Daniel Craig chats Bond and his latest film “Defiance”
He may play the suave, sophisticated 007 but in his new film, “Defiance,” Daniel Craig is tackling more serious topics than fast cars, espionage and martinis with sexy women.
An epic tale of family, honour, vengeance and salvation, “Defiance” is the true story of the Bielskis, a group of Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Poland who join forces with Russian resistance fighters to escape the Holocuast. Taking refuge in the dense surrounding woods they have known since childhood, they begin their desperate battle against the Nazis. Tuvia (Craig) is a reluctant leader and his decisions are challenged by his brother, Zus (Schreiber) who worries that Tuvia’s idealistic plans will doom them all. Asael (Bell) is the youngest – caught between his brothers’ fierce rivalry. As a brutal winter descends, they work to create a community and to keep faith alive when all humanity appeared to be lost.
In a recent interview, Craig sat down to discuss his latest film, working with Jamie Bell and Liev Schrieber and the reaction to the latest Bond movie.
Question: You’ve played a Mossad agent in “Munich” and now this role. Does that give you some insight into the Jewish experience?
Craig: No. Does it give me an insight into the Jewish experience? I suppose that it does, but religion was not a factor in taking this job. It was just literally one of those situations that I sort of looked at, read it and thought that it was an amazing story.
Question: Was it the story or the character?
Craig: Both. I mean, the character is in just a dreadful, dreadful, dreadful situation. There’s no going away from it. God forbid any of us should be put into that situation, but something is asked of him and he’s very reluctant to do it and I love the fact that they’re sort of saying, ‘No, you must do this.’ He’s going, ‘No. Fuck off. I mean, I want to protect my brothers and I want to look after what’s left of my family and I want to run away.’ And they were saying, ‘But you don’t have a choice here.’ I think that process and obviously we condense it in the film and this is over a three or four year period, we condense the whole thing in the film but it’s incredible.
Question: Does physical geography help you define the way you play a character like this, the fact that you working in that environment in the forest in that weather? According to various sources the trailers were a half mile away.
Craig: It was a quarter mile yesterday and it’s gotten up to several miles today. It’ll be sixteen miles away by the end of the day. We didn’t have a trailer. We had a bucket and a tarpaulin and I was happy with it. Yes, of course it does. It has a huge influence on what you’re doing and it did have an influence on us, the fact that we all decided that we’d rather not spend time in our trailers that we’d rather spend the time on set. I think that’s key to a lot of what went on there on the set. It was cold. It was miserable. It was wet. It was uncomfortable, but you always have in the back of your mind the idea that you have a bed to go back home to that night and that there is some hot food somewhere within the forest. You’re prepared to go looking for it at some point. These people did three winters there and that’s just mind blowing.
Question: Did you read the Beilski story and meet their family? What did you do when you met them?
Craig: We did, yes. We sat and we drank and we talked and we had a conversation and we didn’t talk much about Tuvia, but we sort of talked about. I just wanted to get a feel for them really. They were just sort of incredibly forward people, really energetic and really full of life and a proper family. They’re like families are, sitting there and shouting at each other. Why whisper when you can scream. They’re kind of like all families are and they’re full of life. I mean, both Liev and I said, ‘These guys are kind of scary guys.’ They were like, ‘Hey! Come on!’ I can imagine that that’s how their parents were, their father was.
Question: Liev expressed earlier that there was more brutality in their experience than was in the movie. Was it out of respect for the family that that wasn’t shown? Craig: It’s not at all that, I think. I think we tried to be as straight as possible. The events that take place in the movie happened. They happened in different ways. They happened in different contexts, but they actually kind of all occurred. This film takes over a year to happen roughly speaking and we’ve condensed a huge amount into that period, but we haven’t shied away from anything. It’s known and it’s fact that they had to survive and in order to survive they had to do bad things. It’s documented and it’s there.
Question: How physically demanding was this film given that you like to do all your own stunts? Craig: I mean, obviously there aren’t the same amount of stunts as in the ‘Bond’ film, but it was physically demanding because we were literally filming on slopes like this in wet, cold weather all day long. We had a crew of grips that were running around with track and putting them at all sorts of angles. I mean, we were all physically running and up and down these hills day.
Question: The reaction to this ‘Bond’ film was very different than the reaction to ‘Casino Royale’. Did that surprise you? Craig: No, because ‘Casino Royale’ was based on a novel and we’re always going to have that. When you do a movie like that where the basis of a story is really strong and also the momentum of it, everyone thought that it was going to be shit. So when it wasn’t they were all just completely surprised. I think that ‘Quantum of Solace’ is as good a movie as ‘Casino Royale’. I think that the difference is that last time people were surprised by the fact that they enjoyed it. The fact is that we get reviews in newspapers that we’d never had reviews in before. Certainly with the internet we get seven and a half million reviews which are all worth looking at obviously.
Question: The financial success of the film though must suggest that people really respond to you as Bond.
Craig: I don’t try to intellectualize that. I do know what we’ve done is make a movie that the first time I saw it I got a huge kick out of it. Ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do at the end of the day, putting a movie out that’s an entertaining, exciting, hopefully slightly moving ‘Bond’ movie. That’s all our goal ever was. The way that people have taken to it is just amazing.
Question: Do you think that calls for the next one come a little quicker after this opening weekend? Craig: I haven’t heard anything, but then I’m not answering my phone.
Question: What more do you want to do with Bond, what other parts of him would you like to explore? Craig: Well, I genuinely think we’ve got a blank page now. We’ve finished this story off. ‘Quantum of Solace’ was exactly the right thing to do. We started something with ‘Casino Royale’ and we wrapped it all up with ‘Quantum of Solace’. We’re ready to begin again and we can do what we want.
Question: So you think that it’ll be a throw back?
Craig: Submarine space and outer space.
Question: Are you still looking at Ian Fleming story elements because that worked so well in ‘Casino Royale’?
Craig: Yeah, but there’s nothing left. It’s all done unless someone finds a dirty manuscript under the couch with, we’re stuffed.
Question: What about the Gardner books? Craig: I’ve never read them. I would bet any money that someone sort of optioned them and that they’re tied up in something else. It’s a very closed box.
Question: How was doing the language work in this film that you had to do? Craig: It was a nightmare for me. I’m just the worst student in the world. I left school at sixteen. I literally cannot conjugate a verb in English. You can’t conjugate a verb in English, can you? So, God knows what I know. So that’s it. I really did screw up there because I actually don’t really know what a verb is. Liev has years of education ahead of me and took to this very well and learned the language a little. I had to do it phonetically, learn it and understand it. I understood what I was saying, but Russian is a tricky language to get far with. It’s quite easy to sort of communicate in Russian, but to actually sort of speak the language is hard.
Question: Did Liev make fun of you for it? Craig: He tried to [laughs].
Question: Do you have to have a mastery of languages to be an actor? Craig: No. I think that you have to have an ear. I mean, part of acting is sort of mimicry, but I don’t like acting as mimicry. I don’t think that mimicry is very interesting in acting. I think that you have to have an ear. I’ve tried to learn languages and I know there’s a certain stage that you get to where you have to make that sort of leap of faith and go, ‘Okay, I know how to put this accent through my mouth.’ It’s a really hard process to go through. As an actor you have to try and make that leap because you’re trying to communicate and communication is the name of the game. If you’re not doing that you’re kind of failing.
Question: Is it important for you to do projects other than ‘Bond’ between the films? Craig: It’s not really the method that I go by. Look, I’m not going to take another part as a British spy who drives nice cars. That’s definitely not going to happen, but I’m not closing the door on anything. Craig: Happily, hopefully [laughs]. Very quietly.
Question: How shocking was the revelation that the Jews fought back? Have you seen people reacting to that notion?
Craig: Well, I knew about it a little bit. I knew that there was a Jewish resistance, but the only things that I’ve read about it is that it was wiped out mercilessly. It makes complete sense. Of course they did. The fact that nobody did would’ve been totally strange, but there were major pockets of resistance everywhere. People did fight. The fact is that there was really nowhere to run. The situation here is that the resistance happened within places like this where there was a forest, where people could get away from them. The local population was in cahoots. Unless you could get on a boat and get out of Europe you were absolutely stuck. This was an incredibly well organized exercise by the Germans. I mean, they did it really efficiently as we all know. I think that our knowledge of the second world war is based on, and so it should be, what the result of The Holocaust was. Those are the images and the knowledge that we have of that period as we should and we should be reminded of it as often as we possibly can.
Question: Why do you think that The Holocaust remains so cinematically timely? Craig: Well, that’s a sort of weird question. I mean, I don’t know if it’s a question of whether it does. It just should.
Question: It should remain so? Craig: Yeah. There was an article in ‘The New York Times’ that said world war two movies have become genre movies and I can’t argue with that. Every movie in a sense is a genre movie, but a genre movie suggests that we were cynically sort of going out to make money with this project. That was never the object. This is recent history and especially if you’re in places like Lithuania or even if you’re in France or parts of France or parts of Germany or parts of Holland – this is recent history. It still has a huge effect on the way that Europe is shaping itself. You only have to look at Bosnia and Croatia and what happened there. What happened in the second world war was used to inflame that situation and it’s still there. Those hatreds still lie very, in some places, close to the surface, just below it. The treaties that were put into place after the second world war to stop it from happening again have all been fucking walked over steadily every year since.
Question: Jamie talked about how surprised he was during this production at how grounded you are. Where does that egoless attitude come from? Craig: Listen, you’re absolutely determined to make me egoless. I’m certainly not. I’m a nightmare on set. I just paid them all off. It’s just the way that I like to work. You’re asking me a question about my ego which is embarrassing to answer. The way that I like to work is with people. If you separate yourself from the work in process then there’s no connection. Otherwise why go to work.
Question: What are your hopes for the 2009? Craig: I can’t answer questions like that without it sounding like a stock answer. Obviously I want world peace. What can I tell you? For myself I want health for my family. I want health for my friends. I’d like to continue what I’m doing. It’s what everybody wants really.