007 never lowers his guard, and neither does the man who plays him — until now
HERE COMES DANIEL Craig now, slipping into the murky environs of a murky Manhattan hotel, shades on, looking quite sportif in white pants and the thinnest of white V-neck T-shirts, short-sleeved, muscle-filled, easing into the further shadows of the room, taking a seat, taking off the shades, ordering a beer, saying a few words about what he's been up to since shooting ended on his latest James Bond movie, Skyfall ("Um, drinking heavily. And reconnecting with family and self), saying a few words about the movie itself ("It's quite good. It's got a lightness of touch and a wink to it, because, after all, this is a James Bond movie, for fuck's sake"), and saying a few words about signing up to do two more Bond movies after this one ("I've been trying to get out of this from the very moment I got into it, but they won't let me go, and I've agreed to do a couple more, but let's see how this one does, because business is business and if the shit goes down, I've got a contract that somebody will happily wipe their ass with"). He looks at his beer. His beer is gone. He orders another one and then proceeds to tell the filthiest joke ever.
"What's the most disgusting thing you can think of?" He doesn't pause. His Liverpudlian accent jumps right to the punch line. "Shoving five oysters up your grandmother's cunt and sucking out six!"
This leads to considerable open-mouthed laughter on Craig's part, along with the somewhat disconcerting news that he has indeed told his wife, the British actress Rachel Weisz, whom he married in secret last year, the oyster joke and she liked it. "I think it took her, like, 30 seconds to get it," he says. "But, I mean, she's not a shrinking violet, for Christ's sake."
Maybe not, but it's still kind of startling to hear those words come out of Craig's mouth, if only because he's not a guy usually given to telling jokes in public, any kind of jokes. Mainly, he's known for keeping his trap shut and speaking only to complain about the loss of privacy that being Bond has caused him and to say that, nope, no way is he going to blabber about anything personal. And then, there he'll sit, stonily, his face blank, his expression dour. Indeed, the editors at Esquire were so flummoxed by Craig's granitic facade that they ended up running an interview with the writer who interviewed Craig instead of the Craig interview itself. He really does have a gift for the buttoned lip.
But today, that Craig is not so much in evidence. He seems loose and agreeable, friendly even, at least at times, and open to talking about his willingness to display full-frontal nudity in films, his past problems with jealousy, the thing he has about his ears, his inability to resist self-Googling, how he once stood lookout in a frozen-duck shoplifting caper, why, in a charity auction, his wife won't be bidding on his hunky-trim 007 swimsuit, the ways in which he is not like Bond, his trips to a shrink, and the definition of "white-man porn." Taken as a whole, they seem to say a lot about the kind of guy Craig, 44, is. Oh, and let's not forget him discussing the age at which he started "finger-banging" girls. That might say something too.
CASINO ROYALE OPENED IN 2006, and instantly Craig became an international-type sensation. Before that, he was really only known back home in England, where he had starred in a popular TV series and numerous highbrow art-house movies, as well as the grisly, twisty gangster flick Layer Cake (2004), the greatest non-Guy Ritchie Guy Ritchie movie ever. In the U.S., his films were either little-seen (Road to Perdition) or terrible mistakes (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and he was barely noticed. But then he was hired to become the sixth James Bond in the 21st Bond movie, a casting decision that initially baffled and infuriated fans (his hair color is wrong, he's too short, he supposedly has never driven a stick shift and is given to bouts of unmanly seasickness, etc., etc.). In the event, of course, he was heralded as the best 007 since Sean Connery and far superior to the now greatly diminished also-rans, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. He was praised for his "urgent, contemporary virility," and for being "the most complicated Bond by miles," being "the first proper bleeder," and being "a beautiful thug," and for the intensely brutal new levels of hardcore quip-free violence he brought to the proceedings and that were also unleashed on him, especially during the ultrasadistic lisa, She Wolf of the SS torture scene where his nuts got slapped basically up into his intestines. The second Craig-as-Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, was less successful (mainly because a writers' strike made it impossible to start filming with any kind of complete script), but it still made money ($576 million compared to the previous installment's $599 million; says Craig, "We did what had to be done") and, if you like dark, it was plenty dark, with Bond furiously hellbent on avenging the death of girlfriend Vesper Lynd, Judi Dench's M and opportunities for the usual scenic product-placement moments be damned.
And now there's Skyfall. "Where the hell have you been?" M asks him early on. "Enjoying death," he responds, which says it all concerning this particular Bond and the psychological depths that are about to be revealed as he tries to save mommy-figure M from seductive cyberterrorist Silva, who is played by a very swish Javier Bardem and out-evils even Jaws and Blofeld, the worst of the worst from the previous Bond flicks. Skyfall will probably do as well as, if not better than, its predecessors, not only because it's a great movie but also because for the past 50 years, Bond movies have proved surprisingly enduring and resilient. Just like Bond himself, they do not fail. Maybe nobody lines up for them the way they do for hobbit and wizard flicks; but, still, as one astute Bond theorist wrote, the man has "survived one crumbling context after another, from the Cold War to the counterculture, from feminism to postmodernism, and thus exists outside of all of them." No matter the obstacle, he is always on the case, our last, best, existential hope, the queen's gift to humanity, our kickass babe-scoring salvation.
For his part, Craig has made him tougher, meaner, dirtier, sexier and, to cinch the dramatic deal, in a stroke of genius, pretty darn human at the core, with far-reaching consequences for Craig himself. "One night, I was walking home," he says, "and some kids said, 'You got a light?' I had a light on me — I must have been smoking — and I lent them that and they looked at me and went, 'Oh! You're the guy that does that white-man porn! James Bond!' And I went, 'That's me!'" He starts laughing, a great big open laugh. "I completely understood that. That's where I fit into the pecking order. That's my place. I'm that guy. I'm the guy who does the white-man porn."
And so here he sits, the white-man-porn guy, nursing his beer, looking sharp in all white. His blue, blue eyes look sharp, too, limpid yet knowing, liquid yet severe, the scleras brilliant pearl yet a little bloodshot in the corners. A couple of matrons across the way take notice of this rather pleasing effect and lift their cameras. Craig shakes his head at them and says, "Please, I'd rather you didn't do that," in a very soft voice, and they immediately stop, like they think he's Bond and terror could follow if they didn't. There is a reason for this. Very few actors in recent memory have so successfully managed to occlude themselves from public view, which means that matrons everywhere have no idea who Daniel Craig really is, so better to err on the safe side and assume he could be just like Bond, ready to haul out his Walther PPK at a moment's notice. For some reason, high-powered businessmen also often make this mistake. They come up to him, all charm and oil, and say, "Oh, hi, nice to meet you," in such a way that it's clear they mean the exact opposite. "They just want to fuck with me," Craig says. He shrugs. "Well, whatever. I do not give a shit about your one-upsmanship. And if you want to go home to your wife and say that you got one over on James Bond, then I hope she tosses you off to that in your head this evening. I just don't care.
"I know I play a tough guy, but that's genuinely, genuinely not me," he goes on. "I've always been very good at avoiding fights, having worked in pubs and seen pools of blood everywhere. Actually, the only thing to ever get me in trouble would be someone looking at my girl the wrong way. That always got me going. I still get jealous now, but I don't get jealous the way I used to. I was in a bar in France once and this guy pinched my girl's ass, and I flew across the room, kind of lifted the guy up. These days I'm much more happy to have a quiet word with somebody." He smiles, a little creepily, not saying what that quiet word might consist of, and settles back into the couch.
And now for some lightness and air.
Does he chew his fingernails?
"I used to and I kind of stopped."
Does he smoke cigarettes anymore?
"When I'm in the mood, maybe I will."
What about booze. Is he a big boozer?
"I drink wine. I don't drink spirits. Well, I do, occasionally, so that's a lie. But I try not to, because they fuck with me. Especially scotch. It sends me crazy." (And, later on, he will say that his most self-destructive behavior is "probably partying, smoking and drinking. I go out with my friends and hit the tequila or whatever, and let off steam. I kind of make time for that away from my wife.")
Is he a self-Googler?
"I don't — I mean, I really try not to. I really, truly try. But then I can't help myself and I disappear up my own ass, and that starts a whole cycle where I've gotta look. I mean, I could probably put a lock on the computer, but, yeah, anyway, it's a sickness. But that's it. Except for maybe I'll look up some porn occasionally. Hey, I'm only human."
What's his favorite porn site?
"I'm not telling you!" This is all very interesting, of course, but do you see what's also going on here? Everything is "kind of" and "maybe" and "I don't; well, I do" and "that's it, except for." He starts off in one direction, absolutely, positively, without a doubt, then almost immediately starts to waffle. It really is a bit odd, and not Bond-like at all.
WHAT KIND OF KID decides at the age of six that he wants to be an actor?
This much is known. He grew up in Chester, a small town in northwest England. His father, Timothy, a former merchant-navy sailor, managed pubs; his mom, Carol, taught art. They divorced when Daniel was four, with Daniel and older sister Lia going with their mom to live in Liverpool. Carol also hung out backstage at the local theater and brought her kids with her to check out the shows; this is where the acting bug bit six-year-old Daniel; he was soon a regular in plays at his school, where he was also an avid rugby player and a terrible student with, he says, "a pretty strong social life."
How old was he when he had his first girlfriend?
He smiles. "Sort of finger-painting territory or what?"
No, more like a serious kiss.
"Oh, right. Yeah. Well, finger-painting is quite advanced."
It's a confusing moment. Clarification is needed.
"Finger-banging, not finger-painting, finger-banging!" He starts laughing and goes on, "When I was 12 or 13, that's just kind of all we ever did or, ah, that's all I ever thought about trying to do." Another absolute, another waffle. "But what are we talking about here? If it's kissing, I've been kissing girls, like stolen kisses in playgrounds, little-kid moments, for as long as I can remember. But when puberty hit, my head exploded."
So there was no chaste — ?
"I don't, I didn't, God, I don't equate any of it with chaste. You want this nice, lovely image of me having my first kiss with hearts sparkling in the background? All I wanted to do was get in the girl's knickers. I'm not Macaulay fucking Culkin. Jesus!"
No, he's not. He's a working-class Brit who's probably heard much worse jokes than his oysters-in-a-vagina one while hanging around his dad's pubs, or, certainly, in the pubs where he worked and avoided fights later in life. So, OK, fine, he's a good ol' bloke, not some suburban-bred numpty. Message received and duly noted.
At the age of 16, he left school, headed off to London to become an actor, was eventually accepted into the National Youth Theatre and was given room and board by a gay couple, Edward Wilson and Brian Lee, both now deceased. Craig was 18. "I mean, who would invite a fucking 18-year-old into their house?" he says. "I have no idea. It was a time I thought I was a man but I wasn't. They taught me how to behave, put a roof over my head, and believed in me. They led me into the adult world. I think about them a lot."
After a while, he started getting small TV parts, but he still didn't have much money, and when he did have money, he'd spend it on, he says, "beer and smoked salmon, and dinner would be just fucking chicken or beef stew." When it was time to pay the rent, he'd sometimes skip out. He did what he had to do. He shoplifted from supermarkets. One time, he and a girlfriend ambled on in and exited with a duck. "A whole frozen duck," he says happily. "I played decoy, and she got it up her skirt, which was quite a feat, I have to say, but she did it with aplomb, pretending she was pregnant. By the way, I only stole from supermarkets that could afford it. I want to make that perfectly clear. But, fuck, you know, we didn't have anything to eat, and we had to feed ourselves."
At 23, he got married, had a daughter, Ella, now 19, got divorced, did a bunch of theater, played a dissolute lost soul in the 1996 BBC series Our Friends in the North, became a TV star, kept plugging away in the movies, most of them indies, including the 1998 Francis Bacon biopic, Love Is the Devil, which featured a good bit of sadomasochistic gay sex, as well as a major onscreen appearance of Craig's penis, which had another big outing in 2000's Some Voices. "Being naked has never been an issue for me," he says. "Whether it's male or female, I don't have a problem with a naked body. I've done it onstage and I've done it in a number of films. I kind of had a thing about that. Look, it's a career. But, no, I won't be doing it in a Bond movie. You can show fanny, I think, but you can't show dick, or else you'd lose your rating rapidly."
Fairly early on, he was flown to L.A. for some Hollywood meetings, but nothing took. Finally he snagged a few films, as Angelina Jolie's love interest in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001; once asked what it was like to kiss Jolie, Craig answered succinctly, "Wet"), Paul Newman's murderous, out-of-control son in Road to Perdition (2002) and a ruthless South African hit man in Munich (2005). None of them did much business. Post-Casino Royale, he's starred in Defiance (2008; a well-meaning Jews-against-Nazis movie that didn't catch on either), Cowboys & Aliens (2011; a big sci-fi dud), Dream House, also from 2011, another dud (but where, looking on the bright side, he got to work with Weisz) and the horrifically compelling Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), a huge hit, but more for the mega-popularity of the book on which it was based than for Craig's stolid work. The point is, none of his Hollywood films have been able to utilize his talents like the Bond franchise, which he nearly didn't sign on for, evidently fearing his epitaph might read "Here Lies James Bond" instead of "Here Lies a Damn Serious Actor." But he did it anyway. And now it's too late.
HE ORDERS ANOTHER BEER, his fourth, and says that he will have to leave soon. An acquaintance has arrived, and the rest of the evening's beers will be downed with him.
OK, but first, it's time for more lightness and air.
Christie's has his Casino Royale bathing suit slated for a James Bond memorabilia auction (it later sold for $72,000). Will his wife be bidding on it?
He kind of snorts. "No," he says. "She already has my dirty underwear. It's in the laundry basket, where she can go and get it any time she wants, if she's really that obsessed, and I don't think she is."
Anyone ever call him Danny? What's his wife call him?
"My mum calls me Dan. Nobody calls me Danny. I'm not 12. I don't know what my wife calls me. I once had the nickname Wendy, after this British actress who had my last name. I didn't particularly like it."
Does he have any bad habits? Nose-picking, perhaps?
He nods vigorously. "It's one of the great pleasures in life, though I've been brought up well enough to not do it in public."
What's his best feature? "Jesus. Fucking hell. Ahhh — " He pauses for a long moment, mulling this one over. Eventually, he decides to call what he considers his worst feature his best and go from there. My ears are my most appealing feature," he says. Then he begins speaking quickly, running his words together. "I've got quite big ears. They stick out quite a lot. When [director Sam Mendes] showed me Skyfall, I said, 'Sam, I need to see this twice, because, you know, the first time I'm going to be watching it going, "My ears are really fucking sticking out! My God! Fucking hell!"' I mean, all I'm doing is just looking at my face — you know, what's physically unappealing about me. It's some kind of narcissism. But, I have to say, when I did watch it — and I was dragged into the movie — occasionally I went, 'Oh, my God! Look at that wing nut!'"
Has he ever been to a shrink?
"Yes, and I recommend it. But it's not easy. It's fucking hard. The fucking 'Oh, I had a horrible life,' that's the easy bit. It's the other bit that's fucking hard, getting down to brass tacks. But I don't think I've ever really gotten there. Only touched upon it." He continues, "Insecurities. Fear. Always insecurity and fear and feeling bad about yourself. Beating yourself up, because you fucked up, and you've done something wrong and you are eating yourself up, saying, 'You're not worth anything. You're just shit.' Puberty is what does it, and later on it's a hangover from that. Sex is bad, and masturbation is worse and you never quite get over it. You're recovering from it for the rest of your life." He thinks about what he's just said. He says, "In spite of coming from a broken home, I had a very happy upbringing. I didn't have a more difficult childhood than anyone else."
He smooths down his white T-shirt. There's something about that white T-shirt on Craig. It's irritating. It's so perfect on him, the way it hugs the aeronautic V of his torso, the neckline so crisp against his tan skin, the armholes stretched taught by his muscles, but only in the most pleasing way, not an ostentatious display at all. It almost looks premeditated, for tastefulness, and for attracting the eye away from anything better left unnoticed (those ears?).
He goes on, "Look, I'm James Bond. If I say anything specific, I'm going to have to talk about it for the next 10 years," which is the explanation he usually gives for why his answers are so often so brief. But there seems to be more to it than that. He has also said that he has nothing to hide, that he just likes his privacy. But there seems to be more to it than that, too. Its kind of strange, for instance, how you never see pictures of him where he doesn't look less than shipshape, squared away, all hairs accounted for and in place. There is, it would seem, some kind of perfectionism at work. Most often he is seen wearing a snappy suit. ("I love suits, I mean, I love suits," he says. "I once had 150 of them.") Most often he is not seen wearing a smile, a fact that the British press obsesses over (The Sun once wrote, "I thought I would see Paul McCartney tucking in to a bacon roll before clapping eyes on Daniel Craig cracking a smile"), although this evening, for whatever reason (beer), he has smiled broadly and laughed often. And then there are all those responses to the light and airy. His first impulse is to be perfect (he used to chew his fingernails), his second is to muddy the absolute clarity of the first (he stopped chewing his fingernails, "kind of”). These are trivial matters, mainly, but, taken together, they do say something about the character of the man and why he is the way he is, and even why, perhaps, as a six-year-old kid, he decided he wanted to be an actor — to be seen a certain way, maybe not as himself but as someone else, a fiction who is, perforce, beyond reproach except within the confines of story and remains distant from the turmoil of divorce and, a few years later, other messy, sticky, guilt-inducing situations. It's all good onstage, where no one knows you for who you are; onstage, even the worst character is perfect. And why, for God's sake, would anyone in their right mind ever want to appear otherwise? Fucking hell, indeed.
Meanwhile, nearly unnoticed and despite protestations, Craig has paid for tonight's drinks, an almost unheard-of act among celebrities of any stripe caught in these circumstances, but probably entirely typical of Craig, both in method and outcome, given his necessary social graces.
Just then, his phone buzzes. It's his wife. "Hallo? Everything all right? Yes, I am, darling. Everything OK? No, no, I'm not. Um, we, no, I don't know, darling. Not just at this moment. Can I call you back about it? All right. You should eat, though. You should eat. I love you. Bye-bye." He puts down the phone. "She should definitely eat. Definitely." He smiles. "'Cause I'm drinking." And he is on his way.