Nov. 9, 2008 -- James Bond needs a day off.
In the latest 007 thriller, "Quantum of Solace," Daniel Craig continues to explore the depths of the iconic superspy, this time (his second) revealing a man consumed by his job.
It just so happens that his work is saving the world.
"It's no moral judgment," Craig says, sitting with his right arm in a sling, the result of 007 action work aggravating an old injury. "If there's ambiguity to the character, then you'll have a better time. It's as simple as that.
"There's no kind of self-conscious idea to make him a deep, meaningful human being. I just think, well, he's a spy and kills people for a living. There might be some consequences for him — and everybody around him."
By now it's well known that "Quantum" (opening Nov. 14 in the USA) picks up moments after the conclusion of 2005's "Casino Royale," which rebooted the franchise.
In the sequel, Bond nearly self-destructs in his quest to uncover the Quantum organization behind the money-laundering in the original story. The lines of justice and revenge become so blurred, his own MI6 handlers fear he is too wrapped up in the mission to pull it off.
Even this film's Bond girl, Camille (Ukrainian-born model Olga Kurylenko), is so devoted to her own quest for vengeance that together they are all business — no time or energy for any between-the-sheets action.
Craig, 40, jokingly compares his Bond's big flaw — total immersion in his duties — to the e-mail-checking, cellphone-addicted, always-on-call culture of the modern workplace.
"You're never away from the office. That's very true of people, isn't it?" he says. "We're driven to do that, and maybe that's wrong. Maybe we should all step back, put it down for an hour a day and be out of the office."
Craig adds: "That said, it is a Bond movie." His day job involves high-speed, cliff's-edge car chases, speedboat escapes and exploding desert hotels.
After six "Bonds" and 22 films, audiences still dig it. "Casino Royale" ultimately grossed $594 million worldwide, topping "Die Another Day's" $431 million record. "Quantum" already had a record-breaking debut in Europe, with about $40 million.
With this installment and future ones, Craig's challenge is to keep the fan base rejuvenated.
Thomas Huffner, who runs the fan website BondMovies.com, says he wants the franchise to continue Bond's anti-hero qualities. "He's human, and the more human you make him, the more believable the character and the more successful the movie," he says. "He's far from perfect, but that's what makes him interesting."
International man of mystery
For all the exposure 007 has given Craig, his own life remains a kind of secret identity.
He has been divorced since 1994 and has a teenage daughter from that marriage, but he doesn't like to discuss her. ("I've spent my whole career protecting her," he says. "As soon as I talk about it, that's out there.")
He has been in a relationship with film producer Satsuki Mitchell for several years, and was dogged during Quantum production by rumors of an engagement. His standard answer: He's not a member of the Royal Family, and therefore owes the public no confirmation or denial.
Craig does say this: He tends to see flaws in his "Bond" work, but Mitchell is still impressed. "I'm looking at myself and say, 'I got away with that … I didn't get away with that … I kinda got away with that.' My girlfriend is more than forgiving," he says with a laugh.
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.
"Bond doesn't verbalize a lot of what's going on, so it's a challenging role," says Broccoli. "He is able to show the chinks in the armor, and that makes the character stronger. There's a tension within him, that the way Daniel plays him, you don't think he's going to snap, but you know he's going to bend."
Craig says he would have played the character differently when he was younger.
"The older I've gotten, the more I've understood what being hard is about, or being tough. It's less about fighting and physicality," he says. "The strongest people I know are women and not-huge men, let's put it that way. The strongest people have been the ones who genuinely have got it inside. If you don't have it inside, you're weak."
So how does Craig define toughness?
"I wish I knew," he says. "I fight to find out. I spend my life trying to be strong. As a man, you have to look after your family. Having good people around you and looking after them, it's that strength you draw from as well.
"Barroom brawls?" He shrugs. "I've done maybe two or three, and I've never been particularly successful at them. They're always very quick, and then suddenly you're outside and you don't know quite how you got there."
When he was first considering the Bond role, he says: "I never considered myself particularly tough. I had played rugby as a kid and played lots of contact sports and done all that. I'm never afraid of throwing myself around," he says (the arm sling serving as testament). "But when I came to do this, I knew Bond was tough. But it's the other stuff that's more interesting, that's worth playing around with and having a look at. That was my approach, but I nicked it from Ian Fleming, who wrote it on the page. He wrote this guy who was tough, hard, but (messed) up."
He has a similar counterintuitive approach to the character's sex appeal, hewn from the fact that many actors agree that one bonus of the business is the ability to attract.
"You get into acting for the chase. It's dressing up and showing off. Let's be honest about it, at it's basic level," he says, laughing. "But it's when you start believing in all that, you're in deep trouble. People talk to me about 'How's it feel being sort of looked at as being sexy?' And I'm going, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.' That sounds like false humility, but it's not. Anybody who starts to think they're sexy immediately becomes unsexy."
It's far from over for this busy actor. His Holocaust resistance drama "Defiance" opens Dec. 31; he plays a Lithuanian Jew who leads rebels on a guerrilla war against the Nazis rather than go to a concentration camp.
It was another demanding, intense role; Craig isn't one to toss off a less intense part. That's something he picked up from a late actor who worked with him on 2002's "Road to Perdition."
"The best thing I can say about Paul Newman was he worried about his craft and worried about what he was doing. He talked it through, and when he got it right it pleased him and when he got it wrong it really (ticked) him off," Craig says. "I thought, 'You're in your 70s, this is the twilight of your career; other people would be sitting back and saying, "I'll show up, say the lines and take the check." '
"But no, it absolutely meant as much to him then as it had always meant. I thought, 'God, if you're still getting a thrill out of your job, still getting that much out of your profession at that age, that can't be a bad thing. You've probably got to work toward that, make yourself feel that."
An exit strategy
Craig is signed to at least two more 007 films, but if audience feelings change and his stripped-down version of Bond no longer appeals, he'll definitely bow out. "Adapting to that is not my job. I can only go with what I know. If attitudes change across the board, then I'll have to think of something else to do."
Many Bond-isms were deliberately withheld from "Quantum" so they can have impact when they emerge in future movies. And Craig says longtime side characters such as gadget-master Q and the lovelorn secretary Miss Moneypenny may also reappear.
"I'd love to bring them back in," he says. "But I don't think you can employ a really good actor and say, 'We want you to play Q and can you go do an impression of (the late) Desmond Llewelyn?' It would be offensive. I'd go, 'Look, this is Q, these are the premises, why don't you make something up, and we'll have a brand-new idea?' Suddenly it will be an enriched character again. Maybe we'll give it legs, maybe they'll make another 10."
Craig hesitates, nods at his arm sling and adds quickly: "Not with me they won't, but maybe they'll give it another 10 years."