattered.
PLAYBOY: You worked with Nicole Kidman, too. Once you said, “She turns me on—not in a sordid, horrible way. Well, come to think of it.…” Would she make a good Bond girl?
DANIEL CRAIG: She’d be more interesting as a Bond villain.
PLAYBOY: Who is your favorite Bond girl from the earlier films?
DANIEL CRAIG: Diana Rigg. She was good in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She was the one Bond girl who was nearly bigger than the movie.
PLAYBOY: How have Bond girls changed from Rigg to the newest one, Olga Kurylenko, who stars with you in Quantum of Solace?
DANIEL CRAIG: Olga is very much about her strength. As I said, in the earlier movies the girls were mostly eye candy. We all like eye candy, but things are more interesting now. The character is important to the plot. Yes, she’s beautiful, but she’s also a good actress and extremely interesting as a woman, and she brings all that to the role.
PLAYBOY: Are you involved in the casting of the Bond girls?
DANIEL CRAIG: I don’t go searching for them. We screen-test. It’s kind of awkward and sort of weird.
DANIEL CRAIG: They build a set, and you get the cameras in; then you’re introduced to 10 girls. You have to act out a scene with them. It’s kind of weird and awkward and strange, but you know if something’s working almost immediately.
PLAYBOY: How about Bond villains? How have they changed?
DANIEL CRAIG: There’s a rich and varied history.
PLAYBOY: Your adversary in Casino Royale has an unusual physical trait. He literally weeps blood.
DANIEL CRAIG: That came straight out of Fleming: an overactive tear gland that actually bleeds. It’s a pretty good look. If you can do that on call, it’s a pretty good party trick.
PLAYBOY: Alice Cooper, the rock star, recently said he wants to take you on as a Bond villain.
DANIEL CRAIG: I thought he was a golfer.
PLAYBOY: Apparently, he wants to go up against you.
DANIEL CRAIG: Bring him on.