Fifteen years ago, James Bond was about to get jolted back to life. Not just in the sense that Casino Royale features a scene in which 007 defibrillates himself in his own car after a near-lethal poisoning, but in that the world’s biggest spy franchise was about to receive a major tonal overhaul – stripping away the quips and OTT gadgets of the Pierce Brosnan era, amping up the parkour-inspired action, and going right back to the start: depicting Bond’s origins and first mission, in an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s very first Bond novel. It was, of course, a massive success in every sense – but as the original 2006 Empire feature shows, the world was very sceptical of what this new-look Bond would be. Even more contentious? The person who’d be donning the tux: a certain Daniel Craig…
“We never test the line,” says Martin Campbell.
He doesn't even look up from his dim sum when he says this. It may be because he has just five weeks to finish up the 21st and possibly most important movie in Britain's most lucrative film franchise, and this fuel break will be his only escape for the foreseeable future. But then again, it could just be that it goes without saying. The line he's talking about is possibly the most famous line in movie history, or rather the most repeated line in movie history. Five words that put you right there, in a world of espionage, elegant cocktails (shaken, not stirred) and fast cars. Five words that tell you... the name. The character's name.
Not that this character needs any introduction. This guy has been on the screen since 1962, and in the 44 years that followed has survived assassination attempts by means as diverse as poison gas, death ray, crocodile and spider. (Gun crime is old hat in intelligence circles. And, oh yes, he's survived death by hat too.) But this character is about to change. As he approaches his 50th anniversary and his sixth incarnation, this character is facing his most daunting mission yet. He's used to it by now, but this time, if he can't pull it off, the plunge will be spectacular, taking with him not just the new movie but the entire future of Ian Fleming's most famous literary creation.
Campbell knows this. He first met this chap in 1995 when he made GoldenEye, itself a milestone in the character's lifeline. Not only was a new actor introduced – Pierce Brosnan – but audiences were beginning to question whether, in a post-feminist, post-Cold War world, the character was needed at all.
Yet what Campbell realised when he tried to take this character into the 21st Century is that things had come full circle. People liked him the way he was. They liked his old-school manners, his tuxedo, the daft gadgets he used and invariably destroyed, his crusty old MI6 boss, M. "I was in New York with GoldenEye,” the director recalls, "and I was invited to one of those fan conventions. I was naive enough to think these people didn't take this kind of thing seriously. And I went out on stage and I was amazed at the questions." He shudders at the memory. "They hammered me."
They questioned his choice of Brosnan. They questioned the fact that, instead of his trademark Aston Martin, the character was now driving a BMW. But most of all, they could not believe that M, played for so many years and with such gravitas by Bernard Lee, was going to be played by... a woman. Now, fast-forward nearly a decade, and let's look at those points again. Okay, they were right about the car. But Dame Judi Dench's M is now a national institution. And Brosnan, whose arrival caused such outrage, practically provoked a day of mourning when he was cut loose after playing the character just four times.
When he meets with Empire, Campbell is keen to assure us that, though he accepts people may think he's got the story wrong, the action wrong, the whole kit and caboodle wrong, the one thing that's right about Casino Royale, the film he's working to complete, is that the actor playing the character this time round is a worthy successor to Brosnan. He doesn't have Roger Moore's suave swagger, and he doesn't quite have Sean Connery's dangerous, killer-elite, diamond smile. But, he firmly believes, the actor he's chosen – a rugged 38 year-old Liverpudlian, whose background, get this, is theatre and art movies – will do exactly what Brosnan did a decade ago: make the character his own and convince the public. After almost a year of tabloid press, some good, some bad, and a whole internet subculture devoted to his suitability, you'd have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of him.
You know his name.
The name’s Craig. Daniel Craig.
A lot of men dream of playing James Bond, but Daniel Craig wasn’t one of them. If you ask him whether he ever thought, in his wildest reveries, he'd one day be putting on that bow tie, he simply says, "Not really." And he says this not because he thinks the role was ever beneath him but, quite frankly, because it's about as practical in an actor's life as wanting to be the Pope. "Someone said there have been more men on the moon than have played 007," he says when we catch up with him at London's Dorchester hotel the week after filming wraps, "but then I suppose you can apply all sorts of analogies, and some of them aren't quite as nice!"
If I'd had to say that line on the first day, I think I probably would have crumbled – Daniel Craig
But if you do dream of playing Bond, here's a tip. Dig out From Russia With Love and head for the scene where Bond hears a noise, comes out of the bathroom wearing a towel and waving a Walther PPK, only to find a beautiful stranger on his bed. You won't need a Walther, and the towel's optional, but if you get the lines right, you're sailing. This is the scene that every would-be Bond has screen-tested with since Connery (partly, Campbell says, because the new script is rarely ready), the scene that probably every British male actor between 20 and 40 did for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson last year.
"It's a tradition, apparently," says Craig. "Why? I've never got it out of Barbara yet." So how did it go? "Oh God," he groans. "If she hasn't destroyed that piece of film yet, I hope she will. It's awful! I don't want anybody to ever see it! My eyes were just swimming.”
So there you have it: From Russia With Love’s what you need to practise, not those five words. And luckily for Craig, when he got the role – and though they didn't all pursue it, talents as diverse as Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman and Colin Salmon were certainly in the mix – those five words didn't come into play until well into the shoot. "If I'd had to say that line on the first day, I think I probably would have crumbled," he admits.
What line would that be then, Empire asks, rather facetiously? "I'm not going to fucking say it!" he laughs. "And I haven't said it since. But I think it was probably best that way."
Although he doesn’t say as much, Craig surely must have wondered how a book as slim as Casino Royale, written in 1953, taking place almost entirely in a single town and centred on a two-player card game, turned out to be such bloody hard work. This is because screenwriters Neal Purvis and Rob Wade, with help from Crash writer-director Paul Haggis, have taken a few liberties with the storyline.
The trail begins in Madagascar, where the young Bond pursues a known terrorist, following his contacts to the Bahamas, where he discovers the guy who's funding it all. His name is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), but he's in financial trouble, so he decides the only thing to do to get his money back, and avoid execution by his unsympathetic overlords, is to arrange a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro. MI6 gets wind of this and sends in Bond, bankrolled with $10 million in tax-payers' money and accompanied by fellow operative Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), tasked by M (still Dame Judi) with watching over him.
It should be clear from that outline that Bond has some running about to do. Indeed, when Empire first met him in the Bahamas, Craig had just finished an intense chase scene 100 feet up in the air, jumping from crane to crane over a perilous building site. And although it's not all him (for insurance purposes), quite a lot of it is.
"I learned from day one that it was gonna hurt," he says, "and the whole film really did hurt." He winces. "Just pain. But if I was hurting, the stunt guys were hurting ten times more than I was. I just had to suck it up and get on with it. Think what it's like when you bang your elbow on the table. Now times that by ten, ten times an hour. That's kind of..." He pauses. "No, that's actually a fucking stupid way of putting it! It was like being beaten round the head and neck with a stick, most days. I think Pierce said it best: 'If you're not getting hurt, you're not doing it properly.'"
Which explains a certain rumour that came from one of the Prague locations... "I knocked a cap out," Craig says, "and that threw me a bit of a curveball. You might have heard that stuff in the tabloids about me knocking my teeth out, that there was blood everywhere, but what really happened is that I knocked it out, gave it to somebody to hold, and we carried on. I got it fixed that night, but I must admit, it did freak me out. And then I thought, 'Well, it's a fight scene, and they can CGI the cap back in if they really need to.' But it was physical."
Certainly more physical than Bond movies have been in a long time. Indeed, key to this film is a scene where Bond is captured and tortured by Le Chiffre, who strips him naked and thrashes his bollocks with a hunk of rope. Funnily enough, Craig found some inspiration here from the first 007 adventure he ever saw on screen: Live And Let Die. "I still think it's a great film, and the more I've got into this job, the more I've looked at it and the more I've tried to feel a connection to it." He tries to find the words. "There's a thing that Bond does... In Casino Royale he gets knocked down. I mean, he gets mowed down. But he always fucking gets up. Always. And that's really fascinating.
"I suppose," he continues, "this film's about the reason he gets up. The reason he gets up is that there's a drive in him that makes him who he is when he's given a double-O status. There's a reason that M trusts him; there's a reason he's the top guy. It doesn't matter what you do to him, he's Teflon-coated and he's gonna come bouncing back. But he does get fucking hurt. He gets damaged, and in Casino Royale he gets damaged in the biggest way: he gets his nuts banged up into his throat. Then it heals up and..."
Well, let's keep some surprises, shall we? But prepare yourself for a very different Bond: a Bond redux. There's no Q, no Moneypenny, no creaky puns and, though Campbell quite fancied it, no dancing ladies over the opening credits. But shocking as all this may be, there's more to come. James Bond cries. Several times.
Casino Royale, like Batman Begins, and even Star Wars: Episode Ill, is about the origins of a legend. As with Vader, the donning of the uniform is crucial (Bond earns his tux) and, like the Dark Knight, his relationships with the opposite sex aren't exactly the norm. And in Vesper Lynd, the first ever Bond girl devised by Fleming – the result, says Campbell, of a soured love affair – 007 finds a woman he desires so much, it will almost destroy him.
"I approached the film with the idea that Bond's attitude to women is really just one of distrust," says Craig. "That's why it's so fantastic that Judi is still playing M, because that female figure in the movie is so very important; that's what, hopefully, will let us get away with him being as sexist as he is. I mean, I get it all the time: 'Is he still gonna be a sexist pig?' Well, yeah, he is still a bit of a sexist pig. But the fact is that the balance there is always through Judi. Because she's the one person that ever really keeps him alive. She's the one that protects him and looks out for his back. So I suppose that sort of gives us carte blanche to let him be a pig to women. Not that he needs to be a pig to women, but what I'm saying is that, hopefully, in Casino Royale, we get this situation where we'll understand why he is the way he is.
"I want to make it complicated,” he decides. "It was so important that Eva got the part, because she was going to come along and do something that was unusual and equal to him."
Indeed, not only does a Bond girl get to stand up to him for almost the first time since Pussy Galore, we even get to know a little more about M. We go through the keyhole at her London home (loft, not cottage) and even hear of her family life and her children. Perhaps because there's so much backstory here, Bond seems much more deferential to M than normal.
"Yeah," says Craig. "Look, maybe it will change, but my root for him was that he's a commander, and a commander on board a ship is the second-most important person on the ship. He's not the captain of the ship, he's a trained soldier. And M's the boss. And however much he's, like, 'Fuck it,' it's always..." Craig jumps out of his chair and salutes like an eager Boy Scout. "... 'Thank you, ma'aml’ I mean, that's the way it has to be." He pauses. "Well, we'll see how it goes. But that was an important way to start off. I love the dynamic, and I'm glad that Judi has more of a part to play in this film. She's not mum, exactly, but she kind of is mum, and that's what I want to fuck around with."
He catches himself and ponders a further torment for Bond fans. "I can see the headlines now," he laughs. "BOND IS MUMMY'S BOY!"
If you ask Martin Campbell what the biggest challenge was on Casino Royale, he'll tell you straight, without much trace of irony: "Surviving it." He walked into the production last summer, straight off The Legend Of Zorro and, by God, the man has stamina. According to his cast, he was on set every morning at 4.30am and was the last to leave during its 119-day shoot. Such commitment was not to be underestimated; before Empire headed out for the Bahamas we'd heard rumours that Casino Royale was not a happy set ("We had our moments," Craig grins), but by the time shooting finished it was perfectly clear that the crew and Craig, after some initial doubts, had, well, bonded.
What's been done is very, very different but it is religiously a Bond movie – Daniel Craig
"He's a very fine actor," says Campbell. "He looks different to the stereotype of Bond, and he doesn't have the pretty-boy looks of someone like Pierce, but he's good-looking in a very rugged, tough way. He's got an edge to him, I think. He's more weighty than Pierce. And to be honest, he fitted the Casino Royale Bond so much better than the other actors we saw. I mean, the image we have of Bond is false, it's almost entirely created by the movies. If you read the books, there's no humour. The guy smokes and drinks. He has doubts about himself. And Daniel can do that. He was very good in Munich. Even though I wasn't a big fan of the film, I thought he was one of the best things in it – and he barely opened his mouth."
Before it reached the Bahamas, word from the set was that Craig was getting cold feet about the amount of action scenes required of him, and, if this is true, Campbell is not holding it against him. "Daniel's not a typical action man," he says, "and there was quite a learning curve for him to do it, to psychologically get into it. Action is not easy. You know, you have to acquire a lot of technique to do it. It's not like playing the scene, where the psychology and the subtext of the scene is everything. It's much more about applying yourself to the actual mechanics of action. But I think you'll be impressed with his fighting skills."
For his part, though he insists that the sleepless nights were outnumbered by the restful variety, Craig acknowledges that he didn't take the job lightly and says he was determined that it should have integrity. "All that was important to me was that we weren't going to get into a repeat of what's been done before," he says. "Not for any reasons of criticism, but otherwise what's the point? If you are gonna start it all over again, then there's got to be a real sea change. But that doesn't mean this isn't a Bond movie. I mean, that's the criticism I've been getting on the 'net. It seems to me that people just think – well, they think I'm fucking ugly, but I'll have to live with that – they think it's gonna be fucked up. That's as far away from what's been done as you can possibly get. What's been done is very, very different but it is religiously a Bond movie. Religiously a Bond movie."
He sighs. "It's Casino fucking Royale, for Christ's sake. It's the defining Ian Fleming book!"
When the film's finished trailer went online, it seemed clear to many that this truly was a Bond film, a return to the archetypal elements that combined to such memorable effect in Goldfinger, a film Campbell often cites as a touchstone. But even if Bond has his mojo back, is the world right for a new Bond? While Empire speaks with Craig, a TV set in an adjoining room is flickering with images of the Israeli assault on Lebanon. Is real life just a little too, well, real to accommodate even a reality-adjusted 007?
Craig, who says he's signed to make three Bonds in all, though production company Eon won't confirm or deny it, has given the matter some thought. "What's important, I think, is this," he says. "The world's in a mess at the moment and we really don't know who the good guys are and the bad guys are. Now, it's not that he himself has relevance, but the character of Bond is as ancient as they come – it's a character who's unflinching, who knows who the bad guys are and goes after them. And I kind of think that's refreshing at the moment. He represents honour."
He pauses. "Look at the Middle East, what's going on at the moment. Who the fuck's right there? I mean, I have opinions about it but I don't know what the answer is, as we never have. It's very fucking confusing. And I genuinely believe that that's the way we're supposed to feel at the moment: confused. Because then nothing's right or wrong. And if Bond represents something good, it's this..."
In five words, he spells out why so many would-be Bonds have looked at themselves in the mirror, made a pistol with two fingers and mouthed those other, rather more famous five.
"He would know the answer."
Originally published in Empire’s December 2006 issue.
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