Shortly before midnight, on a damp Friday last October, Daniel Craig shot his last scene as James Bond. It was a chase sequence, outside, on the back lot of Pinewood Studios, just west of London. The set was a Havana streetscape – Cadillacs and neon. The scene would have been filmed in the Caribbean, if Craig hadn’t ruptured his ankle ligaments and had to undergo surgery. He was 37 and blond when he was cast as the world’s most famous spy, in 2005. He is 52 now, his hair is dirty grey, and he feels twinges of arthritis. “You get tighter and tighter,” Craig told me recently. “And then you just don’t bounce.”
So there he was, being chased down a faked-up Cuban alleyway in England on a dank autumnal night. He was being paid a reported $25 million. It was what it was. Every Bond shoot is its own version of chaos, and the making of No Time To Die, Craig’s fifth and final film in the role was no different. The first director, Danny Boyle, quit. Craig got injured. A set exploded. “It feels like how the fuck are we going to do this?” Craig said. “And somehow you do.” And that was before a novel virus swept the globe, delaying the movie’s April release by seven months, to November.
Shop this look
About 300 people were working on the final stretch of filming at Pinewood, and everyone was pretty fried. The director, Cary Fukunaga, had shot the movie’s ending – the true farewell to Craig’s Bond – a few weeks earlier. The last days were about collecting scenes that had gotten lost or were flubbed in the previous, exhausting seven months. It was just an accident of the schedule that in his very final frames as Bond – a cinematic archetype that Craig transformed for the first time since the 1960s – he was in a tuxedo, disappearing into the night. The cameras rolled and Craig ran. That bulky, desperate run. “There was smoke,” he said. “And it was like, ‘Bye. See you… I’m checking out.’”
Craig isn’t the type to linger on moments like these. For the most part, he blocks them out. “You can ignore these things in life or you can sort of… It’s like family history, isn’t it?” he told me. “The story kind of gets bigger and bigger. I feel a bit like that with movie sets: This legend builds up.” Bond is fraught with legends already.
Shop this look
More men have walked on the moon than have played the part, and Craig has been Bond for the longest of all – 14 years. (Sean Connery did two comeback gigs, but his main spell lasted only five.) The films are also, insanely, a family business, which only intensifies the sense of folklore. Albert “Cubby” Broccoli made Dr. No, the first film in the franchise, in 1962. Fifty-eight years and 25 movies later, the producers are his daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson, Michael G Wilson, who began his Bond career on the set of Goldfinger, in 1964.
The films go toe to toe with Marvel: Craig’s Skyfall did around the same box office, $1.1 billion, as Iron Man 3. At the same time, they are weirdly artisanal, bound by tradition, a certain way of doing things. The offices of Eon Productions, which makes the movies, are a short walk from Buckingham Palace. The theme tune hasn’t changed for half a century. The stunts are largely real. The scripts are a nightmare. There is a slightly demonic, British conviction that it will all work out in the end. “There has always been an element that Bond has been on the wing and a prayer,” Sam Mendes, who directed two of Craig’s 007 movies, told me. “It is not a particularly healthy way to work.” Reckoning with any of this doesn’t actually help if you’re the frontman.
Shop this look
Craig has spent a lot of his time as James Bond trying not to think at all. While making No Time To Die, he taped some interviews with Broccoli and Wilson about his years in the role. There was a lot that he simply couldn’t remember. “Stop fucking thinking and just fucking act,” Craig said once, like it was an incantation. “It’s almost that. Because so many things are going on in your head. I mean, if you start thinking… That’s it. You’ve got to sort of forget. You’ve got to leave your ego.”
All of which means, now that it’s coming to an end, Craig sometimes struggles to comprehend what has happened to him and what he has achieved. When I spent time with him this winter, Craig was warm and voluble in the extreme. He talked a mile a minute, losing threads and finding others. He apologised when answering my questions almost as often as he swore. On-screen, Craig’s face – that beautiful boxer’s face, those gas-ring eyes – can have a worrying stillness, while his body moves. In real life, everything about Craig is animated, part-sprung.
It’s as if he wants to occupy several spots in the room at once. He self deprecates a lot. During one long conversation, when I told him that he had managed to imbue a previously vacant character with an inner life, a sense of mortality and an unquenchable feeling of loss – in short, that he had triumphed as Bond – Craig initially misunderstood what I meant. When he realised, he spluttered apologetically for a while. “What you’re saying, it’s like, if I say it…” He hesitated. He couldn’t bear to brag. But he also knew. “It’s raised the bar,” Craig finally conceded. “It’s fucking raised the bar.”
After the last shot at Pinewood, Craig posed with Fukunaga for a picture. His bow tie was wonky. They both looked shattered. “Typically I’m not an emotional person on sets,” Fukunaga told me. “But there was a sort of pulsing feeling to that day.” The night shoot wrapped ahead of schedule, and the production crew – many of the day team had stayed on to see Craig’s final bow – gathered next to the set. Fukunaga gave a short speech. Craig struggled through his. Since having a daughter with his wife, Rachel Weisz, in 2018, he has often found himself on the edge of tears. (Craig also has an adult daughter from an earlier marriage.) “I had a whole thing kind of put together in my head that I wanted to say,” he recalled. “I couldn’t get it out.”
You can read up to 3 premium stories before you subscribe to Magzter GOLD
Log in, if you are already a subscriber
Get unlimited access to thousands of curated premium stories, newspapers and 5,000+ magazines
READ THE ENTIRE ISSUE