Daniel Craig: 'I'll keep doing Bond until my knees go'

With his rugged good looks and brooding charisma, Daniel Craig is licensed to thrill. But there's more to this actor's career than playing James Bond

Knightsbridge seems as good a place as any to meet Daniel Craig. The home of Harrods and Harvey Nichols, it's the sort of neighbourhood James Bond might visit – in his Aston Martin, naturally – to stock up on Beluga and Bollinger. Not that Craig is Bond, of course, just as we're not here just to talk 007. Ensconced on the fourth floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, currently overflowing with more PRs than Westminster has leaks, Craig is really in town to discuss Defiance, the stirring Second World War drama from director Ed Zwick, which is released on DVD this month. This is his annual chance to remind us that he's an actor whose range extends further than ordering vodka martinis.

When I enter the hotel room, Craig breaks off from conferring with his publicist to shake my hand vigorously. He's dressed in sombre casuals – a navy cardigan, blue shirt and black trousers, all perfectly co-ordinated to accentuate those startling blue eyes and that sandy blond hair. He looks like you'd expect – rugged and raw – though his physique is not as ripped as when he emerged from the ocean in his first Bond outing, 2006's Casino Royale, with just a pair of tiny trunks to protect his modesty. Back then, he pumped iron "to get as big and as beefy as possible", all part of rebuilding the Bond character for the modern age.

That he did was a triumph for Craig, who suffered horrendously at the hands of the press while making Casino Royale. Dubbing him "James Blond", the tabloids had a field day at his expense. All sorts of nonsense was claimed – that he couldn't drive a manual car, that he was afraid of guns and even water. It didn't help that when Craig arrived, via speedboat, for his first press conference, he wore a life-jacket. Forced to take this beating in silence, his revenge may not have been as swift as anything Bond might administer, but it was just as effective. Bolstered by enthusiastic reviews, Casino Royale took almost $600m around the world. His second outing, last year's Quantum of Solace, though less well received, raked in almost as much.

Now Craig has been left with an interesting quandary: how does a respected actor – who has worked with directors of the calibre of Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes – avoid being pigeonholed as 007? After Casino Royale, he delivered a three-pronged answer, delving into fantasy (The Golden Compass), sci-fi (The Invasion) and melodrama (Flashbacks of a Fool). Were it not for the fact that the first disappointed, the second was a dud and the third sank without trace, this might have been a good move. But Craig claims he's no career strategist. "I'm not looking for stuff that's the antithesis of a Bond movie just because I think that's what I should do," he says.

The problem for Craig is that because the Bond iconography is so strong – and because he has already made such a mark in the role – it's sometimes hard to accept him as anything else. Take Defiance, in which he plays the real-life Jewish partisan Tuvia Bielski, one of three brothers who escape from the Nazis into the forests of Belarus. Once there, they build a makeshift camp, sheltering an increasing number of people from the sub-zero temperatures and the possibility of discovery. "I was fascinated by the story," Craig says, his Wirral accent briefly surfacing. "It's just remarkable, the more you read about it, the crazier it is."

This is certainly true. Full of grit, spit and courage, it's the sort of film that leaves you open-mouthed at the resilience of human beings and their will to survive. Starring alongside Jamie Bell and Liev Schreiber, Craig gives an admirable performance – his best since he began Bond. But try as I might, as soon as he picked up a gun in the opening scenes, I couldn't help but think of Bond brandishing a semi-automatic. "Well, the thing is you're talking about movie language," says Craig, looking a little disgruntled at my rather simplistic observation. "There aren't that many fresh ideas out there. Hopefully, people will forget about that. I mean, I'm picking up a gun. I've done that a lot recently."

Playing Tuvia – who is hell-bent on vengeance after his family are murdered – left the actor on familiar ground. In both of his Bond films, Craig's 007 was driven by feelings of revenge – though in some ways, Tuvia shares more similarities with the role he played in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film Munich, which dealt with the aftermath of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. Craig was cast as one of several Israelis recruited to avenge the terror attack. "Again, this might sound naïve, but it didn't bother me. Of course, I looked at it and said, 'Well, people are going to compare it to Munich.' But again, if I went through life trying to construct my career, it would lose all the inspiration."

The last time I met Craig was in February 2005, when he was promoting The Jacket, a psychological thriller that reunited him with John Maybury, who directed him as Francis Bacon's luckless lover George Dyer in 1997's Love is the Devil. The day before, he'd just received a Best Actor prize from London's Critics Circle for his role in Enduring Love, as a university teacher who becomes the object of a dangerous obsession. Bursting with intensity, he seemed like a different actor then, taking risks in small-scale British fare. He'd been a psychiatric outpatient in Some Voices, which won him Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards, while in The Mother, he shocked as a handyman who begins an affair with a woman (played by Anne Reid) twice his age.

Feeling like a natural successor to the likes of Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, the Chester-born Craig came across as a man in touch with his working-class roots. His father was a publican, lest we forget – though in truth, it was his mother, an art teacher, who seemed to inspire him the most. After divorcing Craig's father, she spent much of her free time at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, meeting actors, artists and designers. Her young son drank it all in. "I fell in love with the actors," he says. "I was a sucker for it all, the idea of being taken somewhere, being entertained." He claims to have known he wanted to become an actor as young as four.

Craig came down to London when he was 16 to join the National Youth Theatre, living with friends of his father and waiting tables to earn a living. The only other career option he considered was the navy, but this thought was swiftly banished. When he was 20, he joined the Guildhall School of Music and Drama – "a good move for a Northern boy," as he puts it. He was surrounded by talent – Ewan McGregor was in the year below him, Ben Chaplin in the one above – and it proved infectious. "I wanted to be there even more than in the pub or in a nightclub," he says. Still, he admits he was "massively arrogant" at the time. "I thought nothing could touch me."

He was brought down to earth when he won his first major job straight out of drama school. The film was The Power of One with Stephen Dorff and Morgan Freeman, a low-quality apartheid-era drama in which he played a thuggish Afrikaner policeman. "Thankfully, it wasn't a success, or I'd be playing South African policeman to this day," he winks. The next four years were spent scratching around in television bit parts, popping up in everything from Boon to Heartbeat. Money was tight, though he never considered quitting. "Just as that letter from the bank came through, something has always come along." Part of the problem, he says, lay in self-belief. "It took a long time to relax into the idea that I was going to earn a living out of this. To have the confidence to get on with it."

By 1996, Craig scored his breakthrough role – as wide-boy Geordie Peacock in the seminal BBC serial Our Friends in the North. Yet as the next five years saw him establishing himself as one of Britain's most exciting acting talents, he inevitably trundled on to the Hollywood radar. His first foray into the big-budget arena was 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which he played Angelina Jolie's love interest (leading her to proclaim he was one of the best kissers she'd worked with). The film was lousy, but took almost $275m around the globe. "I don't consider it a mistake," he says. "I don't regret it for one second ... I love 'popcorn movies'. I can't be hypocritical."

He followed this with a couple of edgy, intense villains – Paul Newman's browbeaten son in Sam Mendes' gangster drama Road to Perdition and a coke-dealer planning an early retirement in Layer Cake – though in some ways it seemed as if Craig was grooming himself for Bond. When we last met, just as the producers were beginning to look for a replacement for Pierce Brosnan, I asked him if he was interested in playing 007. "It's one of those roles that would be difficult to ignore because it is iconic but I don't know whether or not it's where I want to take my career," he said. "If something like that was to happen, if an actor accepted that, then that's it."

Well, of course, that's the position he now finds himself in. Though bullish enough to believe it's all been for the better, he maintains that things haven't changed dramatically. "I do get more offers. Or at least I get to see more scripts. But they're just as crap as they were before. There are only so many good scripts out there, genuinely. Somebody doesn't suddenly give you a golden key that opens this door and all these scripts are sitting there, that nobody else has seen. You might get a better look in, but there's still the work to do. I'm not the only actor out there and a director still needs convincing that they'd want me to be in their film." He stops to give this some thought. "I wish there was a golden key to some cupboard with 10 good scripts in it."

Interestingly, unlike many actors of his stature, Craig does not possess a production company primed to pump out vanity projects. "If I was going to produce a film, then I'd form one," he says. "But it sounds like I'd need an office. I didn't get into acting to have an office!" Surely, though, his name now gets films made? "Well, you'd think that but this was a real fucking struggle," he says, referring to Defiance. "This isn't a romantic comedy. If I'd picked a nice romantic comedy, I think it would've been easier to raise the money for it." Then again, for all his much-vaunted "phwoarr" factor, Craig is never going to be the sort of lightweight player who pops up alongside Jennifer Aniston in a love-fest. It just wouldn't feel right.

The odd scowl aside, Craig is nowhere near as surly in person as he's often painted out to be – though there's little point asking him about his own romantic entanglements. Rather like Bond, Craig has been married once, in the dim and distant past. Back in 1992, he married the Scottish actress Fiona Loudon. They had a daughter, Ella, but the marriage ended in divorce within two years. A year after Our Friends in the North, he made Obsession, a little-seen romantic thriller memorable only because he met the German actress Heike Makatsch, who later went on to feature in Love Actually. The couple stayed together for seven years, at just the time when Craig was beginning to face intrusive press questions about his love life.

When they split, if the gossip-hounds are to be believed, he did his chances of becoming the next Bond no harm by reputedly having flings with both Kate Moss and Sienna Miller. By 2005, however, he'd met the Japanese-American producer Satsuki Mitchell, who worked on The Jacket. Since then, Craig and Mitchell, who is 11 years his junior, have frequently been snapped at red-carpet events. Rumours that the couple will marry refuse to go away, particularly since Craig professed his love for her at the Quantum of Solace London premiere.

Craig is adamant when it comes to not talking about his private life. "All I know is that I've tried to protect my privacy as long as possible and I will continue to do so because it's got fuck-all to do with anybody," he says. "This [interview] is part of what I do for a living. But the rest of it is nobody's business. The same as nobody's private life is anyone's business, even if you are in the public eye. There should be a clearly defined line and I don't think it takes brain surgery to try and figure that out. It's fairly simple. There's privacy and then there's public life. If you choose to be in the public eye, then maybe you open yourself up to all sorts of rubbish. But if you don't then I think that should be respected."

Even before he was picked to play Bond, Craig had been under threat from the tabloids. "I've had various members of the press knocking on my family's door at various hours of the morning. I hate to say but my father has lots of guns..." He shoots me a sly grin, just to let me know he's joking (I hope). Perhaps because he recently bought a multi-million-pound pad near Regent's Park, he prefers to stay there with his partner than be bothered by the London celebrity scene. Not a frivolous soul, unlike those of his peers who feel a desperate need to be snapped, he simply avoids the venues that draw hordes of paparazzi. "If I get caught," he says, "it's unusual."

Still, anyone who thinks Craig doesn't have a sense of humour about himself or his work must take into account his next choice of movie role. Reuniting with his Defiance co-star Jamie Bell, as well as director Steven Spielberg, he's recently signed on for the biggest film project since Lord of the Rings. Based on Hergé's beloved comic books, Craig will feature prominently in The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, the first of three planned films (with Rings director Peter Jackson set to helm the second) to be shot in 3D. Cast as Tintin's adversary, the notorious pirate Red Rackham, it's a villainous role far removed from Bond.

Outside of this, Craig's only plan for the foreseeable is to spend time with his family. "I don't see them for months, so I have to go back and reconnect with my normal life and make sure they still like me." As for Bond, he won't be drawn on the subject of how many he's prepared to make. "If people still want to see these movies I'll keep doing them for as long as it takes, or until my knees go, whichever happens quicker!"

But do creaking joints mean his days in action roles are numbered? "Well, I'm not going to look at playing a trapeze artist," he grins. Don't bet that he couldn't, though. Right now, Daniel Craig's confidence is sky-high.

'Defiance' is available on DVD from 18 May

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth


Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee