Men’s Fitness meets Daniel Craig to talk about the physical demands of preparing to play the world’s most famous spy, why he does as many stunts as possible and how the next film will start with four girls in bikinis.
There’s a shortage of real action heroes right now. Whereas once cowboys, soldiers and ‘real men’ would have dominated the big screen, it now seems that the big action films are full of Transformers, mutants and comic book characters all made from CGI effects. But James Bond has stayed true to the realism of cinema. Even if it ends up being painful, Daniel Craig still subscribes to the idea that it’s better to end up black and blue than resort to bluescreen.
‘Sorry, it’s going to have to be left handed,’ he says offering his southpaw to shake. His right arm’s in a sling after an operation to fix a labral tear. ‘I’ve had it for years and aggravated it by jumping around doing stunts on Bond movies. I had to get it fixed or I could do end up doing a stunt on the next movie and rip it out of its socket.’ Oh yes, he’s the real deal.
Stripped of the gloss and silly gimmicks, the Bond franchise was ‘rebooted’ and Craig, unlike some of his predecessors, looks the part. And not just in a tuxedo or the driving seat of an Aston Martin, but physically he looks like the sort of person who really could ‘do some damage’. Those were the very words he used when telling personal trainer Simon Waterson what physique he was looking for in his first outing as 007. The image of him in tight blue swimming trunks coming out of the water became the iconic one of this era’s Bond.
Looking the part
For his second film, Quantum Of Solace, he’s not as ripped or bulky, having spent less time with weights and instead he dedicated himself to a lot more running. ‘But I don’t think I worked any harder, I just worked in a different way,’ Craig clarifies. ‘In fact, I was much fitter for this film compared to Casino Royale — I really had to be — and I was running a hell of a lot more in training, just so I could do these scenes, whereas last time I spent far more time pumping heavy weights to bulk up so I could look big.’
His trainer is a former military man, so is perhaps the perfect person to coach an actor who is preparing to go into combat scenes, but there was no big secret to Craig’s physique: ‘I hit the gym hard, that’s really what I did.’ And he had too, because filming Quantum Of Solace was tough work. While you’d forgive him the superficialities of getting the right image to play a character, Craig knew that getting fit was more than just looking right for the audience.
‘Last time, I was working out almost up to the point of filming Casino Royale, just to get in the right shape. But I had two months off before I started on Quantum Of Solace and I went into rehearsals to start going over the fight scenes and the action sequences and just trying to get things as well rehearsed as possible — that required a different kind fitness.’ Craig says. Laughing, he leans in and adds conspiratorially, ‘and I don’t want to do these stunts more than once if I can possibly help it.’
Jumping off buildings
Understandable, as during filming, Craig required eight stitches to the face after a bit of a miss-timing in a fight sequence and part of his finger was sliced off in another incident that he’s spent every interview since playing down. He does, however, fully believe that the lineage of stunt work in Bond films is essential. ‘I maintain that if I expect an audience to emotionally engage in a movie then I don’t want to pull them out at the wrong moment,’ he explains. ‘If I’m in a dialogue sequence and then the next minute you see Bond jumping off a building and you realise “oh, it’s not him” you really lose a lot. If we’re going to do the stunt, then I should do the jump as I need to be involved to get the audience involved. I enjoy it and there’s a great tradition of movie stars doing their own stunts – it’s part of the territory really and there was a time in Hollywood when they used to ask actors, ‘can you fall off a horse?’ I think that’s how it should be.’
The one scene with him running over the rooftops in Italy lasts just a few minutes on screen, but he explains that it took months to shoot and it took a bit of nerve: ‘I was worried at times when I was up on that roof thinking about how I would get from one point to another, jumping across buildings, but we do everything we can to be as safe as possible.’
Despite the attention paid to him, Craig insists that he’s not a natural athlete and jokes that he has ‘always enjoyed keeping fit in-between bouts of minor alcoholism.’ In many ways, his honest and self depreciating admission strips away the notion that to get a body like Bond you need perpetual trips to the gym all year round. He did it because of dedication to a role — a role that many people said he wasn’t right to play. Was there a sense of vindication when he nailed it and the film was a huge success?
‘No, never. I didn’t have that feeling in the first place. I knew that when I took the role on that there would be passionate reaction to me being James Bond, but there was little I could do. I couldn’t go onto the internet and say, “no, you’re wrong” or get into a debate because what purpose does it serve? The only thing I could do was to make the best film that I could.’ He smiles, ‘I know it’s easy to say with hindsight but that’s genuinely how I felt.’
The real spy world
That work ethic is very much the apparent nature of the man. He seems down to earth, especially considering how right now he is one of the highest-profile actors on the planet. ‘I really don’t have any desire to be a celebrity; I’ll just do my work and get on with it and I know that sounds like a hypocritical thing to say but it is the truth.’ Grimacing apologetically he insists, ‘honestly it is!’
In the world of ‘celebrity’ he’s won the lottery and doesn’t want the ticket, which these days is a refreshing change. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the attention and I don’t think anyone could — as a concept I don’t really understand it,’ Craig ponders shaking his head at the weird media spotlight he’s currently in. ‘It’s very strange because people elevate you into this place and I try and remain as true and normal as I possibly can. I’m a bit perplexed about it.’
Surely this means he’s set for life? ‘I’m financially set up quite nicely now,’ he says and then starts to laugh again, ‘although everybody thought that until the recent financial situation! But I have somewhere to live; I have a roof over my head and security in my life, which is just wonderful… and I can drive an Aston Martin if I want to, that can’t be bad.’ Nothing is perfect though and he admits that the biggest downside of playing the secret agent is that you can’t remain a secret yourself: ‘I can’t go to the pub the way I used to or sit in a bar anymore and have a quiet conversation with friends, which is the worst thing.’
Although his life has become quite surreal, the one thing that critics have praised about his portrayal is the authentic feel. No mean feat considering that Craig is in no doubt that Bond is, ‘as far away from reality as it could possibly get’.
‘God knows what the real spy world is like — I wouldn’t even dare dream about that,’ he says. ‘Remember the rock in Moscow a few years back? There was a fake rock with recording equipment inside and that’s just insane — if it was in a Bond film you’d say ‘Oh that’s crap’. A fake rock that unscrews to hide recording devices? It’s like something from a bad Austin Powers movie. So I’m sure the reality is far crazier than what we are doing.’
This film is darker than other Bond films though, was that to make it seem more true to life? ‘It sounds like a cynical idea to keep the film dark, deep and meaningful but I don’t think it’s like that; it’s a Bond movie through and through. Yes it has emotion in it, but it’s a complete fantasy world set in a very stylised arena. It’s something that director Marc Forster has developed and tried to make as classical as possible.
‘I’m a huge fan of the early Bond movies as well as the political thrillers from the 1960s and 70s as they really defined cinema at that time and that’s what we wanted to put into this movie. But the fun comes out of the relief of this movie rather than there being gag lines in it.
With the series ‘re-booted’ and some resolution to the emotional side of Bond development, there’s talk of introducing the more familiar elements back into the franchise. And yes, franchise is a horrible word, but there were some things that were intrinsic about the films and Craig is all for their reintroduction. ‘People talk about Q and Moneypenny all the time and I’d love to get them back in the movie, because I think they’re great characters. But the only criteria is to offer it to the best actors we can, but the first thing will be getting a script that’s right.’
That’s a few years off but when we asking if he has any ideas about what he would like to see, his eyes widen and with the grin he declares: ‘The next one will start, with any luck, with no emotion, no dark side, just me sitting on a beach drinking a cocktail with four women.’ And with two successful films behind him you wouldn’t bet against him doing just that without the role losing any of the newfound credibility. It’s his role now and it’s hard to remember a time when people doubted him. Daniel Craig really is Bond. James Bond.
For Men’s Fitness, December 2008