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Here comes trouble

Movies | THREE FROM THE DARK SIDE

Craig. Daniel Craig. Can he make the role of James Bond his own? He's giving it a serious shot.

November 12, 2006|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

London — THERE has always been something adolescent about 007. Sure, Britain's best-known secret agent occasionally bears the fate of the free world on his deltoids. What he hasn't shouldered, as he's whizzed from one adventure to another over the last 44 years, is the ordinary responsibilities and commitments of a modern adult male. He's an eternal lad, with a teenager's contempt for authority and the ring-a-ding-ding Rat Packer's attitude toward women that real men outgrow about the time they realize Maxim isn't seriously meant to be a guide to life.

It's worth noting, then, that Daniel Craig, the latest embodiment of Bond in Columbia Picture's "Casino Royale," opening Friday, is a 38-year-old grown-up. And how do we know this actor is a man, not a boy playing movie superstud?

The evidence is in how he digested the brickbats of Bond nerds who flooded cyberspace with objections to his assuming the role. It's there in how he approaches his job, including the parts of it he'd rather not do. And it's there in the way he describes himself as "very happily not single," at a time when imminent international stardom makes him highly desirable to any number of ambitious women. That's bloody mature.

On a warm October morning in London's Soho, a grimy district where entertainment companies exist in close proximity to ethnic restaurants and shops that sell sex toys, Craig blows into his publicist's office as if propelled by a stiff wind. He has pale eyebrows, chiseled cheeks covered with blond stubble and eyes of clear blue, blue enough for him to have convincingly played Paul Newman's son in "Road to Perdition." Something about his energy suggests that he arrived on a motorcycle. (He didn't.) Maybe it's the cool, masculine, Steve McQueen aura that surrounds him.

Before production began on "Casino Royale," Craig put on 20 pounds of muscle, and he's still pumped up. He's dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt with a white wife-beater peeking out at the hip. The big Omega Seamaster Professional 300M watch he wears in the movie covers one wrist.

This is who Esquire magazine chose as the best dressed man in the world this year? He grunts, then says, "I'm not going to get into that. This time of the day, on a Monday morning, this is the best I can do."

Ah, the indignities of publicity. "I dislike that I have to get involved in it because it's selling, and I didn't get into this business to be a salesman," he says. "I'm an actor. But now that I'm involved more, I realize that if you don't sell the movie, no one's going to see it. I can see the benefit. I'm not stupid. I get it."

Esquire fashion editor Nick Sullivan says the best-dressed award was less about Craig's style acumen than Bond's, testament to the fact that the two men, the real and the fictional, tend to be confused in the public mind. The merging of performer and character ignores the fundamental ability of an actor to transform himself into a closeted gay Mormon; a not-too-bright, sexually carnivorous carpenter; a bloodthirsty Israeli Mossad agent; a dangerously virile poet; and a needy murderer, all of which Craig has done, in "Angels in America" at the National Theater in London and on-screen in "The Mother," "Munich," "Sylvia" and "Infamous."

Craig began acting in his teens in Liverpool and worked his way up through small theater productions, television shows, better stage roles and more than two dozen films. He knows he now stands poised to become a worldwide movie star, and it would be against his nature to sleepwalk through the opportunity. So he starts the interview from an intelligently wary place, quickly warms up to funny, can't quite help being charming and ultimately carries the encounter all the way to thoughtful. Maybe his comments aren't really all that profound, but he has an incredible voice, a resonant basso profundo that's sometimes emphatic, other times a silken growl. Whether he likes it or not, that voice could sell burgers to vegetarians.

When the selection of the star of the 21st film in the Bond series was announced, a hail of criticism was unleashed in forums on such websites as CommanderBond.net and Absolutely James Bond (ajb007.co.uk). The highly emotional objections covered everything from his blond hair to his working-class background. He just didn't fulfill everyone's Bond fantasies. Craig would have had to hole up in a heavily fortified storm cellar to avoid the tempest.

"At first, I had a horrible kind of sadomasochistic fascination, and the feeling that I had to read it all," Craig says. "A lot of it was name-calling. Playground stuff. But it's hard not to take it in, on some level."

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