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Daniel Craig: Real man as superhero

Daniel Craig as James Bond, Agent 007.

I just don’t believe a man who kills for a living doesn’t have nightmares. --Daniel Craig

He is more analytical about James Bond than the other Bonds I've met. The earlier 007s spent a lot of time thinking about him as a character, but Daniel Craig approaches him as a comforting concept in an uncertain world. He asks himself, as some of the Batman actors have started to do, what it might be like for a real man to live the life of a fantasy hero.

Craig, who took over the role with "Casino Royale" (2007), was visiting Chicago to promote "Quantum of Solace" -- the 22nd title in the series, which began with "Dr. No" in 1962, six years before Craig was born. The movie opens nationally on Friday, Nov. 14. He is a calm, self-possessed man, eyes as blue as Paul Newman's, seeming not so much pumped-up as coiled. For his inspiration in the role, he said, he drew on Ian Fleming's original novels.

"The original Bond was always in turmoil with himself, always questioning," he said, "Maybe he got smoother as the books went on. But going back to the beginning, it’s the way I approach my work. I'm aware it's a Bond movie and always remains a Bond movie. I’ve just always felt there should be an element of truth or emotion in a movie, so that the audience can hook in. If it’s only action, then it’s not the complete picture."

Bond's super-villains were often comic characters with movie-set headquarters inside mountains or on the Moon. Now that the world has actual villains hiding inside mountains, or somewhere, it has grown more complex for Bond villains, who often seemed to belong in a comic book, anyway. The villain's specialty in "Quantum of Solace" a film in preparation for more than two years, is surprisingly current: Global financial manipulation.

"The world is rapidly changing," he said. "Natural resources and the global economy are going to play a major role in the future. Over the couple weeks with the way people have been running from banks and running from investment and showing their true colors, anything is possible. So the simple answer is, there will always be a need for a hero or a heroine. He will last as long as you keep the films good and they explore subjects that we see around us."

When you think of Bond you think of stunts, particularly the spectacular opening sequences that have no connection whatsoever with the remainder of the plot. In the early years Bond used countless stunt men and traditional special effects. There was a tangible feel to stunts like Bond skiing off a mountainside and parachuting to safety. We thought to ourselves, some guy really did that!

Now, in the era of Computer Generated Imagery, anything is possible. When an actor like Christian Bale insists on personally jumping off the Sears Tower, he uses safety wires and nets but there is a word for what he's doing, and that word, in my opinion, is insane. As Bond, Craig performs many or most of his own stunts, and you can't safely assume you're looking at CGI. I asked him about the arm sling he was wearing. He laughed. "Not a stunt. Old rotator cuff injury."

"Of course, when it comes to doing a sequence in an airplane, the best way is always going to be CGI," Craig said. That would be the sequence where he pilots a classic propeller job through a very unlikely crisis. "It was always about trying to marry CGI and real actors so a scene is as seamless as it can possibly be. The majority of our CGI work in this movie is about painting stuff out. Look at the roof chase sequence in Sienna [Italy]. There are four cranes constantly out there because there were cameras on wires -- they’re called skycams, they use them in football games here -- and they fly overhead. I’m wired on the back, and occasionally they’ll be a rigger holding something up. CGI replaces everything we don't want you to see."

And it looks like you doing the rooftop jumps.

"I didn’t make every jump but the danger is really so minimal. You can twist your ankle walking down the street. I had eight stitches and lost a chunk of my finger on the sound stage doing the most inane thing. But the jumps from the buildings and the big crashes I didn’t hurt myself at all. We worked so hard in rehearsal before we started. The only thing that concerned me was getting them right, because you’ve got four cameras and lots of people looking at you, and they’re cold and they’re wet. One of the stuntmen got very badly injured on this film. He’s made a full recovery but there are risks."

Conspicuously missing from the film are two standbys from the past: Q and Miss Moneypenny. The role of M (Judi Dench) has on the other hand been much expanded.

"His relationship with M is important because the film was about knowing who your friends are, who to trust, where your allegiances lie. The next time around, I have lots of ideas; I’d love to get Q back involved and I’d certainly like to have Monypenny back. But we need to introduce them in their own right. To ask an actor to just, come in and do a Monypenny, or do a Q, is offensive."

And terrorists? The villains du jour?

"The fear of terrorism has always been in my life. I grew up in Ireland during the IRA and that battle was fought very much on British and Irish soil. Terrorism is too loose a subject. We have to think smarter than that and we have to keep Bond apolitical. We're not making political movies; we’re making Bond movies."

Craig is classically trained; his London stage debut was in Shakespeare, and he's made very serious films. I asked him how he's facing the phenomenon of the Bond image that sticks to an actor.

Craig smiled. "Philosophically speaking, there are worse things. I can’t do things as a reaction to Bond. I can’t go and deliberately play a part which is the antithesis of Bond.It’s one of those high class problems I’ll have to try and deal with."

Doing a web search for Craig is entering a mine field of attacks on his casting as Bond. He admits to some surfing himself. "Don’t you know," I asked, "that those flame wars are maintained by fan boys crouching in their basements with way too much time on their hands?"

"You said it. I’m no enemy of the internet, but that way for me madness lies. It started for me on 'Casino Royale' very early on. It suddenly exploded because the stuff spread everywhere. I made the mistake of going online and looking. I’ve had bad reviews in newspapers, but these were very strange personal attacks. I can’t enter into the argument. All you’re gonna do is get into the same language if you’re not careful and the same language is gonna be, 'I hate you!' 'No, I hate you.' There are better things to do."

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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