If you want to know how James Bond—sorry, sorry, Daniel Craig—starts the day, I can tell you: two double espressos with honey. Plus poached eggs on toast. And then another double espresso to follow. So basically a lot of caffeine, with honey to soften the blow. The 47-year-old actor, who lives in New York’s East Village with wife and fellow star Rachel Weisz, needs all the help he can get when we meet in early July: Just four days ago, he finished an epic eight-month shoot for Spectre, the latest Bond movie. It’s the British actor’s fourth outing as cinema’s most famous spy and his second with director Sam Mendes after the huge success of Skyfall, which in 2012 earned more than $1 billion worldwide. So no pressure then. (Another double espresso, please.)
Today, Craig is equally tired and wired. He turns up in jeans, a T-shirt, a leather jacket and a New York Yankees cap, and his arms betray the intense fitness training that goes into playing 007. He’s exhausted, but he’s also on a high from two years of intensive work: First came getting the story right, in close collaboration with Mendes, then the shoot, hopping back and forth between London, Mexico City, Morocco, Austria and Rome. He says he thinks—thinks—Spectre will be a good, stylish, classic Bond movie, and Craig is not an actor who talks bullshit. He’s blunt. He’s thoughtful. He swears a lot. He’s wary of being precious. At one point during our enthusiastic chat, he pauses, and a look of horror passes over his bright, piercing blue eyes. “God, hubris is a fucking terrible thing in this business,” he says, checking himself. Seems like a good a time as any for one more espresso.
You play the ultimate British character, but you’re a New Yorker now. So why did you move to the city? Life. It’s where my wife is. I’d lived in London most of my life and love it very much, but it was a chance to go on a new adventure. I’ve got a real connection to New York. I think I first came for the premiere of Road to Perdition back in 2002. I just remember it being incredibly hot, in that way that only New York can be, and wearing a wool suit on the red carpet.
Do you find New Yorkers rude? No, New York isn’t rude anymore. When I first used to go to New York, people would shout at you across the street—in the nicest fucking way possible. Or you’d walk down the street and people would confront you. And that’s fucking gone now. Is it a good thing? It’s a debate. When a New Yorker did confront you or was rude to you in that way and you were rude back, they usually looked at you in a different way, like, Oh, okay! New York’s not the same as it was. But there are pockets of craziness. Down on the Lower East Side, you can find some pockets of craziness.
Has living in New York changed you at all? It took me 10 years to adapt to living in London after I moved from Liverpool at 17 to join the National Youth Theatre. I think New York will take about the same, and I’ve only been here a few years. I really miss it when I’m away, because it’s home, it’s where my base is, and all my stuff’s there. But I think it will take me a while. As much as I think I know where things are in Manhattan, I get lost.
You described Skyfall as “Bond with bells on.” How would you describe Spectre? The complicated answer, without me having to think of some clever line, is that Skyfall did really well and broke all sorts of records and was a massive success. Then we had to do another one, which for all of us, the director Sam Mendes included, felt incredibly daunting. What the fuck were we going to do? Once we started, we realized we couldn’t think about Skyfall. We had to think about this one. There’s more of everything in this film. It felt completely the right thing to do. We’ve got the character of Moneypenny back and Q, and now Ralph Fiennes is playing M. Things started building from there. So it’s got more bells.
Did you always plan to play Bond a fourth time? It’s been nearly a decade since you shot Casino Royale. Well, I was contracted to do another one. That was all set up. But at the studio, there was a real keenness to get it done as soon as possible. In fact, there was a conversation at one point that went, Let’s film two movies back-to-back. I just went, You’re out of your fucking minds. In the nicest possible way. They’re just too big.
Can you imagine doing another Bond movie? Now? I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists. No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.
“If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.”
Photograph: Paul Stuart
Move on from Bond for good? I haven’t given it any thought. For at least a year or two, I just don’t want to think about it. I don’t know what the next step is. I have no idea. Not because I’m trying to be cagey. Who the fuck knows? At the moment, we’ve done it. I’m not in discussion with anybody about anything. If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.
There was more humor in Skyfall than in Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace. Will that continue with Spectre? It was conscious. I just think there’s room for it. Especially when you’ve got someone like Sam Mendes at the helm, who is the truth police—and I’m the truth police too. We’re always asking, Is this real? Then the humor can happen. But it’s not gag writing. Those are not the kind of movies I want to make. Really, really, really good gags are few and far between. Those writers are out there, but they’re rare. Look at people like Seth Rogen and people who make those movies; a lot of that is improvisation. They’re funny people, and I’m not used to doing that sort of thing.
Playing Bond is a lot about how you look—the clothes, the walk, the fitness. Do you ever get fed up with all that? It’s a drag. The best acting is when you’re not concerned about the surface. And Bond is the opposite of that. You have to be bothered about how you’re looking. It’s a struggle. I know that how Bond wears a suit and walks into a room is important. But as an actor, I don’t want to give a fuck about what I look like! So I have to play with both things. In a way, that works, as that’s Bond: He looks good, and he doesn’t give a fuck what you think he looks like.
The most famous image of you as Bond is in your blue trunks in Casino Royale. How do you feel when you look at it almost 10 years on? I don’t look at it. I don’t look at it, weeping, going, Wasn’t I beautiful! Everything like that has been a voyage of discovery. I was aware of what was needed to be Bond, but it still goes against everything I believe in. You’ve met me a couple of times. I’m not very cool. I’m not the coolest human being. I wish I was, but I’m not. And I don’t pretend to be cool. But playing James Bond, you have to be cool, and what the hell is cool? You could write a dissertation on it. That was a big accident, that particular shot. I was pretending to swim in shallow water, and then I stood up and walked out of the water. I was pretending to be too cool to swim, I thought it looked stupid and stood up, and I walked off—and that was the shot.
Do you ever look back and think: How the hell did I end up playing James Bond? I know, it’s ludicrous. It’s ridiculous. When I first got approached, I just thought, You’ve made a mistake.
There’s always so much expectation and talk around a new Bond film. Have you gotten used to the passionate fans and how much they care? You can’t think about it. I don’t go on the Internet anymore. I think if you’re famous, the Internet is evil. I really think that. If you’re famous, it makes you paranoid. Or it makes you more paranoid than you already are. Because if you’re famous and you go on the Internet for half an hour, you realize people are talking about you. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, some of that will make you paranoid. I just don’t do it anymore. It’s the enemy of creativity.
So celebrity wasn’t an ambition? I started off acting at a time when the attitude was—and I don’t know if it was because it was the tail end of punk rock or what—I don’t give a fuck what you think. Don’t think about what you look like; you should just care about what’s in your head. I grew up around artists and the attitude was: This is who I am and this is what I do. Today, I think, everybody needs to be told how great they are. It’s dangerous. Because someone’s going to say: I think you’re a cunt or you’re terrible.
What sort of artists did you grow up around? There were artists in my family. It wasn’t about being famous, it was, I’m not going to belittle what I do to make you like me more. It made for a lot of unsuccessful artists, but it was about being content with what you do.
Does playing Bond limit what you can do as an actor? Every idea I’ve had for a Bond movie I’ve stuck into this one. It’s gone in. The Bond bank is dry. If you’re asking me what would I do with another Bond movie, I haven’t a clue. Go into space? Let’s do it! They already did it. Let’s do it again.
No, I mean, what does Bond not allow you to do generally as an actor, beyond Bond? Oh, I see. Bond allows me to do anything I want to in some respects. But it’s changed my working life in an incredible way. There are more opportunities. I could do many, many things. But it takes an awful amount of time. If anything, the restriction is that it is incredibly time-consuming.
What are your thoughts on Bond’s relationship with women? Do you consider him a dinosaur? Well, I think you have to walk a thin line. I think it’s okay for him (not to be misogynistic—that’s too strong a word) to find women a little difficult, shall we say? That’s a character thing. If you start judging him completely on that, I think you’re lost. And that comes with casting. What you do is, you do your best to make the parts for the women in the movie as strong and as interesting as possible. Otherwise, I’m like, Forget it. Bond still wants to have sex. I still think he wants to fuck anything with a pulse. It’s about how the women change him. That, for me, is interesting.
Do you care who plays Bond after you? Look, I don’t give a fuck. Good luck to them. All I care about is that if I stop doing these things, we’ve left it in a good place and people pick it up and make it better. Make it better, that’s all.
You won’t be backseat-driving then? Oh, Christ, no. How fucking sad would that be? Oh, look, it’s Daniel Craig, he’s on set again! No.
If an actor were offered Bond and came to you looking for advice, what would you say to them? Literally, I’d say two things: First, it’s your decision. Don’t listen to anybody else. Well, do listen to everybody, but you have to make the choice at the end of the day. And don’t be shit! Don’t be shit. You’ve got to step up. People do not make movies like this anymore. This is really rare now. So don’t be shit. You’ve got to push yourself as far as you can. But it’s worth it. It’s James Bond.
This is a film that gathers all the great—and some of the not-so-great—things about the three previous Craig-as-Bond chapters into one rousing, spectacular, scattershot and somewhat overextended victory lap.