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Indepth Casino Royale feature on Entertainment Weekly online

11-Aug-2006 • Casino Royale

"Casino Royale": Inside the big bet on the new 007. Daniel Craig is the new name on that License To Kill, and the latest Man Who Would Be Bond is resetting the spy franchise's clock. No pressure... by Benjamin Svetkey of Entertainment Weekly.

The jumbo jet parked on the runway is ready to be blown up.

The fuel truck with the leaky gas tank — and a terrorist bomber behind the wheek — is idling in a nearby hangar. And the Aston Martin belonging to a certain secret agent has juts pulled up to the curb.

In other words, everyone at this secluded airfield outside London, on this picture-perfect July afternoon, is waiting for the cameras to roll on what could be one of the most spectacularly explosive — not to mention spectacularly expensive — action sequences ever shot for a James Bond movie.

Unfortunately, so is the guy in the hang glider, making swooping circles in the sky overhead, snapping as many photos as he can.

"The paparazzi are everywhere," sighs a weary Daniel Craig, taking a break as security guards chase after the winged intruder. "We pulled two of them out of the bushes last night. They were in Prague when we were there. They were in Venice. They were on the beaches in the Bahamas. Everywhere Casino Royale has shot, they've been there."

Well, who can blame them? The press — and public — always get a little curious whenever someone new starts shaking James Bond's martinis. And this time around, there's certainly plenty to be curious about. After all, many moviegoers had never heard of Craig before October 2005, when it was announced that the 38-year-old blue-eyed Brit would follow Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan to become the sixth James Bond. Frankly, some wish they still hadn't heard of him: A group of hardcore purists have been so outraged by the casting of a fair-haired actor in a role they believe is strictly for brunets, they've gone so far as to launch an anti-Craig Internet campaign and threaten a boycott of the movie (yes, Mr. Blond, they expect you to dye!). But even those who don't care about hair color, who admire Craig's work in films like Layer Cake and Munich, may have questions about this 21st official installment of the seemingly eternal action series. Because the hair isn't the only thing different about this new 007. In fact, with Casino Royale, Bond is undergoing his boldest makeover since swaggering onto screens some 45 years ago in Dr.No.

"I watched every single Bond movie three or four times, taking in everything I could about how the character had been portrayed in the past — then threw all that away once I started doing the role," Craig announces. "There's no point in making this movie unless it's different. It'd be a waste of time unless we took Bond to a place he'd never been before."

Of course, some things about Bond never change. In Casino Royale, he still carries a license to kill (although not so many lethal gadgets), takes orders from "M" (Judi Dench, the only familiar face returning from previous Bond movies), and invariably goes for the girl with the bodacious, um, accent (this time even getting his heart—among other body parts—broken by French actress Eva Green). Still, make no mistake, this is not your father's 007. In some ways, it's more like your grandfather's. "We're going back to the character Ian Fleming originally conceived," says Barbara Broccoli, producer of the series along with Michael Wilson (Broccoli's half brother and stepson of the franchise's late cofounder Albert "Cubby" Broccoli). "It's not a period piece or anything like that. It's set today, right now, and it's got all the action fans have come to expect from the movies. But we're getting back to the essence of Bond, to the Bond in Fleming's first 007 novel."

Actually, that original novel is hardly the most action-packed in Fleming's oeuvre—the drama essentially hinges on a high-stakes game of baccarat. And it has been (very loosely) adapted before, in 1954 as a live TV drama on Climax! (with a crew-cutted Barry Nelson playing American agent Jimmy Bond), and again in 1967 as a big-screen spoof (with Woody Allen as the diabolically nebbishy Dr. Noah). But now, with this $150 million-plus production, shot over six months at a half dozen locations around the globe, Casino Royale is finally becoming part of the official canon—and a hugely ambitious part at that. As if the previous 20 films never existed, this latest will push the reset button on the whole series, reintroducing Bond to audiences as if for the first time with the tale of his maiden mission as a double-0 agent. Darker and more violent (in one torture scene that actually does come from the novel, Bond's testicles are...oh, but let's not spoil the surprise), with a story line involving no hollowed-out volcanoes or henchmen with oversize orthodontia (only a terrorist financier named Le Chiffre, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who Bond is sent to bankrupt at a high-stakes game of Texas Hold 'Em), Royale is a return to a more serious, realistic 007, what Broccoli calls "classic Bond."

Obviously, it's an enormous gamble, especially since the franchise hasn't exactly been losing money lately (the last Bond movie, 2002's Die Another Day, grossed $432 million worldwide). But Broccoli and her brother, who used to be famously reluctant to tinker with the franchise's formula, are now convinced it's time to take a risk. Especially since they couldn't think of anything else to do. "After the last film, we spent eight months trying to come up with a story, but just couldn't," says Wilson. "The movies had become so fantastical—with invisible cars and stuff like that—there was just no way to continue in that same vein. There was nothing new left to do. So we decided to start all over with the story we've always wanted to tell—how Bond became Bond in the first place."

And they'll get right back to telling that story, just as soon as they chase the hang glider away.

WHEN I FIRST GOT THE PART, people kept asking 'Have you done the line yet?"' Craig says, settling into a lawn chair on a patch of grass at the airfield. "But, honestly, I didn't rehearse it at all. I didn't practice it in the mirror every morning or anything like that. I didn't want to even think about saying it because I didn't want it to be this weight around my neck. I just wanted to get on with it and not blow it."

The line he's referring to is just six little words—"The name is Bond, James Bond"—but there's hardly an actor in the English-speaking world who hasn't imagined uttering it just once. There was certainly no shortage of applicants lining up to say it in Casino Royale. Hugh Jackman has admitted wanting the part so badly he even started a rumor that he was up for the role, just to make sure his name was in the mix. Pierce Brosnan made it clear he wanted to continue playing Bond (although he didn't quite mesh with the whole reinvention theme), while Henry Cavill (Tristan & Isolde) and Goran Visnjic (ER) were among those who tested for the film. (Rumors about who would play the Bond girl, incidentally, were also rampant, with names like Charlize Theron and Thandie Newton being floated; ultimately Green was cast just after filming began last January.)

But from the moment Broccoli saw Craig's 2004 turn as a dashing coke dealer in the English gangster flick Layer Cake, he jumped to the top of the short list. "He's everything Bond should be," she gushes. "He's sexy and charming and virile, but can also be dangerous." And he's young—the first actor to play Bond born in the post -- Dr. No era—making him all the more attractive to Sony Pictures, the studio that picked up the franchise when it bought MGM in 2005 (along with the rights to Casino Royale, which MGM had acquired through a lengthy court battle that ended in 1999). "We considered every actor in the world," says Sony chairman Amy Pascal, exaggerating only slightly. "But after Barbara saw him in Layer Cake, Daniel became the front-runner. From then on, he was the one to beat."

Surprisingly, Broccoli and Wilson had no problem persuading Sony to let them tamper with their newly purchased property. "When it comes to franchises, they know what they're doing," Pascal says. Even more surprising—positively shocking, in fact—is that Royale got its original green light while still at MGM, where creative tension with the Bond producers often created a Cold War-like chill, and where the old-fashioned time-tested Bond formula had kept the studio afloat for years. "They obviously would have been happy to let it continue the way it had been going," Broccoli says, "but they actually did sort of go along with our idea. We didn't have a finished script or an actor, but we were heading into preproduction when the sale to Sony happened."

It's impossible to say whether Craig would be playing Bond if MGM had stayed involved, but Barbara Broccoli wasn't the only one who noticed the actor in Layer Cake. Steven Spielberg was also impressed and cast him as an Israeli agent in last year's Munich. Well before then, Craig had been delivering notable turns (as Paul Newman's son in Road to Perdition, Gwyneth Paltrow's husband in Sylvia), even achieving a touch of fame in the gossip columns (as Kate Moss' boyfriend and, later, the chap who helped Sienna Miller get over Jude Law). But, as he soon discovered, nothing boosts your Q rating—or alters the course of your career—quite like getting fitted for James Bond's tuxedo.

"I was in Baltimore shooting a movie when I got the call," Craig recalls. "But it was a long progression, months and months, before getting to that moment. At one point, I did a screen test that lasted a whole day—I finally had to stop in the last half hour and tell Barbara enough is enough. And I had a debate with my friends. Some of them were disturbed by me taking the role, telling me I'd never be able to do anything else. What if I wanted to go off and do Gay Bikers on Acid —how would Sony feel about that? All of which were valid concerns. I mean, I'd love to go on to win Oscars and have my acting applauded by my peers. But I was being given a choice. A choice that might take me someplace I had never really thought about going, but that might not be such a bad place to go. So I asked myself, What else was I going to do? What else did I have planned for myself?"

In truth, plan B was already in place. That movie Craig was shooting in Baltimore was The Visiting, a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Nicole Kidman that'll open next year. In October, he'll also be seen on screen in Infamous (see page 74), a Truman Capote biopic—yes, another one—in which he plays Kansas killer Perry Smith. But with the producers offering him a chance to remake the seminal cinematic action hero—dangling a script rewrite by Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Crash) and guidance by director Martin Campbell (who made the first Brosnan film, 1995's GoldenEye, and was brought back to relaunch 007 a second time)—it wasn't difficult to convince him he was the right man for the job (signing him for a multi-picture deal, in fact).

"He's never really done an action movie before," says Campbell. "He's used to a deeper sort of acting, but doing a movie like this one, it's acting in three-second bursts. So it took Daniel awhile to get used to it, to get the rhythm down. But he eventually got comfortable in the role."

WHICH ISN'T TO say that everyone is happy. "If I went onto the Internet and started looking at what some people were saying about me—which, sadly, I have done—it would drive me insane," Craig confesses. "They hate me. They don't think I'm right for the role. It's as simple as that. They're passionate about it, which I understand, but I do wish they'd reserve judgment..."

Something is bugging them over at craignot bond.com, that's for sure. The site's homepage urges surfers to "Join the Boycott of Casino Royale " and lists disgruntled fans' grievances over Craig's height (at 5'11", they think he's too dinky), eye color (some want it brown), even rugged good looks (not suave enough, they complain). "They're upset about the color of his hair—the fact that he's blond," observes Eva Green, who's obviously done some browsing of her own. "Really, people can be such morons."

Enter the British tabloid press, all card-carrying members of SMERSH, judging by the way they piled on Craig. "The Name's Bland...James Bland," is how London's Daily Mirror greeted the new 007. Reports that he couldn't drive the new Aston Martin, that his teeth got knocked out in a fight scene, that he was sunburned in the Bahamas, all made it into print—even though not one turned out to be fully accurate. "I'm reluctant to talk about them because I don't want to give them any credence" is all Craig will say about the stories. Others are less tight-lipped. "The tabloids just come up with these stupid things," says Broccoli. "Almost everything they've written about this movie has been wrong."

Of course, all new Bonds get whacked around at first (even Connery—a Scot!—took hits when he was cast as the ultimate Englishman), and Craig's hazing may turn out to have an upside. "I actually think all that bad press will be good for Daniel," suggests Matthew Vaughn, his Layer Cake director. "This way, people can be surprised by how great he'll be in the role. He can just blow everyone away with his performance. Which he will do."

As if he weren't under enough pressure. If nothing else, the snotty headlines and Internet fuming have been a reminder of just how deeply fans care about the character now in his care, particularly in England, where Bond is as much a cherished cultural institution as the Beatles and Spotted Dick. It's clearly a responsibility the actor has been thinking about while reinventing the beloved cinematic icon. "There was an identity crisis in England after World War II, with the country figuring itself out, seeing the perceived power we once had dwindling away," Craig muses. "And along comes this character who's very British and very charming but at the same time sort of says 'F -- - you' to the whole world. I think the essence of the character is somewhere in there. I think that's what set this whole thing in motion all those years ago, and that keeps it going."

"The last thing I want," he's quick to add, "is to be the one who destroys all that."

Thanks to `` for the alert.

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