He’s one of the least communicative A-listers to stalk our screens – so what makes Britain’s blue-eyed Bond tick? Hanna Lindon profiles the inscrutable Daniel Craig.
Fame comes easily to some celebrities, but Daniel Craig isn’t one of them. He’s intensively private and notoriously awkward in interviews – watching his appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show to promote Quantum of Solace was like seeing a particularly cringe-worthy episode of The Office. His private life is sacrosanct (“It’s got **** all to do with anybody,” he once said), and that’s a shame for the film-viewing public, because you can’t help but want to know more about this international man of mystery.
Through the years, of course, a succession of intrepid interviewers have managed to piece together a skeleton of Craig’s back story. We know that he was born in Chester, to a mother who was an art teacher and a pub landlord father, and that his affinity to the area has lingered – he’s a strong supporter of Liverpool FC, despite rugby being his sport of choice as a teenager. During his early years, Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre was in its heyday, with stars such as Julie Walters, Bernard Hill and Alan Bleasdale all treading the boards here. Mini Craig was regularly in the audience, thanks to the artistic interests of his mother Carol Olivia, and he claims to have caught the acting bug at the tender age of six.
Ten years later, after a stint at a tough secondary modern, he would move south to join the London-based National Youth Theatre (NYT). Unlike some who have filled Bond’s upper-class shoes, Craig wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had to finance his seasons with the NYT by toiling in restaurant kitchens and working as a waiter – often crashing on friends’ sofas and (rumour has it) even sleeping once on a park bench.
All the hard work paid off, though, when he finally secured a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
He might have endured a few failed drama school auditions, but at Guildhall it quickly became clear that Craig was going to be a big star in the thespian firmament. He breezed through classes with the likes of Ewan McGregor, Rhys Ifans, Joseph Fiennes and Damian Lewis, before landing a role in big-budget movie, The Power Of One. A decade of increasingly- high-profile film, TV and stage parts followed before his big break came in the form of highly-political television drama series, Our Friends in the North.
“When we started doing it, we realised we were doing something special,” he told the Independent back in 1996. “We thought the critics would get hold of it and rip it to pieces, especially the bits that were political. But every single critic pushed how affecting the relationships were, and that was the nicest result.”
Playing Geordie in Our Friends in the North was one of Craig’s first opportunities to fill a non-villainous main role. “When I first started, villains were all I did,” he explains. “I’m blond and blue-eyed, so they always gave me the part of the Nazi. When I started getting roles that were goodies, I didn’t really know what to do with them, I just wanted to thump people.”
“It really shook me up and made me look at the world in a different way. Fame and fortune, for want of a better expression, is, erm, ****ing scary.”
With television audiences everywhere swooning over Craig’s performance in Our Friends in the North, it wasn’t long before the actor was being cast as the handsome (albeit slightly-wayward) hero. He appeared as a swashbuckling highwayman in a screen adaption of The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, a Zimbabwean stone-cutter in 1997 film, Obsession, and a ranch manager in the epic, I Dreamed Of Africa. Then, after a run of small-budget but well-received independent movies, he took a part in the first Tomb Raider film. Why?
“The money,” he told GQ candidly in a 2007 interview. “I was sick and tired of being an English actor who did a lot of American movies because I was cheap and good.”
Playing anti-hero Alex West may not have sat well with Craig’s indie roots, but it certainly boosted his profile – and his pay cheques. Over the next few years, he appeared in a line-up of increasingly-popular films, including Road To Perdition, Sylvia, Layer Cake and Enduring Love. Then, in 2005, it was announced that he had pipped Ewan McGregor to the post to become the new Bond: one of the most iconic roles in cinema.
“It threw me for a loop, quite honestly,” he said to Esquire of the experience. “It really shook me up and made me look at the world in a different way. Fame and fortune, for want of a better expression, is, erm, ****ing scary. My background is not well off. And there aren’t many people you can ask for advice about dealing with that.”
Pierce Brosnan had been a popular Bond, and Craig’s accession to the role was received with mixed reactions. Most filmgoers were positive – in a BBC poll, 70% of respondents declared themselves ‘shaken’ by the appointment with only 30% admitting that they were ‘not stirred’. All that changed, though, when Craig stepped onto the screen in Casino Royale.
The first reviews were gushing. The Daily Mirror described him as “oozing the kind of edgy menace that recalls Sean Connery at his best”. The Daily Telegraph wrote that he “steps with full assuredness into Sean Connery’s old handmade shoes”. Most critics welcomed the switch from Bond’s trademark tongue-in-cheek style to a darker, more brooding character. “It’s Bond, but not as we’ve known it,” said the Telegraph. “The guns and action are there, the girls are certainly there, but the clonking double entendres of the old days are gone – in their place is a much more teasing, smartly-written prospect.”
By the time Quantum of Solace premiered in 2008, even the most sceptical fans were forced to admit that Craig had given Bond a new lease of life with his alternative take on the character – and that was exactly the actor’s intention.
“I don’t think I would have taken the role if it had been a continuation of Bond as we knew him, it just wouldn’t have interested me,” he told the BBC News website. “It was important for me to discover who this guy was and by starting at the beginning, as we do with Casino Royale, we were able to do that. I just wanted to make sure that we were seeing a character go through some change within the movie. I started doing it and nobody said stop – so I just carried on.”
As previous actors have proved, it’s easy to get typecast as Bond. Both Roger Moore and Sean Connery are indelibly associated with the smooth secret agent, but Craig has somehow managed to avoid being tarred by the Bond brush. True, soon after donning 007’s mantle he was cast as Lord Asriel in The Golden Compass, a screen adaptation of Philip Pullman’s classic children’s story Northern Lights. That same year saw the release of The Invasion, in which he teamed up with Nicole Kidman to save the world from aliens.
“I don’t think I would have taken the role if it had been a continuation of Bond as we knew him, it just wouldn’t have interested me”
But at the same time, Craig was wowing art-house audiences with his portrayal of convicted killer Perry Smith in the Truman Capote film, Infamous. The actor’s character has a homosexual relationship with Toby Jones’ Capote, and Craig found it grimly amusing that Jones was consistently asked what it was like to kiss the new Bond. “What’s he supposed to say? ‘Very dry?’” said Craig. “Anyway, it’s all over the internet now: ‘Bond has gay kiss!’”
Between 2008 and 2011, the actor oscillated between blockbusters and less mainstream flicks. His credits included science-fiction Western, Cowboys & Aliens, the lead male role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the voice of Red Rackham in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. In personal terms, though, the most important film Craig made over those action-packed few years was Dream House, which saw him reconnect with old friend Rachel Weisz.
Since he was named as Bond, Craig’s love life had been the subject of intense media scrutiny. He was linked with Kate Moss and Sienna Miller, and lived with long-term girlfriend Satsuki Mitchell for seven years before becoming close to Weisz on the set of Dream House. The pair reportedly ‘sparked’ on set and married quietly soon afterwards.
True to form, Craig refused to talk about their relationship or the rumours that their affair began while both were still with other partners. He did say two years later, though, that his wife had changed him for the better. “I’m far happier than I’ve been for many years. I think finding the right person and being with the right person is probably the answer to most things.”
After meeting and marrying Weisz, Craig reined in his busy film schedule somewhat. Since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2011, his only major release has been Skyfall – a triumph both with critics and in the box office, which saw him nominated for six awards including an Empire Award for Best Actor. He did, however, delight television viewers around the world when he appeared in a Bond cameo alongside the Queen for the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony. “She was fun, incredibly game. And she improvised a little bit. She was supposed to be sitting at the desk and she asked if she could write, so she pretended to write,” he recalls.
He is, he has admitted, “probably a republican at heart”, but he has an excellent relationship with his rather aristocratic on-screen superior, Judi Dench. The pair’s chemistry has been at the heart of the last three Bond films and it will be interesting to see whether the upcoming movie Spectre – minus Judi Dench – can emulate the success of its predecessors.
Skyfall certainly went down a storm, partly thanks to the new energy and humour injected by director Sam Mendes. Craig takes credit for getting Mendes on board, after approaching him at a house party and asking him if he might be interested in collaborating on the new Bond. “There was this flush on Sam’s face, and anyway we talked about it, and I mentioned it to the producers the following day, and they were very excited about it. He went in and saw them, and here we are.”
Both men expressed reluctance about returning to the world of Bond. Mendes told the Guardian shortly after wrapping up Skyfall that “the idea I can simply start again makes me physically ill”, while Craig admitted to Rolling Stone that he had been “trying to get out of this from the very moment I got into it”. Despite initial misgivings, though, the two have collaborated once again on Spectre, released in the UK on November 6th, and current reports say that Craig will continue playing Bond until at least 2020. At least 007’s fans can rest assured that everybody’s favourite secret agent is safe, at least for the time being, in Craig’s capable hands.