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Farewell Mr Bond

As shooting begins on Daniel Craig’s last Bond film, the actor reflects on his time playing 007 and how he’s loved having a licence to thrill since taking over the role in 2005.

pictures | Rex Features

T he 007 stage at Pinewood Studios is once again a hive of activity.

In one corner, set builders are armed with packets of nails and hammers.  In another, stunt co-ordinators are running through that day’s shooting schedule. In the middle, exuding the quiet calm of a man who has been here and done it all before is Daniel Craig.

Cameras began rolling on Bond 25 earlier this year and while its official title hasn’t yet been revealed, Craig has confirmed that after Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre, this will be his last outing as 007.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Craig, who at 51 is a few years younger than Roger Moore was when he retired from Bond. “As a child I imagined being James Bond, but actually when I was offered the role I was against it at first. Some of my friends told me that I’d never be able to do anything else. What if I wanted to go off and do Gay Bikers on Acid?

“It’s true, it may take away some of my ambition and directors may think twice about employing me, but it also has huge benefits. Now on smaller films I can sometimes make the difference between them securing funding and not. Plus, if you’re not in this game for doing something like Bond, then what are you in it for?”

On set, it’s now hard to imagine Bond being played by anyone else, but Craig’s reign as 007 had a fairly inauspicious start. It was in October 2005, in a press conference on the River Thames, that the identity of Piers Brosnan’s successor was announced. In an attempt to add a little drama, Craig arrived via a speedboat, but under grey skies it all felt a little underwhelming.

Photographers caught him sensibly wearing a life jacket for the journey – even Bond it seemed couldn’t bypass health and safety protocol – and even fans who had admired his performances in Our Friends in the North and Layer Cake weren’t sure he was the right fit. He was after all blond, and everyone knew that 007 had brown hair.

Craig refused to be drawn into the ensuing melee which was James Blond-gate. Instead, he ditched the speedboat and quietly went away, promising a grittier version of Her Majesty’s Secret Agent. It was a sensible move. Casino Royale was a triumph. It took more than £300m at the box office and Craig seemed born to play the role.   

“I have a big mouth and I like to have a say,” he says. “When I got given the role the idea that I was going to pretend to be James Bond seemed quite challenging, so I said to the producers that I wanted to be part of the creative process and to their credit they enabled that to happen.

“The story is key. You have to get the story right. You can have the best stunt sequences in the world, but if the story doesn’t work then it’s not going to make much difference. That’s where most of the hard work is done, at the beginning making sure the story holds together.”

While Casino Royale might have rebooted the franchise  – the sleazy one liners and double entendre Bond had been so fond of were ditched in favour of smarter dialogue and darker action – some things remained the same. The spectacular opening scenes are as much a trademark of 007 as his fondness for martini and Craig has been a willing foil for the production’s stunt co-ordinators.   

“They are there to say: ‘How can we top the last one?’ How can we top any action movie that is out there at the moment? There always seem to be so many mountains to climb, but those people are brilliant – you kind of wind them up and off they go.

“I still get nervous about heights, but I have less of a problem now than I did. I look down now. They always say don’t look down, but what’s the point of being up there if you don’t look down?”

Prior to Craig, Bond girls had often been little more than eye candy and it was a clever move which saw him emerge from the water in Casino Royale Ursula Andress style in a tiny pair of trunks. 

“I strangely developed this sex symbol status which I wasn’t going for at all,” he says. “I had to get fit to do the stunts plus, I’ve always thought that when Bond takes off his shirt he should look like he could kill someone, not that he’s been in the pub for the last two months.”

While Quantum of Solace suffered from a pretty impenetrable plot, Craig has rarely missed a beat as Bond. It’s not something which has been easy of late. Danny Boyle, who had been down to direct Bond 25, stepped away just weeks before filming was due to begin citing artistic differences with producers Barbara Wilson and Michael G Wilson and the release date was swiftly pushed back to Valentine’s Day next year. 

Craig won’t comment on what happened, but he does believe the film, now in the hands of Cary Fukunaga, best known for being at the helm of HBO’s True Detective, will be worth the wait.

“When the James Bond franchise began this was the only movie of its type out there and now every year there are about 15 similar action films,” says Craig.  “That means it’s a competitive industry and a competitive movie industry is certainly a healthy one.

“At its very best, acting changes people’s opinions and attitudes. You should be trying to make a point of some sort. If you can manage to do that, then you’re succeeding as an artist.

“I don’t turn up on set, do my job and walk away. I turn up on set and try to be a pain in the ass, because I think if you’re not, why turn up?”

Craig married his second wife, Rachel Weisz, who recently starred in The Favourite alongside Olivia Coleman and Emma Stone, in 2011. The couple, who announced the birth of their daughter last year, are an unstarry sort and Craig, who was born in Liverpool, says he tries not to get caught up in the hype which so often surrounds him. 

“I’ve never been one of those suffering, artistic types,” he says. “Filming Bond though can be full on. I have to separate myself from the movie at least one night a week and eat anything I want, just pig out and have a drink.

“Really acting is about making people happy. My dad took me to the pictures for the first time to see Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die, which is a fantastic movie. He always said that Sean Connery defined the role, but he seems happy that I am still playing him.”

As Craig prepares to hand over his licence to kill, he won’t be drawn on who his likely successor will be – Idris Elba, James Norton and Tom Hardy are all rumoured to be in the running – but he’s not so shy when it comes to choosing his own favourite Bond film.

“It’s none of mine! It would have to be From Russia with Love, particularly because it has got Robert Shaw in it. He plays the Bond villain Red Grant and he’s blond!”

And with that he’s off. Back to filming his final Bond and afterwards, who knows those Gay Bikers on Acid may just come calling.