The studio didn’t want him. Too rough, they said. Too cocky. Too old to be James Bond. Even the writer wasn’t happy. Started referring to him openly as “that labourer”. But the Broccoli family, Bond’s all-powerful producers, were certain this was Ian Fleming’s 007, “instead of all the mincing poofs we’ve had apply.”
Cubby Broccoli stuck to his PPK. And former Mr Universe contestant Sean Connery finally swaggered through his audition to enter legend as the Bond MK1. Call it a sixth sense: four decades on, Barbara Broccoli was as certain as her father had been. Daniel Craig would be the new 007. Sony head honcho Amy Pascal, on the other hand, was rumoured to be sceptical as hell. Who was this guy? What was wrong with Pierce? And, scariest by far, what was all this talk of Casino Royale “rebooting” a franchise whose last outing scored $450 million in global box-office? For a year and a half, the studio trawled more than 200 actors. Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana and Clive Owen were rumoured (but never approached). Brit thesp Henry Cavill impressed but, at just 22, was thought too young. Unhappily deposed four-time-Bond Pierce Brosnan, meanwhile, was happy to stir the media rumpus. “Sony are pulling their hair out,” he said in one of many interviews last year. “I was in their offices a few weeks ago pitching Thomas Crown 2. They said, ‘Come back!’ I said, ‘It’s not up to me, guys…’”
Broccoli kept calling Craig. “I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’” recalls Craig, sitting down with Total Film in London’s Dorchester hotel. “Barbara was badgering me, but I still hadn’t seen a script. It was almost slightly annoying to finally read it and go, ‘Oh, Jesus! It’s good!’” A month later, the deal was done. Apart from one last thing… “I spoke to Pierce,” says Craig. “I needed to. I said, ‘Look, I have been approached...’” The reply? “Go for it.”
Daniel Craig remembers slipping on the Bond tuxedo. That $100,000 bespoke Brioni suit felt good. It felt expensive. Right now, he’s back in civilian threads. But that tux still feels... heavy. “I’m wearing obscene amounts of fucking money,” nods Craig, raising his eyebrows. “You’ve got to put the suit on and get it right. Christian [Bale] did it in Batman Begins. He went, ‘That’s Batman.’ And that’s really the key here.” He frowns for a second. “Not that they’ll think I’m Batman. That’d be the wrong fucker!” Craig knows it: Casino Royale is a multi-billion-dollar gamble – and he’s the wild card. Like Bale’s 21st-century Dark Knight, he has to be the right fucker.
“The only good thing about this picture,” shrugged one Dr No exec back in 1962, “is that we can only lose $800,000.” After four decades, 20 films, five Bonds and nearly $4 billion in box-office, the stakes are now stratospheric. With Craig and Casino Royale, Broccoli and co-producer Michael G Wilson are going all in: a back-to-basics reinvention of the most enduring series in cinema history. It’s a monster play, but one that Wilson has been waiting for ever since Cubby vetoed his plan to redux 007 after Roger Moore’s campy-daddy sign-off A View To A Kill. Dalton came and went. Brosnan arrived in style. And, as videogames began driving a new, younger audience to the series, Bond’s box-office boomed. In 2002, Die Another Day became the highest-grossing film in the franchise’s history. And, some argued, one of the worst. Lee Tamahori’s blockbuster, it seemed, was a videogame tie-in. A year after 9/11, Brosnan piloted his invisible car and windsurfed through a disastrous CG stunt, swerving the franchise clear of geopolitics – and reality. “While you were away, the world changed,” notes one character. “Not for me,” replies Bond.
But the world needed a hero. And, cranked through pastiche (Austin Powers), musculature (xXx) and technology (Mission: Impossible), a new secret agent was dragged spluttering into a paranoid new century. He was fraught, fractured, thrilling, relevant. He was Bourne, Jason Bourne: everything Bond had ceased to be. “The Bourne films are fantastic,” admits Broccoli. “Very much like the early Bonds in a way. They reflect the times they’re inhabiting. We knew we needed a reinvention. Because if you don’t change, you die.” Wilson, too, knew the moment had arrived. “After Die Another Day, we’d have a guaranteed winner if we just did the same thing again,” he explains. “But we’d moved into fantasy. We would have lost what’s most important. We needed to re-energize ourselves. Barbara and I were desperately afraid. But here was the chance.”
A gambler’s chance, for sure. And as a Bond Begins genesis reboot, Casino Royale registered killer odds. Abortively filmed twice before, as a one-hour US TV special in 1954 and a misjudged spoof in 1967, Bond’s first ever adventure was written by Ian Fleming in less than three months in 1952. (Fleming, being Fleming, bought a gold-plated typewriter to celebrate. Decades later, Brosnan paid £52,500 for it.) It was, he declared, “the thriller to end all thrillers” and sees Agent 007 battle terrorist banker Le Chiffre at a game of high-stakes baccarat (poker in the film) in Montenegro’s Le Casino Royale. Win: he destroys Le Chiffre’s organisation. Lose: Bond’s stake will have indirectly funded a new reign of global terror.
Sex? Hit me. Espionage? Hit me. Violence? Hit me again. Gadgets? Forget them. Chiselled by his wartime job as a Reuters journalist, Fleming’s flinty prose features nothing of the sort. Goodbye invisible cars. Goodbye John Cleese. Welcome back GoldenEye director Martin Campbell, signed to break in his second Bond with a lean $100 million budget and some helpful dos-and-don’ts from Wilson (“Do make it exciting, but reality-based”) and Broccoli (“Don’t make a bad film”). With Crash scribbler Paul Haggis “polishing” the script by Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, Bond 21 is deeper, darker, harsher. And, according to Craig, still Bond. “Everything’s there,” he assures. “The girls are there. The Aston Martin DBS is phenomenal – I’m ragging the arse off it.” And the gags? “We’ve got the gags. Funny gags,” he says, seriously. “That’s Bond and I’m as big a fan as anyone. Believe me. I know people assume we’re fucking with it. We’re not fucking with it.”
And who, exactly, is going to fuck with Daniel Craig? In Casino Royale’s concussive pre-credit opener, the 38-year-old Liverpudlian hit the screen with blistering impact. Two shattering kills, one dirty (a savage close-quarter beating), one clean (a bullet through the brain). Double-Oh!, indeed. “It gets better than that!” exclaims Craig, rubbing his hands together. “I wanted it as gritty and as real as possible. If he hasn’t got a gun, you have to look around and think, ‘Well, that fucking table looks good!’ I mean, that’s the reality of it. Chokeholds, elbows, fucking everything. It’s bloody. It’s bloody as hell. I had black eyes most of the way through the movie. But that’s what I wanted: to show that Bond gets fucked up – that’s reality.”
Taking From Russia With Love and The Ipcress File as retro-style touchstones, Martin Campbell also relished the new approach. “Not to say we’re doing Hamlet, but having an actor of Dan’s ability makes a huge difference,” he says. “Of all the books, Casino Royale formulates the character of Bond and I think Dan probably encapsulates what Fleming was talking about.” But what was Fleming talking about? James Bond, he wrote, was “as cool about death as a surgeon”, envisaged somewhere between David Niven and dapper musician Hoagy Carmichael. Certainly, those “cold and ruthless eyes” that sparkle from the first pages of Casino Royale belong to Craig. Not that some fans gave a damn. Too old. Not pretty. Can’t drive. Too bland. Too blond. Too blond? “Obviously!” laughs the actor. “Jesus Christ, how else is he going to be undercover?!” Craig shakes his head. “I said, ‘Let’s cut it short, let’s not make it a coif issue!’ I scrub up, you know. Apart from when I wear a T-shirt covered in shit. You remember that?”
We do. That would be on-set in the Bahamas. A bronzed, buffed-up Craig emerging from the surf – a new Bond, a new Ursula Andress – to don ragged safari gear for the film’s first major set-piece: 007 chasing down terrorist bomber Mollaka (free-runner Sebastien Foucon) in a spectacular helter-skelter chase. Soaked with blood, mud and sweat, Bond crashes through scrub-land, leaps between 150ft cranes and finally bulldozes through a building site to bring down his spring-heeled foe. Explosions. Shoot-outs. Car smashes. Machete fights. Casino Royale has action, all right. But wait for the finale – a race against time set in a sinking Venetian mansion. “Most of my films end with a fucking big explosion,” chuckles the director. “But Royale is different. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best ending ever in a Bond film.” ...