Daniel Craig is doing a terrific impression of a smiling buffoon. The actor is explaining how he’s rubbish at grinning on demand and is always branded ‘mean and moody’ whenever he’s snapped unexpectedly by a photographer. So now he’s giving me his best forced smile. It’s not pretty. ‘I’m just not that person,’ he laughs. ‘So people have a perception that I’m grumpy all the time.’
You could say that as James Bond he has a reputation to protect. The 43-year-old is currently shooting his third Bond film, Skyfall, although when we meet at a downtown Soho hotel in New York City – he lives in Manhattan with his new wife, Rachel Weisz – it’s a quieter time for him. He’s between finishing pick-up shots for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Los Angeles and flying to London to begin working on Skyfall with the British director Sam Mendes.
The Girl… is the reason we’ve met. Craig is dressed in his usual off-duty uniform of dark T-shirt and jeans, rounded out with colourful Nikes and a chunky watch (a 007 sponsorship tie-in, perchance?). He has clearly been working out and tells me he’s down the gym every day to prepare for being Bond.
He’s full of praise for The Girl… director David Fincher (responsible for The Social Network), who has followed three recent Swedish films of Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium’ trilogy with his own, English-language version of the first novel. Craig is Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist on his uppers who hooks up with troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, who played Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend at the beginning of The Social Network) to investigate a serial killer. The film was Craig’s last non-Bond duty before dusting off the tuxedo and leaping back into the world of 007.
You’ve said that talking to the press is like going to the dentist. Do you feel differently after playing a journalist?
‘Oh yeah, now I understand! [Laughs] I feel so much better about it! The truth is, I don’t have any problem with journalists – I count some of them as friends – also some of my heroes are journalists – great people or crazy people who are prepared to stand up for what’s right. ‘And I like the guy in this film, Mikael Blomkvist, but what I like about him is that he’s flawed, he’s a complex, weak, egotistical man on a moral crusade. And all those things combined are interesting, plus he has this brilliant relationship with this girl, Lisbeth Salander, this damaged, hyper-intelligent human being. On paper, they shouldn’t come together, but they do and they respond to each other. She’s the one with the balls in the relationship. He’s happy to watch while she beats someone up.’
Rooney Mara looks terrifying in the film as Salander.
‘There were shenanigans going on while she was being cast. David Fincher was adamant [about casting her] and I get that. Just look at the beginning of The Social Network, she’s phenomenal. She’s got something about her, but also she’s physically perfect. When she puts the hoodie on and the leather jacket, she looks like a 14-year-old boy, she looks sexless. Which is perfect. The other side of it is that when she doesn’t have that on, she’s really sexy.’
Your character is Swedish and the film’s set in Sweden, but you speak English with no accent. Was there a debate behind that?
‘Some people in the film have accents and some don’t. I don’t. I had a long conversation with David about it and said that a lot of Scandinavians speak English perfectly. I’m one of those guys. The only thing that matters, as far as I’m concerned, is that no one sounds American. We sound as European as possible. We’re all speaking one common language and that happens to be English. I didn’t want an accent to get in the way, and for me it would. Salander has no formal education and she has a street accent, it’s quite specific.’
Did you read the books before?
‘I had read them already. I stole a paperback off someone on holiday. Then I read the other two. You’d be at the airport and see the cross-section of people who were reading them, that’s how I noticed them. I kept seeing it on the bestsellers list and had no idea what it was about, and then you’d find 80-year-old men and 14-year-old girls reading it. That’s phenomenal.’
You can’t have needed much encouragement to work with David Fincher after The Social Network.
‘I think that film was a real shift for him in the way he makes movies. I think his visual style was all there, but it was embedded in the movie in a way I hadn’t seen before. I love all his movies, but Fight Club dated because the visual style was copied in commercials and if you’re that cutting edge you’re always going to be up against that. You’re creating new things in movies and people are going to steal them. With The Social Network, I felt there was a maturing of him – he’s always been a great filmmaker but he suddenly became confident about storytelling and visuals, and the two married together in a way I hadn’t seen him do with such confidence.’
You’re about to start shooting the new Bond film. How do you feel about it? Is there a sense of ‘Hell, here we go for the next seven months…’
‘Yes, there’s definitely some of that, but I’m genuinely really excited because we’ve got a script. The deciding factor for doing Casino Royale – even though I was umming and ahing, going [puts on moody voice] “I don’t know if I want to do it” – was that they showed me the script and I thought: F**k, I’ve got to do this. And I think this one is better. I really do. It’s a totally original story. I read it and it just works as a story. It sounds like a simplistic thing to say, but you read it and you go: “Oh yeah, I get that, yeah, and oh, yes, okay,” and that’s unusual.’
It seems that the script is sometimes an afterthought on huge productions.
‘Yes, and you swear that you’ll never get involved with s**t like that, and it happens. On Quantum [of Solace], we were f**ked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again,” but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’
It was still a massive commercial success, so it wasn’t a failure in that sense.
‘No, quite. But for me personally, on a level of feeling satisfied, I would want to do better next time. That’s really important to me.’
To give a better performance?
‘No, the whole film. If you’re going to do that sort of stuff, you’ve just got to get it right. You’ve got to give it your best shot. When you’ve got all that talent, everyone gunning to make it good, you’ve got to get it… For f**k’s sake, it’s a Bond movie. You want people to go, “Whooah!” – a sharp intake of breath during a movie is never a bad thing.’
Did you have anything to do with getting Sam Mendes on board?
‘I did, yes, I did. He’s English, he’s Cambridge-educated, he’s smart. He grew up with Bond the way I did. We grew up at exactly the same time, and I said to him: “We have to do this together, we have the same reference points, we both like the same Bond movies and we both like the same bits in the same Bond movies we like.” We sat down and talked about scenes that we knew from them. That’s what we tried to instil in the script. He’s been working his ass off to tie all these things together so they make sense – in a Bond way. ‘He’s an OCD control freak and I mean that in the nicest possible way, as all directors are. David Fincher included. They are all absolutely single-minded and all they want to do is get it right. On a movie like this, you need that. More than any other movie, doing a Bond movie is about is managing a lot of people, saying, “Okay, do that, that’s got to be done, and I’ll do that.” It’s a tricky f**king job to do.’
Did you worry about becoming public property – tabloid fodder – when you took on Bond?
‘Yes, in some respects it’s unavoidable, you can’t deny it. In some respects, I still fight with it now. I can’t go to war with paparazzi. [British tabloid] The Daily Mail loves saying, [putting whiny voice on] “He never smiles” – yeah, because I know you’re f**king taking pictures of me, that’s why. Because The Daily Mail comes to mind every time I see a camera. I challenge anybody to f**king smile. ‘But I do get it, you can’t just come out and be angry. You’ve got to live your life. I know I’m not that person. I’m never going to arrive at an airport after a 12-hour flight and go, “Oh, hi everyone, it’s so great to see you!” I can’t do it. You’ve got to live your life, you’ve got to enjoy it. And this is a great time, I’m playing James Bond.’
You’ve obviously decided to swallow your worries about press exposure for some of the promotional gigs…
‘[Once] they wanted to fly me in on a Harrier jump jet! I remember thinking: “Okay, in for a penny…” It was a strange transition. I had no idea what was going on. Who could I ask? “Hey, Pierce [Brosnan], what’s it like?” I did do that. And he just said: “You’ve got to go for it.” There’s nothing that he could say that could be of any use whatsoever.’
Did you worry about being seen forever as Bond?
‘I weighed everything up and the only reason not to do it was fear. The fear of losing everything else. And you can’t not do something because you’re afraid. Well, you can, jumping off cliffs and things like that, but to be afraid of losing something because I was going to play James Bond is kind of nonsense. That’s how I convinced myself. I thought: Even if it goes wrong, hopefully I’ll earn enough money to live on an island when I’m old and get a leathery tan! And drink cocktails in the afternoon. Which sounds quite good to tell the truth.’
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens in cinemas on 5 Jan.