In contrast to his brooding Bond, Craig is animated and prone to jokes in person. He is hesitant to talk about his past, but gradually opens up when talking about how his early experiences help shape his most famous character.
He grew up in Wirral, along the northwestern English coast outside Liverpool, a working-class area that was hit with economic troubles during his youth in the '80s. "I had a fairly relatively normal background. My parents are divorced, but that's hardly unusual," he says. "I was brought up by my mother and got into acting very early on, inspired by the fact that there's a fantastic art scene in Liverpool, good directors and great writers. That had an indelible impact on me."
Craig had family friends who worked in theater and would let him watch stage shows from behind the scenes. "The truth of it is, I watched these plays, some of which were way beyond me as a kid. … I could sit backstage and watch all the mechanics and all these people. These big, larger-than-life people would get up on stage and shout and emote and do all these things … and then they'd go get drunk in the bar afterward — which was probably the biggest draw to me," he says with a laugh. " 'Ahh, you can do this and enjoy yourself as well!' "
School was more of a struggle. "I didn't have an academic persuasion at all," he says. "I was wandering slightly, as every teenager does, and my mother gave me a gentle nudge, and said, 'Go and do it, try and have a go.' " He left home at 16 to work in London theater.
Not interested — at first
Like Bond, his adult life has been consumed by his job. He was a low-profile working actor until "Bond" came along, a dependable performer in big-budget movies such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and more serious fare such as Steven Spielberg's "Munich."
007 made him a household name, but initially even he resisted. His first meeting with Eon Productions' Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, whose family has overseen the Bond films since Sean Connery in the 1962 original "Dr. No," is one Craig describes as "a failure."
"I turned around and said 'Thank you very much, but no,' " he says. "They joke about it now, but I genuinely was like, 'This is not even on my radar.' I never even considered in my professional life that I should play James Bond. All the reasons people thought I shouldn't play it, I thought too. It's like, I'm blond. Why would you?"
They eventually won him over with "Casino Royale's" darker, more emotional take on the character, and he has since pushed to go even further: "Quantum" has an art-house-heavy roster of talent for a $230 million action film.
It was directed by Marc Forster, known for intimate dramas such as "Finding Neverland" and "Monster's Ball." Paul Haggis, Oscar-winning writer-director of "Crash," co-wrote both of Craig's "Bond" movies. And the villain this time, a faux-eco entrepreneur named Dominic Greene, is played by French star Mathieu Amalric, who played the paralyzed writer in last year's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
It's a team with unusual integrity for a special-effects-heavy popcorn movie. "Cinematic integrity is not bad," he says, then cracks: "It's debatable where the moral line is there, though."
Craig's defining characteristic as Bond is his toughness, not just physically but also emotionally.