It's a Friday afternoon in SoHo and the streets of London's artistic neighborhood are busy. Hidden in an alleyway, between music stores, bookstores and theaters that mark the borders with the neighboring West End, is the luxurious hotel where I met with Daniel Craig to discuss his second James Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace." The SoHo Hotel was not chosen at random. After all, many years ago, in these same streets, a young Daniel Wroughton Craig earned a living working in restaurants so he could pursue his dream and act at night with the cast of the National Youth Theater in a nearby hall.
Born in Chester in 1968, the son of a merchant seaman and an arts teacher (who separated when he was four years old), Daniel started acting in school plays when he was very young, encouraged by his mother who took him, along with his sister, to The Everyman Theatre productions in Liverpool. He moved to London when he was 16, where he worked at odd jobs to support himself while pursuing his acting career. In 1988 he attended the renowned Guidhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 1991, at age 23.
Craig debuted in the movies as a South African Apartheid officer in "The Power of One," and in 1996 he was hired by the BBC to play the lead role in the miniseries, "Our Friends of the North". It was an extraordinary hit, and Craig became a well-known and sought-after actor in England.
Hollywood discovered him in 2001 when he was chosen to co-star with Angelina Jolie in "Tomb Raider". He then co-starred with Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in "Road to Perdition". Craig, interested both in deep and complicated roles as well as in action movies, then played a man who has an affair with a women twice his age in "The Mother," and the poet Ted Hughes in "Sylvia", with Gwyneth Paltrow. In 2004 he was cast as a cocaine dealer in "Layer Cake" and it was this movie that showed that he had what it would take to follow into the steps of Pierce Brosnan. Soon thereafter he was chosen as the sixth actor to play the legendary and mythical, James Bond.
"Casino Royale" became the bestselling James Bond movie of the 21 released to date. As the first blond Bond, the shortest, and also the only one who was born after the first 007-agent movie was released, Craig's work in "Casino Royale" convinced the critics that he is a perfect James Bond.
"Quantum of Solace", is a sequel to the first movie, with the story beginning just minutes after "Casino Royale" ends – in movie-time. It tells us of Bond's desperate search to find the man responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd, and also of a confrontation with the evil entrepreneur Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).
Craig is relaxing happily in his hotel suite where he welcomed Reader's Digest earlier this Fall.
RD: What were the challenges of this second film, after proving you could be a great Bond with the first?
Craig: We started something with 'Casino Royale', where we had to make a movie that was very different from what had gone before. This time, the same applied, but even more so because now we're kind of a victim of our own success. We're spending $200 million, and we owe it to the audience to make it look like it cost $200 million. That takes a lot of effort and work.
RD: And on an acting level?
Craig: I felt that we had unfinished business from 'Casino Royale'. Eva Green gave us such a wonderful performance as Vesper. That love affair was very true and real, and we needed to finish the circle. Bond, as we know him, is a man who never loses — at cards, at love, at life —but he actually lost very badly here and that really affected him. I wanted to take that into this next movie. Hence the title that comes directly from the title of a short story written by Ian Fleming. It's about finding that bit in him, when the light switched off in his heart.
RD: You have less time to develop your character, know who this guy is, because you're running and jumping and fighting and doing stunts. Does that put more pressure on you?
Craig: Doing a 'Bond' movie can't be just a character study. You have to trust that the character is solid enough and, when there are emotions and feelings, they strike a chord that the audience remembers..
Ultimately, though, it's a James Bond movie and so we're going to have explosions and car crashes. When I'm doing action, I concentrate on the action, and when I'm doing the acting, it's actually a nice, quiet day and I get to work with the director more closely. I'm not shouting at him from across a field.
RD: When filming this movie you spent a lot of time in Panama and Chile. What did you discover about Latin America?
Craig: Panama is obviously dictated a lot by the canal. It's a strange thing. I grew up in a port, in Liverpool, but the whole country [Panama] is a port. Then we moved to the Caribbean side to Colon, one of my favorite places. Here… in spite of all the poverty, there was an amazing spirit within the people who live there.
Chile was just extraordinary. I mean, we were up at 10,000 feet at Paranal at the observatory. I'd seen pictures, but nothing prepares you for that. In fact, the locations in South America and Central America are another character in the movie because they're so extraordinary.
RD: Do you speak Spanish?
Craig: I just bought tapes. I left school very early and my English is not great. [Laughs]. And so, I struggle when I get to language. But I'm pushing myself this year and I'm going to force myself to learn some.
Read more about Daniel Craig in the December issue of Selecciones.