With post number 700 (geddit?),Picturenose marks the imminent release (26 October 2012) of Daniel Craig’s third entry into the 007 canon, Skyfall (2012), for which critical raves are already flying in thick and fast – ahead of our review, which will be with you by 25 October, a look at how Craig has managed to live the dream and act the part so successfully with his immersion into the role of the world’s most renowned super-spy.
Cast your mind back, if you will, to November 2006. There had not been a Bond film made since Lee Tamahori’s truly appalling Die Another Day of 2002 – indeed, while DAD of course made mountains of cash at the box office, the critics were justifiably bemoaning (some even wishing for) the end of the most successful franchise in cinema history.
Pierce Brosnan, who had to be fair walked the walk and talked the talk with a fair amount of success during his four-film tenure as James Bond (though his interpretations suffered from scripts that were only intermittently any good, ie parts one and three), was unceremoniously (some might say unfairly) dumped, and the Broccoli behemoth went into a hiatus the likes of which had not been seen since the end of Timothy Dalton (1989, Licence to Kill) and the beginning of Brosnan (1995, Goldeneye).
BACK TO BASICS
Who was to follow Brosnan? How to move away from the utterly predictable exotic locations/shaken martinis/cheesy one-liners and villains/bonk fests that the series had become? Then, in late 2005, the announcement was made – Bond needed a reboot, so why not take the series back to its beginnings, namely Ian Fleming’s very first book, Casino Royale? This had previously only been made as a horrendous 1966 spoof and, fact fans, as a 1954 episode of US TV thriller series Climax! by William H. Brown Jr, which marked Bond’s first onscreen appearance, with Barry Nelson as American(?) spy James (Jimmy) Bond, whose mission it is to beat crime boss Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) at cards. Surprisingly faithful in places to parts of Fleming’s yarn, it nevertheless simply did not work, due in no small part to the heresy of having a Yank play Bond.
Anyway, back to Bond’s roots was the idea, with our man being ‘reintroduced’, even though this would in fact be the 21st film of the cycle, as a somewhat trigger happy young-blood who has just been granted his licence to kill double-O status, but who has much to do to convince M (Judi Dench) that she has made the right decision to promote him. This was all well and good with the worldwide Bond appreciation society, but what did not go down well at all with a moronic sub-section of this fraternity was the choice of one Daniel Craig.
THE WHEEL SPINS
There was even a website devoted to the cause, danielcraigisnotbond.com (which still exists, amazingly enough), with the intelligence level of the objections ranging far and wide from ‘Craig’s too young’ to ‘Bond had black hair, not blonde’. Ho-hum. But then, something truly unexpected happened – Casino Royale, which had Martin Campbell (who had given the Bond franchise a previous reboot with Goldeneye) at the helm and the screenwriting team of Robert Wade, Neil Purvis and Paul Haggis on board, went on to become the most critically lauded entry in decades (even earning its star a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor) and the most successful Bond film ever. How do you like that, danielcraigisnotbond.com?
As Craig himself subsequently said: “There’s a passion about this because people take it very close to their hearts and they have grown up with James Bond – and so have I. But I was being criticized before I had presented anything, so it was name calling. It is a huge challenge, a huge responsibility – Bond is a huge iconic figure in movie history.”
But Craig, again stressing the human aspects of the character, added: “In fact, I find it very easy playing Bond. I think he’s hilarious. He gets himself into some extraordinarily funny situations but, I wanted that, if Bond took his clothes off, he looked like a man who did what he did, which was kill people for a living. I thought the only way to do that was to work out and get fit and buff and get physically into shape.”
And the box-office pundits are predicting that Skyfall, which sees Bond’s loyalty to M put through the severest of tests, will likely top even Casino Royale’s success, and will certainly erase the memory of Marc Forster’s second Craig installment, Quantum of Solace (2008), which in this writer’s opinion was hugely under-rated, but did nevertheless represent something of a gloomy stutter for the writing team and Craig himself.
CRAIG AT THE CENTRE
Never mind – while Bond’s rejuvenation has been the very definition of a team effort, it would have all been for naught without the presence of Craig at the centre, the man who has finally (better than even Connery ever did) given the world Bond as Fleming first imagined him – a professional killer who is merciless when duty calls, but also human and haunted. A Bond who bleeds.
Born Daniel Wroughton Craig in 1968 in Chester, he was the son of a former merchant seaman turned steel erector while his mother Olivia was a teacher who after her divorce took Craig and his older sister Lea to live in central Liverpool when he was four. His mother, who had attended Liverpool Art College and won a place at RADA (which she didn’t take up) spent a lot of time at the city’s famously left-wing Everyman Theatre, then in its heyday with Bernard Hill, Julie Walters, Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale, and Craig thus learned to enjoy the onstage life and the Green Room early, which was what convinced Craig that he too would become an actor, when he was aged just six.
And Craig’s immersion into the role of Bond, both onscreen and off (which reached its apogée recently with him in character as 007 accompanying none other than Queen Elizabeth II to arrive at the London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony by parachute) must have come as a surprise to many, particularly those who had him typecast only as rough, tough and ready northern totty, a new Jimmy Nail, etc, etc, ever since his breakout role as Geordie Peacock in the BBC’s exemplary drama series Our Friends in the North, back in 1996.
Not that Craig’s performance in Simon Cellan Jones/Pedr James’ series wasn’t good, because it very much was, but the actor then chose, surprising many at the time, to turn his back completely on B-list celebrity trivia, and go elsewhere to hone his acting talent. A series of roles in art-house and European productions followed, such as Elizabeth (1998) and Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998), before Craig’s natural, human intensity first caught the eye of Sam Mendes, who drew an excellent performance from him in Road to Perdition (2002), then he delivered a standout lead role as a nameless coke dealer in Layer Cake (2004), before Steven Spielberg took an even better performance from him in the excellent Munich (2005) as a gutsy, driven but still very human assassin.
This was Spielberg’s most adult pic to date – the experience and characterization was to prove fertile ground for Craig’s next role, namely as the driven but human Bond. Now, the wheel has come full circle, with Skyfall’s director Mendes once again directing his protegé, but this time as his star. Now, however, Craig avoids the red-carpet mileu to a large extent, which has only ensured his elevation to the status of a ‘cool’ 007 in the eyes of many. And what then of the future? Well, Craig is contractually tied to Bond for two more films, but what is certain is that this actor, as his work prior to and during 007 has shown, will never allow himself to be pigeonholed.
M: Bond, I need you back.
Bond: I never left.