Most movie stars look tiny up close. Action lads especially. You can’t stop thinking: Vin Diesel is dinky! Statham’s a titch! Am I actually taller than Fassbender?
Daniel Craig is different. He doesn’t loom, but he is bulky. Stonehenge legs, whacking hands, just right for killing a man or mending a washing machine.
He is also wearing a lot of clothes: pinstripe suit, navy vest, dotty tie, shirt, rose-gold watch, cufflinks, brogues. Perhaps it’s just cold in the ballroom of the Corinthia hotel. Perhaps promoting James Bond means you have to simultaneously flog a lot of clobber. It is as if he has been dipped in glue and rolled round Mayfair to see how many swatches will stick.
At 53, Craig is cheerful and clever and friendly. He has bright blue eyes in a tanned and tired face. It is day five of six at the junket which may or may not decide the future of cinema, and he is about 36 hours off quitting Bond for ever. After 2015’s Spectre (most of which he filmed with a broken leg), Craig notoriously claimed he would rather slit his wrists than return to the role.
Six years and a sweetener deal later, he is immaculately on-message. The run-up to No Time to Die has been quite a puff: it was originally due to have come out in November 2019, but the release kept being pushed back, first because director Danny Boyle jumped ship, and next because Craig did his ankle in during the rescheduled shoot. And then came Covid.
Yet its star has religiously stuck to the [Bond producers] Eon song sheet. Yes, some of old 007’s interactions were pretty iffy. No, the next Bond won’t be a woman; they should have their own blockbusters, not just the crumbs of the patriarchy. And no, he’s not going to tell you who will replace him.
So: none of that today. Instead, he rattles through a selection of questions set for him by friends, colleagues and Guardian readers, as brisk and bouncy as if he was chucking himself round that building site in Casino Royale. At the end, he cackles and chucks the sheaf of paper behind him: “And I’m out!” Actually, he had forgotten one. He gets up, smiles and puts his glasses back on.
Daniel, we both made our 007 debuts in films (unusually for the series) based closely on Ian Fleming’s source novels. What do you think about Fleming’s work and the challenge for an actor of imparting some genuine human feeling and emotion in the material? What do you think of my attempt in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
It’s one of the best movies, because it had a love story. And what is life without love? Fleming was very ambiguous about Bond. He hated him sometimes, I think. Barbara [Broccoli, Bond producer] said today that Fleming called him “a shadow”. I kind of lifted from Fleming Bond’s ambiguity, conflict and passions. You could take 1952 passions or you could just transpose them to modern passions. And that’s what I did. There’s no point taking 1952 passions because they don’t exist any more – thankfully, a lot of them. So I thought: he’s a passionate man. He loves, he cares, he’s honourable, he’s incorruptible, and I love that he’s a complex character.
Which is the Fleming Bond novel that influenced your Bond the most?
It’s probably Live and Let Die, because I read it first – it was my first one at the cinema and there were lots of differences. He goes to the quartermaster in the book and pulls out his gun and what are basically speed pills. And you think: “Oh, right, wow, OK: a gun and some speed pills, that’s a safe combination.” But it does sort of indicate that he’s twisted. There’s a kind of dark underbelly that we can’t show in the movies but I want to be there.
Is there any role you regretted playing? Any job you wish you hadn’t done?
Not with you, Anne, that’s for sure. But yes. I don’t want to say which movie, because that’s not fair. I used to walk into Blockbuster – which shows you how old it is – and it would be on the shelves, maybe even not the DVD but the VHS. I’d grab it and throw it under the counter. I know it was only a small protest – it was only my Blockbuster – but it was some way of my never seeing that movie again. But I’ve never really desperately regretted anything. I think once you commit to something you go: this is it, it is what it is, good or bad.
Which was your favourite of your Bond films, and which is your favourite of the franchise over all?
This one and Goldfinger.
What is your favourite art form? By which I mean: which speaks most immediately to your soul?
Gosh. I love all art forms. I love a good show. I love being taken somewhere and I love being fooled. I love to cry, I love to laugh. When art does that – and it does, very often, do that to me – I’m moved. It can be music, it can be anything; it can be a commercial on the TV if it’s the right one. There was a great British Gas one a couple of years ago that was just this family having a bath. When I watched that I was like: “Oh my God, it’s so moving.” Maybe because I missed England.
Of these scenes, which is your favourite:
1. Being tied to a chair and cruelly tortured by Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale?
2. Being tied to a chair and gently tortured by Javier Bardem in Skyfall?
3. Being tied to a chair and painfully tortured by Christoph Waltz in Spectre?
A mix of 1 and 2. [Laughs] There’s some fun in having a rope smack you round the nether regions. And Javier, you know …
Jamie Lee Curtis
Obviously you have now been freed from the bonds of Bond. As you deliciously showed what you can do with that freedom with your Benoit, what is a bigger jump for you to take: a musical, or mime?
Perhaps both! In some sort of weird musical-mime show with Jamie. I don’t know. I’m very fortunate to have been given Benoit Blanc [in Knives Out] to play with. I can’t quite believe I’m James Bond; I can’t quite believe I’m Benoit Blanc, but it’s true.
Who is your favourite actor/role model for acting and why?
Michael Shannon’s one of my favourite actors. Mark Ruffalo’s one of my favourite actors. Isabelle Huppert is one of my favourite actors. I have so many. I don’t have role models because I just admire them. I can’t aspire to be them; they’re just fantastic, amazing people. My favourite Huppert? The movie where she cuts herself [The Piano Teacher]. It’s just phenomenal, but it’s so scary. It’s like: something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna happen, oh my God, it’s happening!
You have a lovely body, Mr Craig. I assume you spend a big part of your day at the gym and have a very healthy eating regime. Do you ever get the chance to have a gorgeously greasy egg or is there really just no time to fry?
Yes, for God’s sake, I do eat greasy fried eggs at least once a week. For sure. They’re my favourite on toast with Worcestershire sauce.
At the end of Our Friends in the North (the 1996 TV series in which Craig co-starred), your character walked across the Tyne Bridge. What’s your favourite bridge that you’ve walked across?
I walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at least once a week. It still gives me a thrill to look at Manhattan. I still go: “Oh my God, I live in New York.”
Free of all restraints (the only constraint being that you can no longer act), and imagining that you can acquire at will whatever skill you want, where in the world would you choose to live? And what would you choose to be doing with your life?
I’d like to be at sea. I’m terrified of the ocean. It’s a fearful place, but also just unimaginably beautiful as well. If I had a choice I would do something where you had to go and be challenged by it. A lifeboatman? I always had a fantasy of taking a boat across the Atlantic, but I didn’t really see myself on cruise liners. You can actually do it on cargo ships, I think, as a captain’s guest. That is very appealing. To have no light pollution, underneath a canopy of stars, would be spectacular.
Is there a particular skill that you have had to learn for a role that has stayed with you and has had a positive impact on your life?
It’s not a skill, but I’ve got over my fear of heights.
What is your favourite Liverpool football club memory?
I couldn’t be there but it sort of has to be Istanbul [the 2005 Uefa Champions League final] when we came back from three-nil down against Milan. I watched the first half at home in Hoylake, which is where I grew up, which was very, very depressing and we all went: “Fuck this, let’s go to the pub.” It was packed with very sad people. And then we scored and the pub erupted and then it was just like 100 people staring at a small television. And then tears and beers going everywhere: mayhem. And this was usually quite a quiet pub.
I was very lucky to have a couple of mentors, including Mary Selway, a casting director who has sadly died. I wanted to make interesting, groundbreaking movies, but I had no idea how to. I was pushed in gently by people like Mary. The Mother and Love Is the Devil were two movies she helped me make decisions about.
Was Bond ever a role you fancied playing when you were in drama school?
No. It was a role I fancied playing when I was about 10. But then I wanted to be Spider-Man, Columbo, Kojak and Starsky and Hutch.
Is there a particular role/type of part that you would like to play in the future that you have not already had the chance to play?
I sort of take things as they come. I don’t think about what I want to play. I like letting life happen to me and getting surprised. Rian Johnson is a prime example – he sent me Benoit Blanc and I could not see that coming.
Here’s the only question I want to ask anyone who came up doing theatre: what is the worst experience you’ve ever had while performing on stage? Give us a real horror story.
Being bombarded with Opal Fruits [AKA Starbursts] at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House when I must have been around 16 or 17. We’d do three afternoon matinees a week and it was just school buses of kids who were not into seeing Romeo and Juliet. They had bags of Opal Fruits and they’d just throw them constantly on to the stage. Eventually I just got so weary of it I started eating them, which got a round of applause.
Which former Bond do you think would host the best dinner party?
George Lazenby must be up there.
We all know what Bond’s favourite alcoholic drink is. What’s yours?
I’d like a vodka and soda with fresh lime right now. But tomorrow I might like a whisky. I don’t drink as much as I used to, but when I do drink I like to keep it clean.
Having seen you do Shakespeare up close [the two of them worked on a production of Othello together; Craig played Iago, Wittrock was Cassio], it doesn’t surprise me that you have taken on some roles that require some bigger transformations (Knives Out and Logan Lucky come to mind). But I think it may be a surprise for the general public. Does drawing a contrast to Bond play into your decision-making when taking on a role?
When I first started Bond I did try to contrast my roles. I thought I had to go and do something completely different. I stopped doing that because I realised I had to do what I’d always done, which is wait for the good stuff to arrive. I’ve never really gone searching for work; ordinarily, when I’ve waited and had patience, good things have turned up.
In what ways have the other actors who have played James Bond informed your approach to playing him?
Not at all, because the way they played it was the way they played it, and they’re each individually brilliant. I can’t do an impression to save my life, so I wasn’t even trying to emulate them. All I wanted to do was put my stamp on it and make it the best thing I could.
Have you missed me?
Yes. Yes, Judi Dench, I miss you. Every day I miss you, Judi Dench. What, specifically? The light in your eyes.
Have you kept any mementoes from the sets you have been on? If so, which is your favourite?
This is the question I get asked the most; everybody clearly thinks I’m a kleptomaniac. I have a watch that was given to me by Barbara Broccoli and Michael [G Wilson, her fellow producer]. I wore it in Casino Royale in the crane-jumping sequence and it still has red dust around it from the Bahamas.
You are as famous and successful as it gets. So … what next? More movies? Producing? Directing? Or something else? Others have leveraged their brands into business empires, activism or even elected office. What’s your plan?
Go home, put my feet up, have a cup of tea. I don’t have plans. I like acting. Producing is a natural extension; I helped produce these movies. Directing always seems to me too much like hard work. I’m not a great spokesman, but I really try to actively involve myself with good causes. Business empires … it’s not my thing. And elected office: you must be fucking joking.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
To my younger self when I started Bond? No, because I think I was naive and open-minded and that would have been the advice to my younger self: be naive and open-minded.
What was your training plan for Casino Royale?
It was not great, Elliot. We did our best but I just wanted to get big and look like I’d just come out of special forces, which I think I got right. I wish I’d spent more time running. I kind of glocked myself up a bit. It was heavy weights.
What is the project that you have been most proud of in your career and why?
This one. It’s been a long time coming. Covid aside, it’s been a struggle to get the movie made – as it always is. But I think we had a great story and we got together an amazing cast and an incredible crew.
My favourite role of yours was Perry Smith in Infamous. Infamous or Knives?
Mark Ruffalo was supposed to play Perry Smith and he recommended me; I’m such a fan of Mark’s, so the fact he did that was so moving for me. So, yes, I remember Infamous with a lot of fondness. I love playing Benoit Blanc; but they’re slightly different.
Have you read much of Ted Hughes’s poetry, or Sylvia Plath’s? If so, do you have any favourite poems?
I have read lots of both of them. Daddy, by Plath.
What’s left on the bucket list?
I don’t have a bucket list. Maybe that’s just because I don’t want to be disappointed. There are things that I want to do that I feel will trigger other things in life, but I don’t have specifics. It’s sort of about the people you meet. I feel like that’s kind of the ambition in life: the more people I can interact with, or be with family – that usually sends up some pretty amazing times.
What are the top three things you have learned (about yourself, the movie business or anything else) being James Bond?
It’s a team effort. Having to work with all sorts of different people from all sorts of parts of the world takes a lot of give-and-take. You’ve got to allow people to be creative and to get on with their job. I drive things on set and I have learned to do that because I was given the opportunity to do so. You need a lot of energy to do a Bond shoot – a six-to-eight month shoot – and you’ve got to be as excited each day as the day you started.
Which living director would you like to work with who you have not yet had the chance to?
I always fantasised about running off and working with Peter Brook. That’s probably not gonna happen now. But all the way through my younger years I just had this fantasy of going round the world with him and learning different languages.
Have you ever taken some elements of James Bond’s character into a real life situation?
No, thank goodness.
M Emmet Walsh
In the film Knives Out, did you start out thinking you’d create such a quirky character or did he develop as you explored him?
He was on the page. Rian Johnson sent me the script; I giggled all the way through it. It said in the stage direction: “A lilting southern accent.” Rian came to see me and I sort of pointed to it on the page and he went: “Yes”, and I went: “OK!” That’s kind of where it came from.
Which member of the Liverpool squad would make a good Bond and why?
All of them.
How many takes did you have to do for that famous James Bond coming out of the sea scene?
One, actually. It was kind of an accident. The beach was about 3ft all the way out, like a sandbank. It didn’t drop off, so I wasn’t swimming into the ocean. I think I just walked into shot and then sort of got up.
What has been the most enjoyable event/occasion related to your promotional duties as James Bond?
I was in Switzerland for Casino Royale. I was very naive and green and was trying to be open-minded. I knew people had loved the movie in London. The next stage was: does the movie make any money? I didn’t even consider that. I’d gone to bed and I’d got a call from Barbara who was with Amy Pascal, who was running Sony at the time, and they said: “Get down here now”, and I thought I’d lost my job. And they just went: “The figures are in and they’re through the roof.” That was just mind-blowing for me – a success I didn’t even consider.
What scenes do you remember that were completed for Bond but ultimately left on the cutting room floor?
I never remember the scenes we shot; I stopped doing that a long time ago. You can get into this thing as an actor of wondering why someone has cut your part; it’s to make the movie better, unless the director hates you. Scenes that didn’t make it don’t exist to me any more.
I love the film Love Is the Devil; it’s an underrated British masterpiece, with a great cast. What was that like to make, and would you like to do more ‘arthouse’ (for want of a better word) films in the future?
Oh, that’s so kind. I’ll make anything, arthouse or not. That was a coming together of so many wonderful things – John Maybury, Derek [Jacobi], John Mathieson [the director of photographer], all this talent, no money, John firing on all cylinders and Baillie Walsh, his partner, who was helping him write the script and injecting things into it. Students on set painting huge Francis Bacon-like pictures because we weren’t allowed to use any of the real pictures. All of the young British artists of the time. Extraordinary. Just a way of making movies that I would definitely do again; an amazing experience.
Did your Bond experiences change your life in ways you didn’t expect? And are you still an enthusiastic gamer?
It did change me, in more ways than I could ever expect. I had a vision of what might happen but it’s impossible to imagine. When you’re an out-of-work actor, gaming is a way of passing the time. I had a Sega Megadrive on the TV in my flat and hours wasted on that. But I don’t have time any more to play video games, which is probably just as well because we’ve got kids and there’s always something to do.
Which Bond villain would you most like to have played?
Mads’s part: Le Chiffre.
When filming the various Bond films, did you actually get to enjoy many of those exotic locations or was it all work, work, work?
Yes, it was all work, work, work, but what you get to do is get to know people very quickly because you get to work with them very intensely, and that makes the experience very special.
What’s it like to be brutally shot to death in the bath by supposedly the nicest man in the movie business, Tom Hanks?
What will you miss most about playing James Bond and being part of these films?
It’s this massive collaborative effort. I came up through theatre and was taught very early on that you’ve got to look after each other. And never more so than on a Bond set, because Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson’s attitude is: it’s one big family. They gave me a chance to be creatively involved. And to be creatively involved in a Bond movie, I will miss.
Every Bond actor leaves a legacy of interpretation of the character. How did you approach such a well-storied character and are you satisfied your efforts will endure for the generations to follow?
Fucking hell! It’s kind of up to other people to decide that, I think, but thank you for the question.