Saturday 30 July 2011
Daniel Craig on quick crosswords and Cowboys & Aliens, taste and Twitter
He’s recently married, arguably our greatest Bond, and a bona fide British movie star. So has Daniel Craig, once famed for his chippiness, mellowed? Only if you don’t mention the internet...
Daniel Craig is attempting to crack the last clue in a quick crossword: “something that’s supposed to bring luck, -A-C-T.
“Locket?” he ponders, those famous ice-blue eyes narrowing in rumination. “That doesn’t fit, and it’s only because I’m thinking of ‘bracelet’, as in ‘charm’.” He tosses the newspaper aside. “Leave it there and it might come to me if I don’t think about it.”
Is he a quick or a cryptic man? “Quick,” he says. “I’m instinctive. I don’t really go in for contemplation.” Those who’ve followed Craig’s career, from his 1996 breakthrough as the spiky Geordie in Our Friends in the North, to his triumphs as James Bond and beyond, will recognise the veracity of that statement. Craig’s quicksilver, mercurial acting style – the panoply of emotions running across his rough-hewn, often flinty face subverted by the glacial cool of his stare – has made him a bona fide British movie star, possibly the biggest there is.
Which, as it turns out, was always Craig’s ambition: “My mum used to take me to the cinema, and I thought, ‘Hell yeah, it would be great to be up there on that huge screen,’” he says, going somewhat misty-eyed at the memory. “Of course, as a working-class kid growing up in West Kirby, I had no idea how I’d get there. Maybe that’s part of the reason that it’s taken me 20 years.”
Craig arrived at the top of the tree via a fairly classic route – joining the National Youth Theatre at 16, going on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where Ewan McGregor and Joseph Fiennes were among his peers. But self-deprecation is one of his defining traits (“I’m deeply English in that way”), along with a breezy affability and a freewheeling, discursive conversational mien that alights on such topics as Charlie Sheen (“I have no understanding of that situation whatever, especially why he insists on playing it out, seemingly in real time, on TV and on every other platform available to him,” he says, shaking his head), to the musical The Book of Mormon, which he’s just seen on Broadway (“It was great, and I hate musicals generally.”)
One thing he doesn’t – has tried never to – talk about is his private life, and his recent and very low-key marriage to actress and old friend Rachel Weisz. The pair star together in the forthcoming thriller Dream House, and it was reported that they tied the knot in New York state in June before a quartet of witnesses, including Craig’s teenage daughter Ella (from his first marriage, to actress Fiona Loudon) and Weisz’s five-year-old son. A terse confirmation from Craig’s publicist has been the sum total of subsequent elaboration, and Craig’s not about to add to that today.
In the past, any line of questioning encroaching on the personal, from former squeezes (Kate Moss, Sienna Miller) to where he lives (London, but mostly out of a suitcase) has led to grumpy stand-offs and bolstered a “difficult” reputation. He’s also been known to evince a chippy defensiveness that peaked when he was cast as Bond, in the face of a vitriolic internet campaign that pegged him as too blond, too short (5ft 11in), and too old (he’s now 43) to be worthy of assuming the mantle. Two films and $1.1 billion in box-office receipts later, he’s been more than vindicated.
“My only mission, going into it, was not to mess the franchise up, and I think we’ve got beyond that now,” he grins. His off-the-Bond-leash ease is reflected in everything from his face (candid, engaged) to his attire (blue shirt and jeans, the antithesis of regulation ramrod Bond tailoring). “There was all the initial mayhem around the time Casino Royale came out in 2006,” he says, “which I found very confusing and led me to ask what-now kind of questions. I think, five years down the line, I’ve got things in order, in perspective, in my head. One thing I learnt quickly? Success doesn’t automatically confer you with impeccable taste. I still have to read scripts and think to myself, ‘Is this good or not?’”
There is one difference, however, he adds wryly: “I’ve got a few more people around me now to give me advice.” The Craig Commission will have been heavily occupied of late; if all his projected trilogies and follow-ups come off, he should be in gainful employment till around 2020. He brushes off his involvement in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming Tintin saga – “I’m only Red Rackham in that” – and expresses doubt in the feasibility of further Philip Pullman adaptations, after the anti-Christian allegories of The Golden Compass predictably failed to “take” in the United States. But that still leaves Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy; Craig has taken a break from playing Mikael Blomkvist in David Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for this interview.
“And before you ask, no, I haven’t seen the Swedish movies,” he says. “We’re calling our one – how did the Coen Brothers describe their True Grit? – a reboot, that’s it. David Fincher is one of my all-time favourite directors, and working with him has not been a disappointment.” Looming on the horizon – after the enforced hiatus occasioned by MGM’s bankruptcy declaration – is the 23rd Bond movie, to be directed by Sam Mendes. Before all that, there’s the small matter of Cowboys & Aliens. “My motivation for this one?” he grins. “Well, I get to play a cowboy. Then, I get to play a cowboy who battles aliens.” He’s beaming like a lottery winner now. “Isn’t that the definition of a no-brainer?”
Indeed, Cowboys & Aliens’ genre mash-up bodes well for its ambition to be one of the summer’s all-conquering event/popcorn/marquee movies. In 1870s Arizona Territory, a stranger (Craig) awakes with no memory of his past and stumbles into the town of Absolution, tyrannised by the sulphurous Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), where he’s regarded with fear and loathing. But pretty soon the town is experiencing malevolent extraterrestrial visitations and, as the stranger’s memory gradually returns, he realises that the natty metal bracelet he’s sporting could give the hapless settlers a fighting chance. The director, Jon Favreau, blends the requisite action set pieces (not unknowing; the ETs capture their abductees with distinctly lariat-like cables) with street-smart dialogue; a mix he’s previously honed in his Iron Man movies. Craig, for his part, name checks Sergio Leone and Steven Spielberg (an executive producer) while expressing the fervent wish that C&A (as people probably won’t refer to it) will scare the life out of people.
“I’m a great fan of popcorn movies when they’re done right, and it’s hard to get them right,” he says, leaning forward in his chair. “With this, we looked at The Searchers and Close Encounters – classic, serious films from both genres, because we wanted to get the feel absolutely right, and fill the scenario with real characters – well, as real as you can make them in a film called Cowboys & Aliens – so that you’re really invested in them when the s--- starts hitting the fan. I love the slow build of films like Alien and The Thing, and you need confidence in your film-making to pull that off – not to break out your entire bag of tricks from the first minute, or treat everything with a geek-boy nod and wink. I hope we’ve done something properly intelligent and thrilling.”
Initial plans to release the movie in 3D foundered, a development Craig welcomes. “It’s actually shot in – what do you call it?– anamorphic, which means the frame’s stretched,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff to look at, whereas with 3D you’re forced to focus on the bullet or the butterfly or whatever it is that’s about to fly into your lap.” He grimaces. “I’m not sure that 3D’s the future. It’s so hard to make a good live-action 3D movie. Maybe James Cameron’s the only one that can bring it off. What’s that Disney 3D thing that’s just totally bombed? Mars Needs Moms or something? Perhaps that’ll be the death knell.”
There were rumours that Craig was a last-minute C&A substitute for Robert Downey Jnr, Favreau’s Iron Man co-conspirator, who decamped to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes sequel. Craig puts a Bond-style diplomatic gloss on things. “I don’t know what the score was,” he says. “I know that the writers sent me the script, and I read it and thought, ‘I’d like to see this’, and I also knew they were serious film-makers so there’d be some weight behind it.” The movie also affords him numerous chances to perfect his intense, thousand-yard stare. “Yeah, right,” he grins. “You know what I’m thinking in those long close-ups, and what I guarantee most other actors are thinking? ‘What’s for lunch? Do I fancy the chicken or the beef?’.”
The quotidian turn in proceedings prompts a query as to whether Craig is on Facebook. “No, I am bloody not,” he says vehemently. “And I’m not on Twitter either. They’ve proved pretty useful in Egypt and they might yet prove useful in Iran, but here? ‘Woke up this morning, had an egg’? What relevance is that to anyone?” He’s building up a head of steam now. “Social networking? Just call each other up and go to the pub and have a drink. There’s some talk of a new class-system paradigm – that, in future, the world will be divided between those who ‘get’ social networking and those who don’t. I’m really not bothered. But I hope the generations to come learn to be a little bit cynical and learn how to mess it up a bit.”
Perhaps Craig’s antipathy to social networking is fostered by his need to “shut out enormous amounts of crap” that get posted, texted and Tweeted about him. “Put it this way,” he says, gripping the arms of his chair, “I still get a big kick out of acting, but the other extraneous stuff was never important to me. It wasn’t even a consideration. But, having said that,” he grins, “the truth is that I mistakenly go online occasionally and Google my name.” He shakes his head. “I know. It’s worse than smoking crack. And, oh man, the hating on the internet. Maureen Dowd wrote a good piece about this in The New York Times; no one’s going to question the prudence of it, because of the comment-is-free lobby ensuring that the internet is only tokenly policed, but, if you actually read some of this stuff, it’s like there’s a bunch of sociopaths out there who want to go out and rip you to pieces. It feels like that’s the norm, that the internet has licensed this vitriol. I think there needs to be a big debate about it, some kind of research done into how it affects our actual relations with others.” He pauses, and sighs. “I mean, if people are dealing with their lives by hating, that’s a problem, isn’t it?”
He says that it was the sure knowledge that the gossip/rumour/scrutiny ante would be quantumly upped that gave him the most pause before signing on as Bond. “But you can’t be scared off by it,” he says flatly. “That would be the wrong decision.” He’d previously been known for edgier, outre roles – the sadomasochistic lover of Francis Bacon in 1998’s Love is the Devil, the psychotic gangster in 2002’s Road To Perdition (also directed by Mendes) – so was he afraid Bond would box him in? “Definitely, but that’s also no reason not to do it,” he says. “Plus, I have no responsibility to the part outside of the films. I’m not trying to be a rebel about it, but when I’m not doing it, I’m simply not doing it.”
After a period of not doing it, Craig will soon be doing it again – a prospect he’s genuinely excited by: “The hiatus may prove to be a good thing, because I’m itching to have another crack at it, particularly after Quantum of Solace. We had to cobble that one together because it was made in the midst of the writers’ strike, and it had an effect on the finished product, no doubt.
“With this one, the right things are in place – Sam’s on board and we have the bones of a really good script.”
Will he be doing more after that? “I think so,” he says, somewhat guardedly. He doesn’t know? “I take it one job at a time. Put it this way, if we mess it up, I won’t be asked to do another. The contract goes both ways. I can walk away from it or they can sack me.”
One gets the impression, from the insouciance with which he states this, that Craig retains more than a tad of the contrarian punk attitude he absorbed when growing up in the political ferment of Eighties Liverpool (“I was a little too late for the Pistols and Clash,” he says, ruefully), and which is embodied in director friends like John Maybury (who made Love is the Devil) and Baillie Walsh (who directed Craig in Flashbacks of a Fool, where he played a washed-up, coked-up Hollywood star). His heroes are politically engaged mavericks like the veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk, and he worries for the souls of today’s youth or, more specifically, that doggedly apolitical branch of today’s youth who’d rather Tweet about having a sandwich than storm any putative barricades or even “mess it up a bit”.
“There’s very little sense of mixing things up, of sticking your neck out, even of the joy in getting up to mischief,” he laments. It’s something Craig intends to continue doing, even from his current rarefied vantage point. On the way out, he picks the paper back up, and claps his hand to his forehead. “Mascot,” he says. “See? Instinct always comes through for you in the end.”