The time off from James Bond has been very good to Daniel Craig.
In the three years since the release of "Quantum of Solace," Craig has made his Broadway debut ("A Steady Rain"); starred in the World War II-era tale of Jewish rebellion, "Defiance"; joined up with Steven Spielberg again ("The Adventures of Tintin," following their earlier collaboration in "Munich"); and starred in the summer blockbuster "Cowboys & Aliens." Now, he's adding yet another major franchise to his plate, with David Fincher's remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."
At this point, the early misgivings of the "Blond Bond" seem laughable. Craig has emerged as one of the biggest British movie stars. More than that, he's already managed to prove that — maybe more than any previous guardian of the tuxedoed spy — he won't be pigeonholed by the role. Craig has not just grown into Bond, but, perhaps, beyond it.
"It's a very fortunate time for me at the moment," Craig said in a recent interview. "So I'm just trying to grab it with both hands."
Though the 43-year-old actor is known for being careful of his privacy, Craig, dressed casually in a jean jacket and jeans, comes across as relaxed. Self-deprecation is his fallback, and he often chortles sheepishly at his own wit. Though his screen presence is bleak and still, his manner is more loose and jocular. He meets a reporter in the lobby of a New York hotel for a recent interview, but Craig isn't visiting — this is his hometown now.
"It was one of those decisions in my life where it was like going, 'I want to be here.' Thankfully, I've got very good reasons," he says, presumably alluding to his wife Rachel Weisz and her 4-year-old son. Craig and Weisz (his co-star in Jim Sheridan's horror flick "Dream House," released earlier this year) wed privately in June. He has a teenage daughter from an early marriage.
Though Craig's personal life has become an increasing interest to tabloids, he's maintained a degree of elusiveness. Even in risible concepts such as "Cowboys and Aliens," he seems somehow above the fray, consistently projecting an air of professionalism and intellect.
Fincher calls him the "giant planetary body," of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," around which the other characters (such as Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander) orbit. The director is clearly taken by Craig, whom he compares to Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas — agile leading men with calm exteriors and smoldering eyes.
"He's obviously got a physical presence and a sense of menace," says Fincher. "But he has this ability to be available for the other actor. It's a selflessness. It's a movie star thing. It's knowing how to create a conduit for the audience.
"It's what he can do in here," Fincher says, gesturing a close-up frame.
In "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Craig plays intrepid journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who teams up with Salander to investigate a long-dormant missing woman case that unravels the sordid history of a wealthy Swedish family. It is, of course, based on the best-selling novels of Stieg Larsson, whose books were previously adapted into a trio of Swedish-language movies.
If the film succeeds how Sony hopes it will, it will generate at least two more films — meaning Craig could be simultaneously attached to two of big movie series. He's currently a third of the way through shooting his third Bond film, "Skyfall," directed by Sam Mendes (who previously directed Craig in "Road to Perdition"). His contract has an option for a fourth Bond film, but more than that seems likely. Bond producer Michael G. Wilson recently said he hopes to sign Craig for another five films and make him the longest running 007.
Asked about the prospect of carrying two franchises, Craig says jokingly, "I'm going to be very old. Botox is going to be in there.
"We'll see how 'Dragon Tattoo' does, but, yes, of course, I'd love to come in and do (more)," he says. "This is something I really believe in and I want to put all of my effort in to. I've just got to find time to live and that's kind of the only thing that really matters now.
"It's not a problem. It's good stuff, I think," he pauses for a beat, then slyly reveals more doubt and a slight confession. "Talk to me in a year. ... I'm talking a good game. I'm trying my best."
Craig, the son of an art teacher and a pub landlord, knew he wanted to be an actor by age 6. At 16, he joined England's National Youth Theatre and later continued into drama school. He started attracting attention after his performance as Francis Bacon's lover in 1998's "Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon," an early hint of Craig's daring.
Hollywood first took notice after a respectable supporting performance alongside Angelina Jolie in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." He memorably starred in a couple of Roger Mitchell dramas seen more in the U.K., "Enduring Love" and "The Mother," but he also began a continuing run in thrillers — a favorite genre — that included "Road to Perdition" and "Layer Cake."
It was surely his smooth fit — a steely, purposeful presence with a sinewy (and more than occasionally shirtless) frame — in such films that won him the role of Bond, which he began in 2006's "Casino Royale." The film, one of the most acclaimed in the series, restarted Bond, turning him into a more realistic, brooding and post-modern figure.
Before undertaking the 007 mantle, Craig made his peace with the possibility of being pigeonholed.
"In my head, I very clearly said to myself, 'If it does, it does,'" says Craig. "There's nothing you can do about it. And there's no shame in that, for Christ's sake."
2008's "Quantum of Solace," directed by Marc Forster, was marred by the writers' strike. The film went into production with what Craig calls "a third of a script," which he and Forster had to attempt to fill in. On "Skyfall," more focus was put on the screenplay to avoid such a situation. He says he's currently "incredibly happy" about where he is with Bond, and eager for a new installment that returns some familiar elements.
But finding his equilibrium away from Bond took some adjustment. Craig acknowledges that he initially looked for "roles that were diametrically opposed" before learning he ultimately had to rely on his gut. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" — European, stylish and lethal — might not have qualified under the older rubric. But Craig can't say no to a good, spine-chilling potboiler.
"I just wanted to be as natural as possible," he says of Blomkvist. "I wanted the audience to just go, 'OK,' so the thriller thing could happen. Without that, no one is in danger. You need to be doing the real thing every time, and then hopefully the audience is taken in by it. We're trying to con them, obviously, but con them in the nicest way possible."