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Daniel Craig: Sexy superstar? If you say so

MIAMI — James Bond is polishing off a pot of espresso, stirred in a demitasse, leaving him a bit shaken by the caffeine rush.

His right arm is the only thing not moving, bound by a navy blue sling matching a nattily tailored suit. Rotator cuff surgery is a sticky wicket.

Agent 007's voice is working just fine, if speedy. He might spill all of Her Majesty's secrets without laser-beam coercion. This isn't the James Bond we're accustomed to seeing, a taciturn spy shooting first and not talking much later.

"How chatty am I?" he says with a giddy laugh when a train of thought derails. "Wind him up and he's off!"

Actually it's Bond's sixth alter ego, a surprisingly amiable chap named Daniel Craig, the man who ruffled Bond fans' feathers when hired for the iconic role in 2006's Casino Royale. Craig was believed too short, too blond and too unsophisticated to replace Pierce Brosnan. Web pundits dubbed him "James Bland."

Then he convinced nearly everyone that nobody since Sean Connery does it better.

Quantum of Solace is Craig's encore, the 22nd official Bond flick in the longest-running movie series ever. The only jitters this time come from his coffee cup.

"I get a few less questions now like: 'Oh, you must feel vindicated' or 'You must feel so smug about that,' " Craig says. "But I never did."

Craig, 40, says he hid from pre-emptive judgments until he couldn't anymore.

"Getting out of the car in London the night of the premiere when there's I don't know how many thousands of people there," he says, "you kind of go: 'Okay, this is for real. There's no hiding away from this.' "

A few days later, fan curiosity transformed into cash at box offices worldwide. Craig's resume of British independent films and supporting Hollywood roles (Munich, Road to Perdition) hadn't prepared him for that.

"I'd never been involved with movies where box office was top of the agenda," he says. "Obviously it has been important but never as high-risk or high-octane or whatever you call it, as this.

"We were in a bar in Switzerland when the (opening weekend) numbers started coming in, and honestly I really don't understand them. I didn't have a benchmark to compare them to.

"The producers just turned to me and said: 'It's okay.' I said okay and went to bed. That was the moment when I kind of got some peace."

Producer Barbara Broccoli, whose father created the Bond series 46 years ago with Dr. No, never sweated Craig's casting.

"There were a lot of bizarre, negative stories about Daniel out there, before anybody had seen (Casino Royale), which I found very perplexing," Broccoli says. "But we were very confident. We knew how fantastic Daniel was.

"He managed to create a hero who isn't a Teflon superhero but a hero with an inner life, who doesn't need to be tough all the time. Daniel let us in to get a peek at the inner Bond, the internal issues he's facing. That makes him more relevant, more real, a man for the 21st century."

Craig is also a reluctant sex symbol, with his chiseled torso becoming a popular Web sight. Broccoli gushes like a schoolgirl when asked what her star has going for him: "Oh, god, everything. What hasn't he got?"

Craig isn't as impressed with himself.

"Sexiness, particularly in movies, is the chess game in the Thomas Crown Affair," he says. "It's, it's, I don't know, but Faye Dunaway comes up a lot in that thinking. It's the subtlety of sexiness. The moment you try to be sexy, then it's not.

"As soon as someone tells me: 'You're rather sexy,' I wish I could disappear. If somebody says: 'You were voted the world's sexiest man,' I have no idea what that means. How do I respond? 'Thank you' is the best you can do.

"George Clooney is the world's sexiest man, anyway."

But Clooney doesn't have the world's sexiest role. Craig is obligated to two more Bond films after Quantum of Solace, sounding ready to continue reinventing a legend.

"There will always be pressure, or hopefully there will be, because I think you thrive on that as long as it's not killing you," he says. "To my mind, we can do whatever we want now. We can be as Bond as we like, or not as Bond as we like."

But Craig will be James Bond, content with that decision no matter what critical bullets he dodged before.

"The idea of regretting not doing this seemed insane to me," Craig says. "Sitting in the corner at a bar at age 60, saying: 'I could've been Bond. Buy me a drink.' That's the saddest place I could be.

"At least now at 60 I can say: 'I was Bond. Now buy me a drink.' "

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

Daniel Craig: Sexy superstar? If you say so 11/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 17, 2008 3:05pm]

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