The atmosphere feels a little tightly wound as our group of journalists awaits Daniel Craig’s arrival for a round-table chat. It’s been a packed morning at London’s Corinthia Hotel and we are among the last to interview the James Bond star before the lunch break.
The setting is appropriate – the building was once the workplace for the majority of British Defence Intelligence staff from the 1960s to early 1990s, and was drawn into the old James Bond comic strips as the headquarters of MI6.
Craig has been in the news a lot, not just because of the impending release of Spectre – the 24th entry in the James Bond series – but also because of a quote, taken in isolation from an interview with Time Out London, about how he would “rather … slash my wrists” than play in another Bond film.
And just the day before, he told an ITV entertainment journalist “I think you need to move on” after she had pestered him to pout on camera.
The wrist question arises almost as soon as a chipper and relaxed-looking Craig arrives and greets us all with a loud and cheery “Hi!” that immediately puts everyone at ease.
“A few weeks ago, you said …” one journo begins, after mentioning that quote.
“What did I say? I want you to quote back to me what I said,” Craig interjects, with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, like he’s winking at the whole room without actually winking. The journo dutifully complies.
“Two things,” Craig responds. “One, I lie. Constantly (laughter all round). The second, if you read the article – which is the key here, ’cos nobody has – it says as of this moment, which was two days after I’d finished an eight-month shoot, I would rather slash my wrists etc etc.
“So, I’m a fairly straight talker, I lie occasionally, obviously, to you guys (that twinkle/non-wink again) just ’cos it makes things more interesting, but that’s just how I felt at the time. A fifth movie – I just don’t know. That’s the honest answer.”
So that quote was taken out of context?
“God forbid! Can you imagine? When has that ever happened? You can’t worry about it because you can’t control it. Someone takes a quote out of context and it gains this, this life, but 99% of the people who read that quote haven’t read the original article, so what can you do?”
The elephant in the room slouches off to a corner, never to be heard from again for the rest of the interview.
Craig is doing the media rounds for Spectre on which he’s getting a co-producer credit for the first time.
“I’ve been kind of producing these things since the very beginning, only now Barbara and Michael (series producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson) have honoured me with a name to it and that makes me very proud, very very happy,” he beams.
The haters can hate, but fans of Craig’s interpretation of Bond would agree that it has been marked by something unusual: A dimensionality to the character seldom seen in the preceding 20 films.
“What I brought to the character … I think that’s for other people to say, really. All I did, all I wanted to do from the very beginning, was to be really respectful to the James Bond world, and to never forget that I’m making a James Bond movie.
“I don’t know how else to do it … because I’m playing the part of a man who has many, many challenges. I’d like to see him affected by those challenges, and then recover,” Craig says of that “very human Bond” notion.
Endings and beginnings in the James Bond world
Those challenges have seen, from the time of his series debut in 2006’s Casino Royale, Bond earning his 00 licence to kill, falling in love, being betrayed by the woman he loves and then having his heart broken by her death.
He battled his emotions, especially the thirst for vengeance, in Quantum Of Solace, and seemed to overcome them.
And in Skyfall he suffered further loss, first of his stomach for the job and then, of his “mother figure”, Judi Dench’s M.
That film ended by giving the series a restart of sorts, with a new Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), a new M (Ralph Fiennes), and “lots to be done”.
In Spectre, however, it appears that Bond has gone off the reservation again. Sam Mendes is back in the director’s chair, becoming only the second man after John Glen to direct consecutive 007 films (though Glen did five in a row, from For Your Eyes Only to Licence To Kill).
“Sam very cutely opens the movie with the words ‘The dead are alive’, and there’s a nod to many things with that. Spectre feels like an ending, but it also feels like a new beginning,” Craig enthuses.
An off-the-books mission in Mexico City – arguably the series’ most spectacular opening sequence ever – leads to M grounding Bond and having him injected with a nanotechnology-based tracker, courtesy of Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh, head of the Centre of National Security.
(Besides old-school villainy, Spectre also sees a power struggle within British Intelligence, with the 00 programme about to be shut down to make way for Denbigh’s high-tech surveillance methods.)
With Bond not giving a tinker’s cuss about Denbigh (whom he christens “C”, for the obvious word association), he goes off on this “secret secret mission” of his, aided and abetted by the loyal Moneypenny and Q (Ben Whishaw).
The trail leads him to the recently widowed Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) and then straight to a clandestine meeting of the film’s titular organisation.
At its head: the measuredly sinister Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man who has an old association with Bond. And as its principal enforcer, the taciturn and well-tailored Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista), who of all the series’ tough-guy adversaries looks to be the one most likely to hand Bond a major beating.
As with all Bond productions, the locations are varied and lush: this time, cast and crew travelled to Mexico, Italy, Austria, and Morocco – not forgetting jolly old England, of course.
Several common threads emerge in the course of the morning’s interviews. Besides the big question of surveillance and how it affects a world already on constant alert, a lot is said about Monica Bellucci, at 50 (at the time of filming) the oldest woman to be seduced by Bond (or maybe it’s the other way around); and about Craig’s contribution to the series.