NEW YORK — As Daniel Craig dons his sharply tailored tuxedo and hefts his trusty Walther PPK for “Skyfall,” his third outing as British Secret Service Agent 007, the hunky actor seems to be finding a firm footing in one of filmdom's most darkly iconic roles.
Initially dissed by doubters as “the blond Bond,” the buff, blunt Londoner is now the sixth actor to officially play James Bond and the fourth to essay him in more than two films (along with Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan). And as he has diligently carved out his own take on Ian Fleming's durable, deadly superspy in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” Craig appears to have patterned his performances more along the craggy, muscular lines of Connery's Bond than the suave, glibly urbane styles of Moore and Brosnan.
Still, in “Skyfall,” the 23rd film in the Eon Productions franchise, Craig's Bond seems a bit more battered, vulnerable and emotional than in previous outings. In fact, there's even one scene here in which James Bond appears to shed a tear.
“Crying? I don't cry,” Craig said in mock defiance at a recent news conference. “That's sweat.”
During a pre-hurricane press event hosted by Columbia Pictures and MGM at SoHo's swanky Crosby Street Hotel, Craig was quick to note that even as the Bond movie franchise turns 50 (“Dr. No” was released in 1962), there's still lots of room to explore the cool, lethal spy's inner turmoil and his mysterious family background.
“Skyfall” casts its focus on Bond's close relationship with steely spymaster M (Judi Dench). When ghosts from M's past turn up to hound her, Bond's loyalty to his boss and mentor is tested as he sets off on a globe-trotting trek to hunt down the threat and destroy it. But doing so comes at a high personal cost to Bond.
“Nobody told me we couldn't make an action film with a good story,” Craig said. “And we always go back to Fleming when we sit and discuss. If you look at the novels, (Bond) is so conflicted. Fleming tries to kill him off when he gets really pissed at him. And Bond is a killer, you know. He kills for a living. So it's really a very dark place he goes to.
“But what I'm so proud about this movie is the writing is so good, and the lightness of touch that we wanted so much is back. But you need good writing for that. And hopefully we've combined that with a very emotional story.
“This one is a little bit about families and parents and children,” Craig said. “Not in a heavy way, but going back to Bond's childhood just to destroy it. And then to move on, begin again.”
In many ways, “Skyfall” feels like a throwback to earlier Bond adventures, most notably “Goldfinger,” and Craig said the challenge was to lightly balance homage to time-honored conventions with high-tech elements that push the franchise into the 21st century.
“I don't think we're ever that self-conscious about it, but I think there's definitely a ‘Goldfinger' influence here,” the actor said. “Certainly the conversations we had at the very beginning took into account that it's 50 years, and we needed to mock it and to reintroduce old things and introduce some new ideas. And just to celebrate it a bit. I'd be lying if I said we weren't influenced by movies like ‘Goldfinger,' for sure.”
One area where the old-school Bond clashes with the new-school tactics of cyber warfare is in 007's customary meeting with brainy gadget-master Q.
“People talk about the gadgets all the time,” Craig said. “But if you look at the original gadgets what was sexy about them was Bond took out a box, stuck it on a door and the red light came on. And that's kind of simple and sexy; it did something. But to have Bond at a computer in front of a screen, I think that's (bleeping) boring. And I think technology on the whole is boring.
“But what I liked about this is we brought in Ben (Whishaw) as Q, a computer whiz, and we have this clash of two worlds. Together, there's the potential of a really great team. It means that Bond doesn't have to be dealing with technology. We've very deliberately kept the gadgets simple. And we use them; we don't just put them in extraneously.”
But for Craig, who hasn't allowed his dedication to Bond to limit his career (he's now attached to another big franchise project after starring in last year's “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), it's always about telling good stories.
“I just think good action movies must have good storylines. And then with the Bond stuff and the rules that apply, you have to keep it within those boundaries,” Craig said. “We always have to remember that it's a Bond movie. Again, as I said earlier about Fleming, it's in the books. He's complicated. If you balance it right, it should work. I don't think I play him as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. In most of the movie I think he's in control or at least thinks he's in control. And it's just allowing those cracks to show and let us see into the character a bit, and I think that's worth doing. But we try to do that as lightly as possible.”
While “Skyfall” is filled with dark secrets and surprising twists that Craig staunchly avoided discussing, he did relent in acknowledging one minor spoiler relating to Bond's beloved silver birch Aston-Martin DB5 (originally seen in “Goldfinger”). Not to give too much away, but the signature spy car makes an explosive appearance related to the story's climax.
“It's a joke. It's a gag. It's a good gag,” Craig allowed. “You know, the car is beautiful and everybody loves it. And (Bond) just might find another one. We'll figure it out.”