James Bond has battled world-class megalomaniacs and international conspiracies, but had he ever faced foes as venomous as the British tabloids and Internet fanboys who blasted the 007 movie producers for casting Daniel Craig as the superspy? Throughout the production this year of Casino Royale, Craig known for leading roles in small British films like Enduring Love and Layer Cake as well as supporting roles in Hollywood dramas like Road to Perdition and Munich was the target of scurrilous rumors about his alleged ineptitude as an action hero and even criticism about his blond hair. But in a film that strips away the gadgetry and excess of the franchise to focus on character, it was important to have an accomplished actor in the role. ''He is the main gadget in this film,'' co-star Mads Mikkelsen says of Craig, ''and that's the point.''
Now that the film is being released to strong reviews, Craig is getting the last word. The 38-year-old actor has signed on to make two more 007 sequels, but lately, promoting the movie around the world has been his full-time job. He certainly looked the part in a dapper gray Brioni suit when EW.com spoke to him last week at a Manhattan hotel.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Given all the baggage and expectations associated with starring in this franchise, why did you accept the role?
DANIEL CRAIG: It's a simple answer, and there's no bulls--- attached to it. The script was great. I read it, and I thought, ''If you don't do this, you're going to regret not having a go at it.'' [Bond is] one of the most iconic figures in movie history, and I'm an actor. If I don't take on challenges like this, what's the point? I've been very happy with what I've been doing, and I so didn't expect this to happen. I had other plans. But this came along, and [producer] Barbara Broccoli is very persuasive. She made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
Which of the action sequences was hardest to film?
They were all pretty grueling. I picked up injuries and strained muscles. I understand now a little more about how professional athletes are constantly working through pain. Strapping and painkillers go a long way.
We wanted [viewers] to feel the pain of it. It's all happening, and if it's not me doing it, it's someone else doing it, and they're getting hurt. You ask a stuntman what it's like falling down a flight of stairs, he'll say, ''It feels like you're falling down a f---ing flight of stairs.''
How about the sequence where you're tortured by a whip-cracking Le Chiffre (the villain, played by Mikkelsen)?
The easiest scene in the movie to shoot, I hate to say. It took a day. It was on the page. Mads is a fantastic actor, and we figured it out together. I sat in a corner and listened to some music the Clash, the Foo Fighters, just great guitar music and got myself used to the idea that he cannot lose even though he knows he's going to die. It was remarkably easy, apart from the fact that the bottom of the chair cracked at one point and I jumped 8 feet in the air and yelled ''Stop!'' I left the room rather quickly.
How did all the bad press directed at you during production affect you?
I won't lie to you. It affected me. But what can I do? I can't answer it. I can't get on the Internet sites and start [makes typing gestures and sniveling noises]. I get the passion that people feel for this. I understand it. But I make films. Normally, I make the film, then the press screening happens, and I wait for the reviews. It was like, ''See the f---ing movie, and then you can say what you like about it.'' There's no point in getting into arguments about the way I look.
Many viewers are gasping at how buff you appear in the swimsuit scene. What's the James Bond workout?
Nothing special. I went to the gym, I pushed weights, I ran about. It was intense. I did an hour and a half every day. We increased the weights rapidly because that's the only way to build up, and I was on a high-protein diet. At the end of the workout, I'd do 20 minutes on the bike to keep the fat down. There's no real secret to it. You can find it in any heath magazine. I've kept up going to the gym, but not quite as intently as during the film.
Are you a martini drinker?
A good one, there's nothing like it. I'm not bad at mixing them, either. I used to do that in pubs and bars. I'm quite particular about them.
Are you worried about stereotyping, about being trapped in the role of Bond?
It's a very high-class problem to have, to get trapped in that. There are worse things. I count myself very blessed to be in a situation like this. I'm not looking for a way of countering it. I'm just going to enjoy it.
You're about to play Lord Asriel in The Golden Compass, the first of three movies adapted from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
Those are three of my favorite books. They're fantastic children's books. They're about love and growing up.
How do you explain 007's continuing relevance in a post-Cold War world?
I don't know that we're any less confused than we ever were. That's what's enduring about the character. He seems to know the answers. At least he knows where the bad guys are and he goes and gets them. That's what I want to see in my Bond character, a guy who knows what he's up to.
Did you study the old Bonds?
I read most of the books. I watched all the movies. There's a huge lineage, a huge history, and to ignore it would be stupid. I just soaked it up. When I was relaxing in my trailer, I'd put one of the movies on. I didn't want to miss a trick.
Did you get any advice from past Bonds?
Is there a secret group? I was trying to decide whether I'd be kidnapped one night, and get a bag over my head, and then, ''Oh, hi, guys.'' [Laughs.] Pierce Brosnan's been very supportive. He just said, ''Go for it. You'll have the ride of your life.''
Which of the past Bonds is your favorite?
Sean Connery defined it. From Russia With Love is one of my favorite films. It's no reflection on any of the others, but when I think of Bond, I think of him.
How important was it for you to make your novice Bond an imperfect character?
I didn't go out to make him likable. I wanted to show someone who changed. I wanted to see a fallible human being, someone who makes mistakes.
How will Bond continue to evolve in the next couple of movies?
We've set up the idea now that there's an organization out there that needs to be sorted out, and he's got a sense of revenge. The process is still happening. We don't have the finished article yet. He's still too headstrong and doesn't always make the right decisions. I want to make another good movie. I don't want to let the ball drop.
Next page: Our interview with Eva Green