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Bond gets roughed up

Daniel Craig would make a gritty 007, with the looks, the quirks Fleming intended.

October 14, 2005|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

STEELY blue eyes, check; cruel mouth, check; cold and ruthless manner, check, check; eerie resemblance to songwriter Hoagy Carmichael -- actually, now that you mention it, yeah.

The announcement expected today that British actor Daniel Craig will play James Bond in "Casino Royale" would end months of gossip and speculation that had everyone from Clive Owen to Colin Farrell stepping into the impeccably polished shoes left by Pierce Brosnan. And Brosnan, who was publicly quite irritated by the decision to end his tenure, can comfort himself with the knowledge that it wasn't so much that he's too old as the fact that he's, well, too handsome.

"It's a good time to go with a grittier Bond," says Esquire style director Nick Sullivan. "The super-suave spy doesn't have the credibility it did in the '60s and '70s."

With thinning hair, rather broad features and a lean, almost rangy figure, Craig has a chameleon-like quality that has allowed him to take on a wide assortment of roles in the last few years. He was the murderously petulant son in "Road to Perdition" and the skanky handyman in "The Mother." He was poet Ted Hughes in "Sylvia" and the middle-class drug dealer in "Layer Cake." Craig has played a series of unflinchingly "real" characters -- none of whom had the swoon factor so often associated with Bond.

But "gritty" seems to be the new key ingredient to sex appeal on screens large and small. Gone is the immaculate charm of Cary Grant or David Niven; today's leading men are flawed heroes, tough talking and more often than not sporting fresh wounds. Which, as many Bond watchers have pointed out, is closer to novelist Ian Fleming's vision.

Fleming never meant for Bond to be a trophy spy. Sophisticated, yes, and possessing the confidence that translates easily into sexiness, Bond was nevertheless a man who could commit acts of violence with a marked absence of postmodern soul-searching. Fleming wanted his man to be a cipher -- an avid bird watcher, he named 007 (the 00 indicates a license to kill) after the author of "Birds of the West Indies." The closest thing to an actual description of the man who has come to be a symbol of sleek, suave masculinity is actually found in "Casino Royale." In it, Vesper Lynd (Bond's love interest du jour) remarks that Bond "reminds rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless."

"The image of James Bond conjures charisma," said illustrator Mike Grell, who has drawn Bond for two graphic novels. "But [the casting of Craig] follows with what Fleming wrote. Bond was not unattractive, but there was a cruelty about his mouth and he was more real than Hollywood has portrayed him."

Grell, the Seattle-based artist best known for his work on "Warlord" and "Green Arrow," took Fleming's "Casino Royale" description to heart. The Bond that appears in Grell's adaptation of "Licence to Kill" and "Permission to Die," a three-part original Bond story put out by Eclipse, looks very much like the guy who wrote "Star Dust" and "Skylark." Carmichael, who died in 1981, also had a Hollywood career, appearing in a few films, including "To Have and Have Not" and "The Best Years of Our Lives." With his prominent nose and ears, Carmichael was not conventionally handsome, but he did project a certain charm.

According to Grell, Craig is closer to the original, blond locks or no.

"He looks like he could actually do the sort of things Bond does, which is hard for actors to do since most of them are nice guys who don't pack guns or rappel from helicopters to shoot people," says Grell.

Or spend their days at the Playboy Mansion. James Bond has always been more than a superspy. Brought into American consciousness in part by fan John F. Kennedy, himself a mixture of ruthlessness and charm, Bond has become an icon of posh masculine style. But styles change; Hugh Hefner is no longer a social avatar. In "Die Another Day," Halle Berry renovated the Bond girl, making her less arm candy, more fighting machine. Now it seems turnabout is fair play.

"Bond is not a peacock," says Sullivan. "He is a very tough character. He smoked two packs a day, drank straight vodka. He has the best of everything, but then it's more 'let's get down to business.' "

Sullivan, who co-wrote "Dressed to Kill: James Bond: The Suited Hero" (which, for the record, has Pierce Brosnan on the cover), says that each of the five actors who have played Bond has brought something different to the role. And each, he adds, started off tougher than he wound up. "If you watch the films, they each start off with good tough intentions. But they all grew more tongue-in-cheek."

According to Grell, Timothy Dalton was able to capture Bond's mean streak the best, though his favorite Bond was, of course, Sean Connery. "That's not even a question. You go with what you grew up with."

But Sullivan found Dalton the least convincing because "he looked so uncomfortable in a suit." Craig's success, he says, will depend as much on how well he works with the clothes as it will on the script.

The actor's Bond may be more "real," but he shouldn't show up in ripped jeans "or God forbid a track suit." Men's style, Sullivan says, is heading back to the tailored. "Italian suits, English suits, dressing well to go out -- which is good timing for a new Bond."

As Grell points out, Sony, the studio making the movie, may be going for a grittier Bond, but only in context -- it is a 40-year-old franchise, second only to "Star Wars" in financial success. "They're not going to tinker with it too much," Grell says.

And why should they? James Bond embodies the two most popular themes in literature: sex and death. Add a well-tailored suit, and really, what more do you need?

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