'We had to be bigger and better than Skyfall' - Daniel Craig talks Spectre, stunts, old school Bond, and Mike Meyers' parodies
It’s three years since Daniel Craig last appeared on the big screen, but far from sitting back and enjoying some down time between 2012 and now, he’s been busy working on Spectre – the 24th movie in the Bond franchise and the follow-up to the global smash Skyfall, which raked in more than $1bn (€900m) at the box office.
“This has been two years in the making, so realistically speaking I went from Skyfall on to this,” says Craig, looking relaxed in jeans, a white T-shirt and blue cardigan. “There wasn’t a gap for me. It may appear there was, but I’ve been working on this for so long.”
The remit for Spectre was simple.
“We wanted it to be better than Skyfall,” says Craig. “We didn’t have a choice – we had to be bigger and better. With Skyfall, we set something in motion and we wanted to go a bit further with it and experiment a bit more.”
The 47-year-old star, who debuted as 007 in 2006’s Casino Royale (who can forget those still-iconic shots of Craig in those light-blue swimming trunks?), admits Mike Myers’ Austin Powers movies made life difficult for the franchise for a while.
“He did such a great job of parodying all of the old Bond and spy movies that you couldn’t make jokes about Bond without it feeling like it was parody, but we’ve spent a huge amount of time on this movie just trying to find the humour in it,” says Craig.
And with Spectre, he and the director Sam Mendes, who reunited following the success of Skyfall, felt the time was right to nod to the Bond films of old.
“We could work with a slightly different style from the other films I’ve done,” says Craig, who makes his fourth outing in Spectre as the MI6 agent with a licence to kill.
“The film is very individual but also harks back a little to what has gone before in the Bond films of the Sixties and Seventies.”
Their shared desire to “get back to some of that old-school glamour” and “push it to extremes” is evident, from the cars and gadgets to the inexplicable number of costume changes.
“It’s a Bond movie. You’ve got to make it look as beautiful and as glamorous as possible, and hopefully you tick all the boxes,” says Craig.
In Spectre, a cryptic message form the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City, the setting for one of the most impressive opening sequences in the franchise’s 53-year history.
And that’s just for starters, with the action swiftly moving on to Rome, where Bond meets Mafioso widow Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), then the slopes of Austria where he finds Doctor Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and the parched landscape of the African desert.
“Skyfall was an entirely reactive movie, as far as Bond was concerned,” says Mendes.
“In the first sequence, he was pursuing somebody with all his old focus and drive, but he gets shot before the credits even roll, and for the rest of the movie he’s one step behind Javier Bardem’s character, Silva.
“You could even argue that at the end of Skyfall, he’s failed. He hasn’t kept M alive, hence this time I wanted to give him a chance of redemption.”
Aided by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond has to contend with Max Denbigh (Dubliner Andrew Scott), the man appointed head of the Centre For National Security, who questions the need for field agents in this day and age – while also attempting to unearth the origins and meaning of a sinister group known as Spectre.
The infamous organisation has featured in six previous Bond films and introduced a whole host of villains.
In this chapter, they’re not adhering to any previous versions of Spectre, but rather “rediscovering” it – as well as the super-villain, this time played by the two-times Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser.
“Having Spectre in the film opens up lots of avenues for us to explore,” says Craig. “Having this organisation allows us to be traditional while also bringing in something very new.”
Every Bond villain needs a henchman, of course, and in this movie it’s Hinx, played by wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista.
Craig recalls accidentally hitting his herculean co-star on the nose during a stunt sequence set on a speeding train.
“I thought he’d come after me, but he was so sweet about it. He said, ‘Look, it’s happened before. Don’t worry about it’,” says Craig, who likes to keep the stunts “as real and fresh as possible”.
Naturally, the Bond franchise has its loyal fans, some of whom have been known to mix fact with fiction.
Asked if he has ever experienced any overly-zealous fans attempting to “take Bond on”, Craig says: “Sometimes, but it’s okay. You just smile sweetly, it’s all good. Sometimes people also say, ‘You look like Daniel Craig’, and I’ll say, ‘Really? Thank you’.”
Craig and his wife Rachel Weisz, who won an Oscar for her role in 2005’s The Constant Gardener, are one of Hollywood’s most private couples, but he doesn’t ever regret taking on one of cinema’s most iconic roles.
“No, not for a minute,” says the actor, who has a daughter, Ella, from his first marriage to actress Fiona Loudon.
“I was aware of the loss of privacy that could come with the role going in, and I’ve remained as private as I possibly can.
“That for me is the most important thing, but I’ve also managed to make the movies, which are also incredibly important to me.”
Next year, he’ll return to the stage for an off Broadway production of Othello.
Craig will appear as Iago alongside David Oyelowo, a man who some have tipped to be his 007 successor and the first Black Bond.
There’s much talk of whether Spectre marks Craig’s final outing as the iconic spy, and despite the actor making headlines for joking that he’d “rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again”, he refuses to confirm either way – for now.
“I love making these films and the chance to come and make a movie after Skyfall was a huge challenge,” Craig concludes.
However, he offers up some advice to whoever does get involved with making any future Bond films – “just make them better.”