There must be an agreement, unspoken or otherwise, that actors who play James Bond have to maintain their gravitas off screen, so as to not shatter the illusion of the suave super spy.
Daniel Craig certainly got the memo as he promoted the new Bond film, Skyfall, in New York earlier this month. He arrives at the press event at the Crosby Street Hotel looking as dapper and as confident as you would expect 007 to be, wearing fitted black trousers, a crisp white shirt and dark tie, the latter tucked modishly into a light grey pull over.
But the English actor may be a little ambivalent about how closely he is associated with the character, admitting recently that he can no longer get drunk in public because he has “got to be high-class”.
He may be a victim of his own success here. Despite some initial misgivings, fans and critics have fully embraced him as the British secret agent first dreamt up by novelist Ian Fleming in the 1950s.
Craig, 44, is often compared favourably to the five other actors who have played Bond in the 50-year-old film franchise, including perennial hot favourite Sean Connery. Even Roger Moore, the most prolific Bond with seven films, says Craig is the best actor of them all – and the one with the best physique.
At a roundtable interview in New York, Life! asks the star of Casino Royale (2006), Quantum Of Solace (2008) and Skyfall – which opens in Singapore tomorrow – if he is worried about how the role will affect the rest of his career.
“This is it, there’s nothing else. This is my career,” he quips. Does he mean to say, Life! suggests, that Bond might overshadow other roles he takes? With a small sigh, he says: “Yeah, but I mean, it’s what you make of it. It’s working out for me at the moment so I’ll keep at it and there’ll be other stuff to do.
“When I accepted the job, I kind of knew it would have a major effect. People find it very difficult not to see me as Bond now, which I always knew would happen, and it saddens me slightly. But I mean, what can I do about it? It’s my choice, to be Bond. So I’ve got to get on with it and try to do the best Bond that I can. Time will tell. People may forget.”
They may but not for a while yet. Craig has reportedly signed on to do two more instalments as Bond in the billion-dollar franchise.
His blue eyes look a little careworn when he talks about the Bond effect on his career, but his range and skills as an actor – which he honed in British television and theatre as well as films such as Road To Perdition (2002) and Munich (2005) – may stand him in good stead compared to ex-Bonds such as Pierce Brosnan, who did not do so well once they left espionage.
As it is, his extracurricular activities during his Bond tenure have been more promising. Last year’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a crime drama directed by David Fincher, did well both commercially and critically.
“I’m just lucky. David Fincher asked me to do a movie, and I’m like, ‘Yes, please!’ I’d work for him for food – don’t tell him that,” says Craig.
He adds that “it’s nice to go off and do other things” outside the world of 007.
Having said that, the actor seems keen to put his own stamp on his Bond incarnation. Even though it is usually the job of the studio or producers to hire a director, it was he who approached Sam Mendes – better known for dramas such as the Oscar-winning American Beauty (2000) than big-budget action flicks – and recruited him for Skyfall.
Craig was also responsible for enlisting Oscar-winner Javier Bardem to play the villain.
And even though he has several highly trained doubles on the set, the actor, who lives in New York and is married to British actress Rachel Weisz, 42, reveals that he did a lot of the heart-stopping stunts himself.
“The stunts are an incredibly important part of the movie, and I’m involved with them as much as I possibly can. It’s more to do with geography than anything else if I’m not, and of course the really dangerous ones, I’m obviously not doing.”
Daniel Craig in Skyfall. PHOTOS: SONY PICTURES
The demands of the role – and attempting physical feats that professionals have spent their lives perfecting – mean staying in tip-top shape is crucial, he says.
“The analogy I use is that it’s like playing soccer just for fun,” he says of Skyfall’s six-month, six-day-a-week production schedule.
“I play a game of soccer every day, and sometimes I get injured every day, but there’s no recovery time because I have to play another game tomorrow.
“So I have to train to keep my level of fitness high enough so that if I do get injured, I can carry on. It’s kind of a weird place to be because there’s no blueprint for how you stay fit. You get physically down and you have to pick yourself up, so you have to learn to pace yourself and eat properly.”
Craig is blunt when asked if he enjoyed those sessions at the gym. “No. Really f*****g boring,” is his retort.
He stresses that none of his Bond training has taught him anything he can use in real life either, lest anyone thinks that he can actually take on a gang of armed thugs or leap from a moving car.
“It’s all make-believe. It has nothing to do with real life,” he says, adding, emphatically, that he and his character are different in every way.
“That man has nothing to do with me, nothing at all.”
One trait they may share, however, is a sense of humour.
Although Craig has a reputation for being moody with journalists, and appears to stick very much to the script in this interview, there are flashes of playfulness as well, as when a reporter quizzes him about homoerotic undertones in the movie.
“You have to clarify that,” he says, suppressing a smile. “I think Bond’s always been very camp.” With Skyfall, the actor felt it was important to revive Bond’s unique brand of gallows humour after the sombre tone struck in Quantum Of Solace, where the angst-ridden spy sought revenge for his slain lover.
“Maybe Quantum was darker than we all meant it to be… I always wanted to, at some point, wipe the slate clean and get back to the humour, which always comes out of dark situations in Bond.”
On screen, Craig has dipped his toe in comedy occasionally – including a recent stint as host on the sketch show Saturday Night Live and his appearance in the tongue-in-cheek opening ceremony of the London Olympics, where 007 jumps out of a helicopter with the queen.
His fans should not expect to see much more of this. “Comedy is difficult to do… most of it’s to do with improvisation, and I don’t know how to work like that,” he admits.
For now, his focus will continue to be the Bond films, the latest of which, he hopes, is a fitting tribute to a 50-year history.
“It’s really about wanting to make a Bond movie to remember, and that is ultimately for the fans and nobody else.”
Skyfall opened in Singapore on November 1, 2012.
This story was first published in The Straits Times newspaper on October 31, 2012. Read similar stories online in The Straits Times Life! section.