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Craig grounded amid 007 hype
Craig grounded amid 007 hype

Sitting in an empty hotel room waiting to interview Daniel Craig is proving to be a daunting experience. It's not the fact 007 himself is one of Hollywood's hottest properties - both in the looks and bankability departments - that's leaving me a little shaken and stirred but by all accounts the 20,000km Craig has travelled over the past two weeks promoting the latest film in the Bond franchise, Skyfall, have taken their toll on the 44-year-old.

Australia is the last stop on the star's worldwide tour and it's clear, as Craig walks into the room at Sydney's Intercontinental Hotel looking typically dapper in a navy suit and matching tie and handkerchief, he's pretty much said all he can about the film.

Like Bond himself I need a gadget, something to defuse the situation. So I pull out my trump card, introducing myself by telling him I grew up just a stone's throw from his old stomping ground of Cheshire, in the north-west of England.

It works a treat as Craig's face lights up with memories of day trips to the coastal town of Southport where you can enjoy walks along the promenade and the beach is one big mudflat.

"Oh I used to go to Southport all the time as a kid," Craig says, a glint in his ice-blue eyes. "That's where they trained (racehorse) Red Rum isn't it . . . on the beach there. The tide goes out for like 2 1/2 miles. It's like you have to say to people 'Honestly, the sea's there really'."

It's perhaps a little indulgent of me to start off trying to get chummy with my subject. But when you have 11 minutes with someone who, by his own admission, isn't entirely comfortable with the whole interview set-up, you'll try anything to break the ice.

And with Craig, once the ice is broken, it's a different man we see to the steely-faced MI6 agent who parades around in a tuxedo looking suave and chasing baddies in the Bond films.

For a start, he's much slighter than on the big screen - and surprisingly down-to-earth, a product perhaps of his working class upbringing (his father was a publican, his mother an art teacher). He also likes to have a laugh, according to fellow cast mates Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe, who told me earlier that Craig would entertain them between takes with impersonations and goofy antics.

Still, despite having been in the business since he was 24, and now on his third Bond film, Craig is still a man to whom the concept of celebrity is quite baffling.

"I don't know . . . it doesn't make any sense," says the clean-shaven Craig, sitting a little uncomfortably in his chair, seemingly prepared for the fact we only have a short time together. "I'm a boy from the Wirral (north-west England). I've been doing it long enough now so it's not like it's suddenly happened but it makes no sense to me whatsoever sometimes."

Adding to the intensity of it all is that Skyfall - released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bond - is now the most successful film in the franchise with its worldwide box-office gross currently standing at $668.8 million. As we talk, Craig's face is plastered on every billboard and flagpole across the harbour city.

However, that people have responded so well to Skyfall has made what is usually a tedious part of the job that bit more enjoyable for the film's leading man.

"I have done press junkets when the movie has not been well received and that can be like pulling teeth," says Craig, whose 2011 film Dream House starring his now wife Rachel Weisz was critically panned. "But when people are enjoying the film . . . look, people get very cynical about the film business because they go 'Oh, it's just money-making' but when you make a movie like this that gets people excited you realise that's why you do it."

So what is it about the 23rd Bond movie that sets it apart from the rest?

At the Australian premiere, Bond producer Barbara Broccoli was asked the same question. Hers was a two-word response.

"Daniel Craig," she said. "We have a fantastic James Bond. It started with him."

Former 007 Roger Moore has also lauded Craig saying: "To me he looks like a killer. He looks as though he knows what he's doing. I look as though I might cheat at backgammon."

Of course Craig, who almost turned down the offer of taking over from Pierce Brosnan, is more modest. He puts Skyfall's success down to writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and director Sam Mendes.

"It all boils down to a good script and then a director who wants to tell that story and Sam is a great storyteller," Craig says. "Action movies I like, Bond films included, always engage you. They pull you in a bit emotionally. It's not Chekhov - no one is going to get it wrong.

"But you want the audience to be emotionally involved and the idea is to trick the audience as much as possible and keep them surprised."

It was Craig who convinced fellow Brit Mendes, whose last film was the sweet indie flick Away We Go, to sign on as director, knowing he had the passion and attention to detail to take Bond to new levels - and that's what he has done, delivering a film few critics have been able to find fault with.

Skyfall, which centres around a targeted attack on M (Judi Dench) and her colleagues at MI6, is packed with all the action you would expect from a 007 film. It is also the most personal to date, tapping into the secret agent's tragic backstory. It's also deeply funny. "I suppose Roger's movies were always full of gags," Craig says of the film's dry humour. "His movies were defined by the funny parts but we didn't really go out to write gags.

"We just wanted to put in a couple of one- liners because you kind of just want to release some of Bond's and everyone's tension. It's like when you're in class at school and being told to be quiet and then someone says something stupid."

Craig puts his hand over his mouth pretending to laugh. "That's the kind of laughter you want. The one you can't quite control."

Another source of humour in Skyfall comes from the chemistry between Craig's Bond and the villainous cyberterrorist Raoul Silva, played by Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem. Just as Craig is being heralded as the best Bond ever, so too Bardem has taken his place at the top of the pile of baddies, thanks to his magnificent performance.

Craig smiles when I ask him what it was like filming the scene where Silva meets Bond for the first time (I won't spoil it here). "Poor Javier, God bless him," Craig says with a laugh. "He speaks brilliant English.

"I don't know what your Spanish is like, mine is terrible. Imagine being given a page and a half of dialogue in Spanish, (then) walk up a room and look cool and make sense of it, then do the scene at the end. It was a lot of work for him. But we put a lot of work into getting it right. The whole play between the two of them was funny as hell. It made me laugh."

Craig also delivered a few chuckles earlier this year when he starred alongside the Queen in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. It was during filming of Skyfall that Craig was approached by ceremony director Danny Boyle and asked to star in a cameo. Some time later he found himself walking into Buckingham Palace dressed as Bond and then seemingly making a dramatic entrance to the Olympic stadium by parachute with Her Majesty.

"Look, Danny came to the set and said (Craig puts on his best Lancashire accent) 'Look, I've got this idea'," the actor explains. "He didn't tell me he had already told the palace so it was like a done deal. It was literally a Godfather moment - an offer I couldn't refuse."

So did the pair, dare I say it, bond? Does he now get to call her Liz?

"Does anyone get to call her Liz," Craig says with a laugh. "It was over before the blink of an eye but she was very sweet and very welcoming and genuinely wanted to do something a bit different. But I didn't sit and chat to her. She's not on my speed dial or anything."

Craig didn't get a chance to watch the opening ceremony until he returned home to the US where he watched it on DVD. It did, of course, make him immensely proud to be British. However, as much as he loves the UK, for Craig, home is now New York, where he enjoys relative anonymity with Weisz.

The pair married in a low-key ceremony in New York last year, the only guests being Craig's 18-year-old daughter Ella from his first marriage to actress Fiona Loudon and Weisz' four-year-old son Henry from her relationship with American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.

"New York's a really busy city and people have got more important things to do than worry about me," Craig says.

"At the moment it's crazy because, well, you came to the hotel; I'm on flags! So I can't really get away from it at the moment but it will die down. Today's news is tomorrow's chip paper."

As the Australian audience finally gets the chance to see what all the fuss is about that seems hard to imagine.

'It all boils down to a good script and then a director who wants to tell that story and Sam is a great storyteller. Action movies I like, Bond films included, always engage you. They pull you in a bit emotionally. It's not Chekhov . . . . no one is going to get it wrong.'