Daniel Craig: Rough cut

In choosing Craig, the Bond folk have turned their backs on the suave, sophisticated, Eton-educated icon

Fact and fiction have been running in uncanny parallel in recent times. MI6, which prefers to go by its official name of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), had decided it needed a new image, much as did the makers of the Bond movies. The official spook website puts it thus:

"SIS is looking for the widest possible range in terms of personal profile and will welcome candidates seeking a career change..."

Which is kind of what the Bond folk want too. In choosing Craig for the 21st Bond movie, a remake of Casino Royale, they have turned their backs on the suave, sophisticated, polished, Eton-educated icon created by Ian Fleming and played by Sean Connery, David Niven, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan. They have opted for an altogether rougher diamond.

Daniel Craig was raised in Liverpool where he spent a lot of time as a child with his art teacher mother backstage at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, then in its leftist heyday with Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale setting the tone. But he was not academically bright and failed his 11-plus.

After a tough secondary modern he was rejected from Rada, Lamda, the Young Vic and the Guildhall when he first auditioned for drama school. And he has subsequently built a reputation for portraying rough, aggressive characters who are slightly unpleasant - the kind of thing which passes for a noir-ish hero in the lexicon of modern movies.

Successful candidates, says the MI6 website, will have to demonstrate resilience.

Well, Craig did eventually get into the National Youth Theatre and then the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where his peers included Joseph Fiennes, Alistair MacGowan, Rhys Ifans and Ewan McGregor (whom he pipped for the Bond job). And then he demonstrated dogged perseverance through his early acting years, which featured numerous realistic portrayals of Craig playing the role of waiter in various London restaurants. He even slept on occasion, it is said, on a park bench, before beginning to scale the thespian ladder with appearances in such shows as the cosy country copper series Heartbeat.

Integrity, both personal and corporate, is prized.

In the years that followed, Craig put the odd foot wrong. (He did Lara Croft: Tomb Raider only, he freely admits, for the money.) But otherwise a gritty artistic integrity has been one of Craig's hallmarks. He first came to national attention playing the drug-pushing dosser Geordie Peacock in the 1996 BBC TV mini-series Our Friends in the North. He was such a success that he was then deluged with tough northern totty parts which could have made him the next Jimmy Nail. But he turned them all down and went back to the theatre.

In the years that followed he undertook a wide variety of theatre, TV and film parts, many of which paralleled the MI6 website's obsession with history.

British intelligence organisations, the website reveals, goes back at least to the second half of the 15th century. Thomas Cromwell ran secret agents in Europe on behalf of Henry VIII. Sir Francis Walsingham developed expertise in secret interception, as well as maintaining a network of 50 secret agents abroad while Private Secretary to Elizabeth I.

Craig knows this well. He used a rock to smash in the head of one of Walsingham's spies (an improvised moment, according to Craig) in 1998's Elizabeth in which Cate Blanchett played the Virgin Queen. He portrayed a monk plotting against the Queen. And though he recently turned down a mega-money TV series offer to play Biggles, whose career covers a period including the First and Second World Wars when foundations of the Bond-era British Secret Service were laid. Craig then played the head of Nazi Germany's atomic energy programme Werner Heisenberg - he of the uncertainty principle - in the film of Michael Frayn's drama Copenhagen. He also starred in the BBC's adaptation of Robert Harris's novel Archangel about an academic in search of the secret diaries of Josef Stalin, set in another era which figures prominently in MI6's own account of itself.

But though he has the historical experience, does Daniel Craig have the right personal background for his new job? The SIS website wants incomers to demonstrate:

"analytical minds, associated problem-solving skills and an interest in foreign affairs. "

To date, most of Daniel Craig's affairs have been domestic, though he has had a brief foray into other nationalities. His first partner, by whom he has a 12-year-old daughter, and whom he never names, was Scottish but he had a seven-year relationship with the attractive German actress Heike Makatsch (who played the predatory secretary who seduces Alan Rickman in Love Actually). When they split up last year, Craig had flings with the Brit supermodel Kate Moss, whom he left after four months because she was "too wild" - she moved on to Pete Doherty - and the American-born actress Sienna Miller in what was reported to be a reprise of the relationship she enjoyed with him when they were working together on the movie Layer Cake two years ago.

Here's another MI6 requirement. Its recruits must:

"enjoy work that is stimulating, often exciting, always varied, and, in the technical field, often cutting edge."

If this is code, as it may well be for James Bond - who is supposed to be the man that every woman wants to go to bed with and every man wants to be - then Craig will have no problems. He stripped off happily for some fairly explicit sex scenes in The Mother in which he played a builder - rough trade, again - who was having an affair with a young woman and her mum at the same time, giving life, as one breathless porn-again writer put it "to a million older women's fantasies".

Successful candidates will have to ... be capable of solving problems under testing circumstances. They must be able to think on their feet and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

Clear evidence of that. In one of his covert trysts with Sienna Miller, when the couple were being dogged by paparazzi, he drove away from a nightspot with his former co-star - now tipped to be one of his on-screen Bond girls in the first movie - lying flat out across the back seats to avoid the prying lenses.

On one point, however, fact and fiction decidedly part company. Under Frequently Asked Questions the MI6 website concedes that "James Bond, as Ian Fleming originally conceived him, was based on reality". But the books, and subsequently the films, had injected "a level of glamour and excitement" which goes beyond reality". Nevertheless, staff who join SIS can look forward to a career that will have moments when the gap narrows just a little and the certainty of a stimulating and rewarding career which, like Bond's, will be in the service of their country.

There is worryingly little about sex in that. There's not even anything about martinis, shaken not stirred (which, any cocktail barman within the vicinity of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will tell you, bruises the gin). Just as well. Daniel Craig apparently prefers a lager or Guinness to go with the decidedly infra dig roll-ups he smokes. Derek Jacobi, with whom he starred in Love Is the Devil - a movie biography of the artist Francis Bacon, in which Craig played the painter's bit of rough - reported that Craig was sometimes up all night drinking during the filming, getting by on just a couple of hours' sleep.

Still, who will complain, since in both real life and cinematic fantasy everyone agrees that what is needed all round is a change of image. MI6 offers disguised profiles of its latest recruits, which are replete with red-brick universities, second-class degrees, and operatives with Asian names. The movie men are looking for something new too. "We're trying to reinvent Bond," says Paul Haggis, the writer-director of Casino Royale. "It's very difficult to think of new ways of blowing things up. It's the journey that's the thing - finding a new journey for the character."

But there is one other point of departure. It takes up to six months to get full vetting as a spook, according to the MI6 website.

Because of the nature of this work potential candidates should not divulge to anyone, other than a spouse or close partner, their application to SIS. Failure to observe the confidentiality of an application may affect eligibility for employment.

Perhaps because it has taken three times that long to find the new Bond, the movie moguls extended those in the know to include the actor's mother. Daniel Craig's mater, Carol Olivia, rather undermined yesterday's announcement by letting the news slip to her local paper, the Liverpool Daily Post, the day before. Fortunately her son's appointment was confirmed. Careless talk, she should be told, can cost lives.

A Life in Brief

BORN Liverpool, 11 November 1968

FAMILY Married for four years to the actress Fiona Loudon, with whom he has a 12-year-old daughter.

CAREER Trained at the National Youth Theatre, from the age of 16, and then Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the early 1990s. Small television parts (Heartbeat, Drop the Dead Donkey, etc) 1993. Various stage appearances at the Royal Court and National Theatre. Television and film: The Power of One (1992), A Kid in King Arthur's Court (1995), Our Friends in the North (1996), Obsession (1997), Elizabeth (1998), I Dreamed of Africa (2000), Sword of Honour (2001), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Road to Perdition (2002), Copenhagen (TV) (2002), The Mother (2003), Sylvia (2003), Layer Cake (2004), Enduring Love (2004), Archangel (2005).

HE SAYS "I don't believe in self-promotion, really I can't be arsed."

THEY SAY "Easily the most fascinating actor to assume the mantle [of James Bond] since Connery." - Critic David Edelstein

Comments