THE HESTER LACEY INTERVIEW: Daniel Craig

The star of the gritty 'Our Friends in the North' is about to whip out his pistol for ITV's raunch-fest 'Moll Flanders'. How do you follow that?; 4 'After a while you forget the fact that you're walking around naked, or you try to' 4

The Palm Court lounge at the Langham Hilton Hotel just off Regent Street is not a place that Daniel Craig would visit willingly. "Makes you want to throw something, doesn't it?" he says, fixing with a disdainful eye the fussy chandeliers and plant pots and - piece de resistance - the burbling fountain complete with ferns and marble nymphs and fish. "Did you decide to come here?" he asks, somewhat accusingly. Not guilty, it was your PR's idea; and some people expect this kind of thing, believe it or not. "I was going to suggest a pub," he says, a bit wistfully.

But once a table where smoking is allowed and a double vodka-and-tonic have been located, he looks quite cheerful; as well he might. After his lead role in Our Friends In The North - one of the BBC's triumphs of the year, in which he played Geordie, the hapless musician who falls into bad company and ends up as a tramp - scripts have been thudding on to his doormat at a great rate. He has a star part in the big-budget bodice- ripper Moll Flanders, which starts tonight; it is ITV's antidote to the current epidemic of Jane Austen mania. In the Austen sagas, all the demure but meaningful glances and heaving bosoms might eventually culminate in a chaste kiss. Moll delivers the lot; the cast can hardly keep their clothes on. Craig plays Jemmy Seagrave, Moll's highwayman true-love; when not swashbuckling for all he's worth, he spends a fair amount of time out of his breeches, energetically ravishing the actress Alex Kingston.

"Well, you have to really, in these situations, don't you? It would be churlish not to," he says, with a filthy laugh. Indeed, hard work, but somebody has to do it. "I watched the final version the other day and it shocked me, I kept thinking, 'Not another sex scene!' There's at least four an episode and they're full-on bums-in-the-air, or against-the-wall, or oops-Missus-there-go-my-trousers. Obviously they've gone for the sex angle - it's a big kick against the Austens and all that stuff. I was a little worried it was going to turn out as Carry On Moll Flanders, but I'm really surprised by the end product. The last episode is so dark, it actually does get to you. I was in tears by the end, but then I'm just an emotional wreck" (this last in a strangled, mock-luvvie accent that he reserves for any remotely theatrical pronouncements). The unexpurgated version of Moll will only be available on video - ITV have had to cut some of the steamier scenes for television. A much-bowdlerized Moll has already been a hit in America - "I think they just didn't linger on the arses going up and down as much as they did over here," explains Craig helpfully.

Filming nude scenes is all in a day's work; especially when anyone on- set with clothes on is likely to be in a minority. "Any embarrassment quickly passes. All you see is maybe 30 seconds of a scene that took three hours to shoot, and after a while you forget the fact that you're walking around naked, or you try to. Well, I do. Maybe I'm just an exhibitionist - maybe that's my problem. I love getting my kit off," he says, with another hoot of laughter. "No, no, it is embarrassing and I get very nervous and uptight about it and I have to control all those sorts of feelings and control myself as well... in fact it isn't very sexual because you're always thinking, 'Will this look good?' and the best sex is when you're not analysing it, when you're just doing it. I'm sure that with the right person at the right time you couldn't help but get turned on by it, but that hasn't happened to me yet."

Out of costume, without his highwayman's coat and flowing wig, he is slighter than on screen. He is very attractive without being conventionally handsome (there's a scene at the end of Moll where for an instant you can see how he could one day look like Sid James - probably something to do with the nose); but with his impressively twinkly, long-lashed blue eyes, rugged laughter lines and dimples, he is all charm (and he knows it). He is only 28, but could pass for a good deal older - his face has a lived-in look. What are his vices - drugs, drink? "Everything! Everything I can get my hands on," he chortles merrily, and perhaps he's only half- joking. Being interviewed is something he resists. "I don't go along with this thing that it's part of the job," he says. "It's not the reason I got into this game. I have to be quite guarded, I like to talk and I like people, I'd probably be a tabloid journalist's dream. Get enough drinks down me and I'd tell all." And, indeed, he is certainly a spirited talker once he gets going. His favourite adjective is the wicked one that begins with "f"; readers, please insert it (mentally) at frequent intervals throughout.

Born in Chester, brought up in Liverpool, he wanted to be an actor from the age of six ("such a cliche," he moans). His mother studied art and theatre design. "I knew what the back end of a theatre looked like from an early age, and I think that rubbed off," he says. He left school at 16 ("I got really bored"), and moved to London almost straightaway. "I had quite a few friends and I stayed on people's floors and I did odd jobs and survived. I still owe a lot of people a lot of favours. Then I finally got to drama school at 19. When I first started, villains were all I did. I'm blond and blue-eyed, so they always gave me the part of the Nazi. When I started getting roles that were goodies, I didn't really know what to do with them, I just wanted to thump people." After drama school he did film work, "bits of television", spent a year at the National Theatre - "I was a jobbing actor, just doing what I could." Starving romantically in a garret, he says, is no longer a rite of passage. "I was out of work for seven or eight months, but I wasn't penniless and starving - I had an overdraft, this is the modern world, I just owed the bank a lot of money." Along the way, he got married, produced a daughter, now four, and got divorced. "I was 23 when I got married, I was too young. I don't know if it was a mistake exactly, but it was not the right thing to do at the time. I don't regret it, but I do wish I'd lived it in a different way."

Our Friends In The North was his first taste of stardom. "It was a peculiar production, I don't think you can measure anything else by it," he says. "When we started doing it we realised we were doing something special. We thought the critics would get hold of it and rip it to pieces, especially the bits that were political. But every single critic pushed how affecting the relationships were, and that was the nicest result." Geordie was the favourite of the critics and the public. "I've had people burst into tears over me, and I'd have to say 'Look, Geordie's fine, he's okay, at the end he just walked off, he's quite all right'."

He has spent most of this year filming a German-French co-production, working title Obsession - a brave move given that arty foreign stuff doesn't make a lot of money. "I don't look at things that way. The script came along and it was a good script, and it meant Berlin for three months, then we went to France, then to Paris, I wasn't going to turn down an opportunity like that - plus it's quite a good movie."

And when he's not filming? "I try and just get my head together when I'm not working. I don't use my time particularly well, I'm not organised, when I've got enough money I'll employ someone to look after me, which is a pretty pathetic actory thing to say," he says. "Financially I'm hopeless, completely numerically dyslexic - that's another actor's whine. I quite fancy running clubs actually, but I don't think it'll ever come about, it's a lot of organisation - and finance. I'd lose everything."

The past year or so, he says, has been a steep learning curve. "I'm bewildered. I don't know what it all means. I think in the end it's all about 'Could you show this to your mates?' I would like to think I could sit down with my mates and see something I've done and they'd say 'Yes, you've got away with that, that's okay', and if that happens, that's cool."

'Moll Flanders', ITV, 9pm tonight

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