Daniel Craig is on the line from London. He’s being cagey, as if there’s something unmanly about opening up to the media. James Bond would never sit still for it. When I reassure him I’m more curious about Bond’s private life than his own, he expresses relief. Frankly, I’m relieved we’re not talking face to face. Two years ago in New York, when he sat down with a group of journalists to promote his Bond debut in Casino Royale, it was unnerving just to be in the same room. He had a brusque manner and ice-blue eyes that looked like they could bore a hole through your skull. But he was feeling especially prickly then, after skeptics had derided the idea of a blond Bond and dubbed him Mr. Potato Head.
Craig got even, and then some. Now as he anticipates the Nov. 14 launch of the oddly titled Quantum of Solace, the 22nd movie in cinema’s most successful franchise, he has no one to live up to but himself. Casino Royale became the most lucrative Bond movie of all, earning $600 million worldwide. Craig was widely hailed as the best actor ever to have tackled the role. And, blondness notwithstanding, he incarnated the dark menace of the character novelist Ian Fleming created 55 years ago. The debonair stylings of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan had reduced 007 to a male model in a pageant of gadgets, gizmos and campy innuendo. Craig repatriated Bond’s masculinity with visceral power, recasting him as a sophisticated thug. A Bond with balls.
James Bond is the most enduring male sex symbol in the history of movies, and as he gets caught in the riptides of masculine fashion, every era gets the Bond it deserves. In an age that fetishizes hardened physiques and retro styles of macho chic, Craig has created a rugged, messed-up, hyper-masculine 007 who is knotted with repressed rage and treats women as an alien species. “I wish I could say it was my idea,” says Craig, “but Fleming’s Bond is full of self-doubt and his relationship with women is very strange.”
Does Bond even like women? I ask Craig.
“I think he adores them,” he says. “If you’re asking, does he like the touch of a woman’s skin, yes, he does. In handfuls. But the way I perceive it, he has had a male life for a long time, surrounded by men because he’d been fighting for so long . . . I think he has a deep respect for M, and it’s fantastic that Judi [Dench] plays M because that relationship is the key to the whole thing.”
Could M be a kind of Bond girl?
“She is the Bond girl,” says Craig, “because she’s the one person that he probably respects and loves more than anybody.”
Bond’s matriarchal boss has, in fact, been given a larger role in Quantum of Solace, which is a direct sequel to Casino Royale (again co-written by Canadian Paul Haggis). And the movie’s theme, Craig explains, is “loyalty—finding out where your true loyalties lie.”
So if Bond loves M, and M represents the the Queen and Mother England, maybe Bond is just another English schoolboy trying to live up to an imperious mum and an absent dad. Which brings us right back to Ian Fleming, an upper-class Eton boy who lost his father in the Great War at 8 (Winston Churchill wrote his obituary); who fled to Jamaica and thrived on drink, adultery and rough sex; who died at 56 not long after attending his mother’s funeral against the advice of doctors who said he was too ill to go.