'Being James Bond': New documentary charts Daniel Craig's highs and lows as 007 with honesty
"He doesn’t exactly look the part," suggests at least one newsreader from the mid-2000s talking about Daniel Craig landing the role Ian Fleming's James Bond 007, "but he might grow into the job."
Launching on the 2005 decision to cast Craig as 007, brand-new documentary Being James Bond: The Daniel Craig Story (a free rental on Apple TV from 7 September to 7 October) knows exactly why the 006th Bond actor would grow into the job.
"He was lit from within", admits long-time 007 producer Barbara Broccoli, who knew he was her contender from the way Craig bounded onto screen in 1998’s Elizabeth that she knew "he was a great actor to boot."
In charting the fortunes, highs, misfires, and successes of Daniel Craig’s tenure in cinema’s most famous and enduring role right up to 2021's No Time To Die, Being James Bond hits the ground running on a note of sublime honesty. And it ends on one too.
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While the reasoning behind the original online animosity to the actor was the result of disgruntled parties getting it all wrong, Craig’s starting pistol moment as 007 was always marred. And unfairly so.
It emerges very quickly how the House of Bond and the Broccoli contingent do not just know how to make 007 movies. They understand the needs of an audience versus the DNA of what makes a movie hit. They know that Bond must be played by an actor with more than just the catalogue looks, charm and shiny hair.
He must be someone with star power, someone who can command the attention of all watching him. And he must be an actor they can protect, counsel and safeguard. In 2005, the Broccolis felt that the post 9/11 timeline of Bond now needed Daniel Craig.
Watch a trailer for Being James Bond
Except he did not want the role. "He wasn’t thought of as a leading man", notes co-producer Michael G. Wilson, who felt that both Craig and his roles so far had missed his centre-stage potential. But it was Barbara Broccoli who felt how the potential new guy privately, maybe subconsciously, "wanted it". Footage from Craig's screentest for the film demonstrates how right she was.
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Cut to 14 October 2005, and Daniel Craig is soon aboard the HMS Belfast facing the world’s press and their easy — and very wrong — slurs as EON Productions unveil their new Bond. The irresponsibility of how the original anti-Craig sentiments — and how actually small founded they were — are centre-stage here.
Craig, Wilson, and co-producer Barbara Broccoli are quietly angry about the fantasy hatred and the rebounding damage that can do to a project. Already the 2005 online world depicted here seems a quaint, gentler echo of the immediate panic and angry hysteria our social feeds churn up today. Yet, the anti-Craig sentiments were not quaint – something Being James Bond and its director Baillie Walsh knew had to be proved wrong.
If anything, the resolve to make Casino Royale and the Craig era something different was emboldened and strengthened by the criticism. Walsh and Craig have already worked together on Flashbacks of a Fool (2008). The director himself understands the value of allowing pop-cultural legends to shine. Baillie Walsh is also one of the creative players behind the new ABBA Voyage project – which itself knows the dangers of press expectation and public fears dominating the conversations before the work is experienced.
"Look at those tits!", mocks Craig about how his own immaculate physique. For it was that glorious, very-waxed Casino Royale moment when the new Bond emerges from the Bahamian surf in those trunks became the game-changer for opinion and the press.
"It was clear – he’s a movie star" notes Craig’s bosses. However, he is a movie star that has always grateful for the ‘voice’ they both gave him. Being James Bond addresses one crucial truth that always gets lost in the ‘delayed’ and ‘postponed’ headlines: that Daniel Craig values, loves, and respects the role as much as EON Productions, the world, and the fans.
He may not be the most conversational ambassador for Bond offscreen. Yet, Being James Bond rectifies that quite eloquently. Here there is nothing but Daniel Craig’s enthusiasm, candour, concentration, and respect for the landmark role. And the opportunities it has afforded him. This documentary also presents the study of a leading man who knows what now works less in the role. He does not want to change things because he can. He wants to shake it up with renewed vigour and stamina because he must.
Craig simply assumes the Casino Royale (2006) audiences would expect the 'sh*ts and giggles’ of Bond movie cliches from before. Yet, the first reviews for his debut Bond film were — as Barbara Broccoli notes — ‘crazy’. And that changed everything. Despite Wilson feels the backlash did still influence the box-office, the film soared beyond that. And it gave the role a rich starting pistol.
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But then Quantum of Solace (2008) hits the production ground navigating a time of an impending writers strike, an actors strike and troubling industry politics. Craig, Wilson and Broccoli are especially candid about the successes and concerns of Solace. "We just didn’t get Bond’s journey right in it", admits producer Wilson. Yet, his co-captain Barbara now feels it works well as a Bond film after all. And maybe it has a wider role in the whole cycle of Craig.
With great Bond power comes great Bond responsibility. Broccoli admits she was worried for Craig. She was concerned about her leading man being ‘under siege’ by the role and the press. The documentary does not go there as such — and it feels a feature length cut is in the wings here — but the Bond movies have previously lost leading men because of such prolonged, invasive intrusions.
Craig admits he is not that actor that can chat and laugh with every stage door fan for endless hours. And he is cautious of the press. Hugh Jackman somewhat changed that for him when Daniel watched his co-star in the Broccoli produced Broadway play A Steady Rain (2009) deal with his fame on the streets and in private.
Part of Craig’s era also needed him to take some time out. Hence the four-year re-stock and re-charge tactics before 2012’s blistering Skyfall. Wilson here knows that film worked, and in a way not all films can, Bond or otherwise. A combination of "a complex story and a simple plot" dealt Craig a deck of cards that was a winning hand in every way. Broccoli quietly relishes the premiere night moment when that corker of a Bond retort ‘what makes you think this is my first time?!’ brought the house down and proved the studio concerns wrong. Again, this documentary deftly underpins the quiet might of instincts of those responsible for Bond.
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And part of those intuitions are there when Being James Bond portrays how deeply invested the 007 captains and Daniel Craig are in the series. No one is more upset to lose Dame Judi Dench in the role of ‘M’ than Craig and his producers. For one of the biggest franchises in the history of entertainment and pop-culture, this documentary quietly conveys the familial structures of Bond.
"We were all a mess", Broccoli notes when Dench leaves the role. Skyfall feels like the ‘culmination’ moment. The story, bringing the family of MI6 characters back, Adele and the Olympics all converged in the latter half of 2012 to propel Daniel Craig and Skyfall‘s fortunes into the stratosphere. And it was Craig who didn’t first say 'yes' to his ER II moment in Danny Boyle’s Happy & Glorious segment. She did.
However, 2015’s Spectre was ‘hard’ for Craig. A broken leg was a constant distraction and carrying on he admits here was difficult – including a limb that could have given way in any scene, including the Mexico City title sequence where he could barely move as required. And he had convinced himself that was the last spin of his Bond dice.
Being James Bond reminds how each new film had to mean something for his character. It had to bring out those internal Fleming mechanisms, to avoid the one-liners and go for the ‘stress release’ lines instead. Craig admits part of the reason for his change of heart was because Barbara Broccoli 'drives a hard bargain'.
Cue No Time to Die and the ‘emotionally tough’ final chapter it meant for Craig. "I am just so thrilled at how this film has turned out," remarks Broccoli, "not only has he made his mark on the Bond franchise, but he has also made his mark on cinematic history".
Watch a trailer for the upcoming No Time To Die podcast
Being James Bond ends on a genuinely emotional beat of Craig’s final day’s shooting. If anything reminds of the personal stock he invested in the role, observe his emotions when he knows he has shot his final ever scene in the tux: the embraces, the bitten lips, and ensemble warmth that has surrounded his sixteen-year journey in the role. No one else has done that.
And as John Barry’s mournful end cue from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) accompanies Craig’s summaries of that five-movie trip, his hopefully insistent how ‘it’s alright now’ is a triply poignant endnote to conclude on.
He did his best. Rest assured.
No Time To Die arrives in UK cinemas on 30 September. Watch the final trailer below.