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 outdoor area of Pinewood Studios near London. The set was a Havana streetscape – Cadillacs and neon. The scene would’ve been filmed in the Caribbean in the spring, if Craig hadn’t ruptured his ankle ligaments and had to undergo surgery. He was 37 and blonde when he was cast as the world’s most famous spy in 2005. He’s 51 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 $25 million (around R375 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, which will be released in April, 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.’ 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 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 ’60s) 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. 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, US$1.1 billion (R16.4 billion), as Iron Man 3. At the same time, they’re 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’s a slightly demonic, British conviction that it’ll all work out in the end. ‘There’s always been an element that Bond has been on the wing and a prayer,’ says Sam Mendes, who directed two of Craig’s 007 movies. ‘It’s not a particularly healthy way to work.’ Reckoning with any of this doesn’t actually help if you’re the frontman. 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’s happened to him and what he’s achieved. When I spent time with him last year, Craig was warm and voluble in the extreme. He spoke very quickly, losing threads and finding others.
He apologised when answering my questions almost as often as he swore. Onscreen, 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’d 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’d 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 said. ‘But there was sort of pulsing feeling to that day.’
The night shoot wrapped ahead of schedule, and the production crew – including members of the day team who’d 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.’
Craig’s stunt double was in tears. Broccoli and Wilson were also present, looking on. ‘We knew it was a monumental moment,’ Broccoli said. ‘There wasn’t a dry eye, to be honest.’
A crowd went back to Craig’s trailer. He drank Campari and tonics and made negronis for everyone else. ‘I was a mess,’ Broccoli said. ‘I was a complete and utter mess.’ On set, the crew hung around. ‘It’s night shooting – everybody usually runs off,’ Wilson said. ‘And they just were talking with each other and shaking hands. And it was as if they knew it had to end, but they didn’t like the idea.’
The producers were reminiscing a few weeks later in a hotel in New York. It was early December. That morning, Craig and the other stars of No Time To Die, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, and Lashana Lynch, had appeared on Good Morning America to launch the trailer. The street was a car park of celebrities’ black SUVs. Watching the trailer on my phone, like the rest of the world, the 25th Bond movie didn’t look a whole lot different from the 24th, or the 23rd, to be honest. The trailer showed Bond zooming a motorbike up some picturesque steps and Malek, as the villain, in a worrying mask. There was some evident double-crossing.
Craig, however, did seem like a new person as he prepared to step away from the franchise. He was keen to celebrate his work as Bond and even keener to look forward to whatever is coming next. ‘I’m really…I’m okay,’ he said to me. ‘I don’t think I would have been if I’d done the last film and that had been it. But this, I’m like…’ He dusted his hands. ‘Let’s go. Let’s get on with it. I’m fine.’
It was a different story with the rest of the Bond family. Craig’s films in the role have grossed more than US$3 billion (R44.8 billion). He also changed the part in dramatic terms. In Craig’s hands, Bond aged, fell in love, and wept for the first time. He lost the smirk and gained a hinterland. During the same period, the UK – which Bond, in some way, always represents – has experienced extraordinary turmoil and self-doubt, #MeToo has happened, and it’s very unclear who the good guys are anymore. It’s just possible that Craig smashed Bond in more ways than one. The films can never go back to what they were. When I asked Broccoli how she was going to cope without Craig, it was her turn to flounder. ‘Honestly, I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘I can’t…I don’t want to think about it.’
IT STARTED with a funeral. On 21 April 2004, Mary Selway, a British casting director, died of cancer. Selway had helped Craig land some important early roles; she had also told him what to do. Craig isn’t exactly a submissive person. He left home as a teenager and never looked back. ‘My mother would hate me saying this, but I was on my own,’ Craig said. In his 20s and 30s, he was self-reliant to a fault. ‘The idea that people supported me…at the time, I couldn’t see it. It was, “I’m on my own. I do my own thing.”’ Craig was at the airport, on his way to India, when one of Selway’s daughters called. She asked him to help carry the coffin. He was taken aback. ‘It was a wake-up,’ he said. ‘It was like, “Oh, right. People care.”’
Selway’s funeral was at a broad, light-filled church in London. The British acting world was present. Barbara Broccoli was in charge. If you have an image of Broccoli as some old lady in a Rolls-Royce, discard it now. Broccoli was 43 at the time. She has long brown hair and a midAtlantic accent, and you do what she says. ‘There’s a very slim chance that the daughter of one of the great commercial producers of the last hundred years should also be a great, great producer, but that’s in fact the case,’ Mendes told me. Broccoli and Craig met for the first time at the wake. She asked him to come and see her.
Broccoli had been tracking Craig as the next Bond for the previous six years. In 1998, Craig played a psychopathic priest opposite Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth. His character was an assassin, dispatched by Rome to kill the Queen. The role suited Craig down to the ground: a damaged, dangerous young man. He’s always been interested in portraying violence on the screen. ‘I always thought it was more violent when you saw within the person,’ he told me. ‘The shock. It’s like Pacino shooting the cop in Godfather. He does it, and Pacino’s face – he’s never shot someone before.’ In Elizabeth, Craig’s priest had to kill an informant on the beach. The script said that he should strangle and drown him in the surf. But Craig had another idea. He moved the actor out of shot and pretended to dash the man’s brains out with a rock. ‘I started smashing,’ Craig recalled. He carried on. He broke into a sweat. ‘They went, “Cut!” And the crew went, “Oh...okay!”’ Like he was a crazy person. Broccoli was transfixed. In another shot of Craig, stalking through a church wearing a long cassock, she saw Bond. ‘I just remember getting chills all over my body,’ she told me. ‘I just thought, Oh, my God.’
Based on everything that had gone before, it didn’t make sense to cast Craig as 007. At the time, Pierce Brosnan had made four movies and was a direct descendant of the previous Bonds: dark, raffish, untouchable. The Brosnan films tended toward the camp and the fantastical, but so had many of the others. And they made good money. In 2002, Die Another Day, which featured Madonna as a fencing instructor and Brosnan kite-surfing down a conspicuously CGI wave, cleared more than US$400 million (around R6 billion). Craig was a different creature altogether: a blonde art-house thug.
But the Bond franchise in the early 2000s was in a moment of uncertainty. In 1997, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery had satirised the movies from head to toe, making it harder to play them for laughs. On the morning of 9/11, Broccoli and Wilson were in London, in a script meeting for Die Another Day. It was too late to rewrite the movie, but they sensed that it would be the last of its kind. ‘We felt the world has changed and the nature of these films has to change,’ Broccoli told me. Two years earlier, after a long legal battle, Eon and MGM Studios had obtained the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, which was published in 1953. After 9/11, the story offered a chance to refresh the franchise, grounding it more strongly in both the darker, original tones of the novels and the new, worrying state of the world. ‘It wasn’t just recasting the role,’ Broccoli said. ‘It was a new century and a new era. It felt like we had to redefine.’
Craig was sure that he was the wrong person. The first time he went to the Eon offices, he convinced himself it was just an exploratory thing. ‘I was like, “This is what they do. They get people in. They’re just feeling around,”’ he said. ‘Plus Pierce was not leaving Bond, right?’
When it was clear that Broccoli was serious, Craig tried to talk her out of it. ‘I remember saying to them early on, “I can’t do a Sean Connery impression. I can’t be Pierce,”’ he said. Broccoli persisted. Craig held out. He was 36. His film career was in great shape. He didn’t want to say yes. He was terrified of saying no. He had an image of himself in a pub, telling strangers that he could’ve been Bond. He was also a private person. ‘I could be anonymous in the world,’ he said. ‘It was genuinely like, my life is going to get fucked if I do this.’
In October 2004, Brosnan revealed that he’d been let go. Craig continued to prevaricate. When he’s out of his depth, he can be surly and difficult. ‘It was literally like, “Fuck off. I don’t fucking want this. How dare you? How dare you offer this to me?”’ he said. ‘It’s just ludicrous. But it was all defence.’
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