Daniel Craig for “Casino Royale”

At 38, Daniel Craig has amassed a large amount of experience in various theatrical and cinematic works including “Road to Perdition”, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, “Elizabeth”, “Sylvia”, “The Jacket”, “Munich”, “Infamous” and “Layer Cake”.

Yet Craig, a talented thesp with rugged Steve McQueen-esque looks and a chiseled muscular body, became an overnight household name in October last year when it was announced that he would be replacing Pierce Brosnan in the long-running James Bond franchise.

Craig’s hiring as 007 was controversial to say the least. With Brosnan leaving under less than auspicious circumstances, the hiring of Craig seemed doubly confusing considering that he bears little resemblance to Bond’s physical appearance in the past – notably his blond locks, blue eyes and more ample physique.

Online fans, the tabloids and regular newspapers had a field day, dismissing the film from Day One and reveling in the on-set gossip pertaining to the injuries Craig sustained during the rough and tumble filming. Fans cited his rugged, world-worn face as not suitable for the pretty boy gentlemen spy.

Now, on the eve of the film’s release, Craig is having the last laugh.

“Casino Royale” takes the Bond franchise back to its roots, specifically the first book by Ian Fleming about the character, which shows off the spy in his early days and how he became the icon he has become.

The result is the most acclaimed film in the series in years, reviewers are praising the movie to the high heavens with Craig in particular winning almost unanimously glowing reviews for his take on the character. Indeed many are saying that short of maybe Sean Connery, Craig is the best Bond yet and the one most in line with Fleming’s original creation.

The other week Craig sat down with select press in New York to talk about all his work on the film, where the franchise goes next and what are his plans for the future.

Question: You were crucified in the press when you were cast, did that affect you?

Craig: It happened. People’s passionate belief in this and what they feel, how connected they feel with Bond, that’s fine. The fact is there was nothing I could do. It did affect me. It affected me for a couple of days, but I got into myself and said, “We have to make this brilliant, the best it can be, or the best I can make it”. And that strengthened my resolve. Throw the computer away and don’t look on the internet. That’s the best thing to do.

Question: Where would you like to see your character go in the next one? What are you going to add to the role?

Craig: I don’t think he’s kind of rounded yet. I don’t think he’s finished. I think he’s got more lessons to learn, that for me is where we take it. I’d like to see him get into situations we might not have possibly imagined him in. That’s going to be the difficult thing, trying to find situations and scenarios that maybe take us out. In June of this year when I finished this movie, the last thing on earth I wanted was to make a Bond movie. I now feel more pumped up about taking this on somewhere. It’s going to be very interesting.

Question: How did you prepare for the action?

Craig: I’ve always kept fit. I quit smoking, which was actually the best thing…Did you stop drinking?

Craig: No, God almighty no, I wouldn’t have gotten through a week. That was Saturday night. I kept fit. I got into the gym. I started running, started bicycling, I pumped weights. It was twofold the reason really, I wanted to look like he was physically capable. I wanted him to look as fit as possible. I knew that to do the stunts I wanted to do; I had to be physically fit to do them. I don’t think I would have survived. I was getting injuries all the time, everybody was, and the stunt guys were getting injuries. You have the painkillers, you have the physiotherapy, then they pat me on the backside and say “C’mon, get on with it”.Was it your decision to do as many stunts as possible?

Craig: Not mine alone, it has to be safe. Gary Powell, the stunt coordinator, tested me out as we went along. He said, “I think you can do this”. I nodded and said, “Okay, I’ll have a go”.Did you ever say no to a stunt?

Craig: No, I don’t think I did.

Question: How are your balls doing these days after that torture scene? Did you actually get hurt?

Craig: The honest truth is that it was one of the simplest scenes to shoot. It was on the page. It was a great scene in the book and had been adapted so well. Basically a chair is set-up up, I sat in the chair, it has a fiberglass bottom to it and I’m ensconced in that. It did crack. I hit the ceiling and left. (laughs) Martin [Campbell, the director] and I talked about it a lot. We’ve got to make it real. It’s got to be a scene that gets guys squirming and that was the first thing. And then I said to myself that I don’t want him to lose. Even though it’s all over, and it appears to be, Vesper’s getting tortured. There’s nothing he can do, so the only thing that can happen is to still beat this guy. I have no idea what that feels like and I never want to find out, but the assumption is the more you get hit, the less it’s going to hurt.

Question: Were you self-conscious being naked?

Craig: Absolutely…(laughs) have you seen my other movies? Self-conscious doesn’t really come into it. No.How many films are you signed for?

Craig: I’m signed for three films. Now I actually feel we’re ready to do another one. What we’ve set up in this one, we set up this idea that there is an organization out there, maybe there’s one person who’s responsible. The fact is now he has to go and get them. Obviously there’s an element of revenge involved. Hopefully all those things will make it as rich an experience as this one. How do you feel being a sex symbol?

Craig: As far as I’m concerned, the sexiness, the sex symbol, it’s not a consideration. I didn’t go out to play sexy in this film. It’s nice…I don’t know, I’m embarrassed, I don’t know what to say…Bond is a sexual creature…Daniel Craig: The important thing in the movie is to see what that’s about. He’s a driven guy. He likes tasting things, that’s the best way to put it. If he can, he will. Given the opportunity, yes, that’s part of his character, that’s the risk he takes, combined with the way he enjoys life.

Question: This role will stick with you forever, your obituary will say James Bond…

Craig: Jesus Christ! (laughs) Of course, but it’s a very good problem to have. It’s not bad. I say that with gusto now, but it’s why I did this. I’m very proud of this movie. I’m very proud of what we achieved. It was a lot of pressure to get it right. I think we have, and the Bond aspect of it was all in place anyway. I’ve got some other things to do in life.

Question: You have two incredible scenes, reaction shots really, that I think defines you as James Bond. The last shot of you and Mr. White is incredible. Was that your idea or the director’s?

Craig: People ask me about that line. I didn’t rehearse it. The first time I said it was on the set. We did it a few times, that wasn’t the only take. There was a discussion. He hits Mr. White from the other end of the garden. He’s Bond, I don’t want a handgun, I want an assault rifle. I want a silenced assault rifle. I want to have that look at the end, which is he means business. I didn’t consciously try and be anything. That’s not how I approach things. I don’t visualize. I just think, what does this feel like? Does this feel good? It’s up to Martin to shout cut at the appropriate time.As a follow-up, the reaction shots from the casino scene, there’s no dialogue. How do you shoot that?

Craig: I can’t tell you how complicated that was. We rehearsed everyone on the tables so everyone knew what they were doing. We had like five packs of cards, all in the right order. They were all coded, so we start the game at any point we want, and the cards are going down in exactly the right order. I just went, now let’s play poker. Mads [Mikkelsen] and I, he’s fantastic a great actor, it was like sparring. It was great fun to do, just to get that dynamic going between the two of them, just looking at each other, it was a fight. We never have a physical fight in the movie. That was our physical fight. The card game, Martin and the editor, getting that together, making that believable. Not everybody knows about cards in the audience, but getting that together, that’s poker. That’s really what it is, pushing those chips, bringing up the tension of it. It’s a whole bunch of people that made it happen.

Question: “Die Another Day” went clearly over the top. “Casino Royale” goes completely in the opposite direction. Was that a consideration?

Craig: Being over the top, Christ sakes, Mads weeps blood. But it’s done great, it’s kind of a beautiful Bond moment. It’s done with a dab. I want it to be as stylish as it possibly can. What I wanted to maintain is that you can do anything, if it’s in the plot. If it’s right and if it feels good, then you can get on, because we are in a fantasy world. That’s the fact, this isn’t real life.

Question: Bond has some emotional moments in the film. How did you walk the line between being vulnerable and being tough?

Craig: What did you think? (laughs) You have to answer that question. I tried to walk the line very carefully. To not make it emotional would have screwed everything that had gone on before. It’s a Bond movie. I was keen on the idea, this is James Bond, he is somebody, but it’s how he is in that situation that’s interesting. Its how closed off he is that’s interesting. The fact that he’s alone at that point, if somebody walked up, he’d dry his eyes and walk away. But the fact is he’s alone and we catch a private moment. It fitted. That seemed to be the right thing to do. There were other takes that maybe were a little less emotional, but we played around it.

Question: Did playing an intelligence agent in “Munich” help at all to play Bond?

Craig: No, it’s a different deal. There are things about guys who are in the army. They’re very particular, they have to be. Bond is kind of like the exaggeration of these things, down to the cufflinks. But it’s a particular thing because there has to be a sense of order to these things. Then he can react to it. With that character, there was a sense of that. I promise you I wasn’t trying to do something similar. Spielberg would sometimes play the Bond theme.Have you spoken to Pierce Brosnan?

Craig: I spoke to Pierce. He’s been great. He’s been very supportive.So he didn’t curse you out?

Craig: (laughs) No, he’s been great. He said, “You have to go for it”.Getting back to all the criticism, the movie is great. Would you like to tell the doubters to fuck off?

Craig: No, that’s not the way I am. That doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I set out to make a good movie. That was never an issue. I stand by that, I’ve got better things to do.

Question: What’s your drink of choice?

Craig: Depends on how drunk I want to get. I love vodka martinis. I know it’s a clich&#233. I love them, but they have to be good. They mix very good vodka martinis in this town, as I’ve found out.

Question: Are you ready for the fame that comes with being Bond?

Craig: I don’t know. I don’t know how you prepare yourself for that. I’ve never been in this game for that, I’ve never gone looking for it. I’ve not tried to physically avoid it, but I’ve been more interested in the work. There are some very pleasant things, but also some negative things that go along with it. It’s sort of juggling those things. Privacy is important. Anybody who doesn’t think that, they’re crap. But I know I’m going to lose some of that and that’s something I’ll have to deal with.What’s your favorite Bond film?

Craig: “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love”, they’re great, just the best. They’re two of my favorite movies. Sean Connery being physical, scary, complicated, bad, all those things about that character. It’s a great character, it’s something that he created that’s lasted this long. Those two are very special.What does Bond do to your schedule? For a decade you’ll have one every other year. Is there time in between to do other stuff?

Craig: I don’t think we’ll start shooting until the end of next year. So next year is clear. Why, you got something? My agent is outside. (laughs)What if Scorsese or Spielberg calls you for a role? Will they wait for you? Or does Bond take precedence?

Craig: Nothing is stopping me from doing anything. I haven’t got a golden handcuff. I’m under contract, but I’m not under exclusive contract.What do you do in your spare time?

Craig: Very little, I like fishing, I like painting; I like painting fish. (laughs) I get away. I try to go somewhere. There are a couple of places, which I won’t tell you about, that are very private and very nice. I don’t see family from one month to the next, so I have to go back and reconnect and make sure they still like me. Do those sorts of things.Your next film, “The Visiting”, is that a remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatcher”?

Craig: It’s based on that.What else do you have lined up?

Craig: I’m in the middle of shooting “The Golden Compass”.

Question: You play Lord Azrael. In the first book he doesn’t have much to do.

Craig: Thank God (laughs)In the third book, you’re going to come back where he has more to do?

Craig: I hope it does. The third book, he has more things to do. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.