When Daniel Craig pulled up in a military boat on the Thames River last October to announce that he'd won the role of James Bond, the reaction was shaken, not stirred. The New York Times called him a "rough trade" version of the secret agent, while London's Daily Mirror got more to the point, calling him, "Bland — James Bland."
"It was really a risk," said Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell, who sings the new Bond theme song.
"When they picked Daniel Craig, it surprised me," said Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman. "It was a daring decision."
Daring because it flew in the face of what most of us imagine 007 to be: tall, dark and handsome. George Lazenby's first words as Bond — "This never happened to the other fellow" — might have been a nod to being poorly received, but controversy has arisen each time filmmakers have tinkered with the four-decade franchise.
Ian Fleming, whose books formed the basis of most of the movies, initially disapproved of Sean Connery when he was cast in 1962's "Dr. No." Lazenby, who only lasted one film ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"), was called "merely a casual replacement" by New York Times critic AH Weiler. Roger Moore? Too lighthearted. Timothy Dalton? Too serious. Even Pierce Brosnan was called a lightweight when he first took over the tux.
"As soon as they went to Roger Moore, they changed the whole tone of the series. It became really tongue-in-cheek," Gleiberman said. "Part of his portrayal — with the winks, the supermasculine spy bedding these women — it was a joke, a relic of the Hugh Hefner '60s. And the movie played it that way for years and years. Timothy Dalton was by far the most boring Bond. The series kind of sagged. It died when Timothy was in it. But Pierce really grew into the role."
Still, the filmmakers wanted to shake things up — reboot the series, as it were — with Bond's first mission, depicted in Fleming's book "Casino Royale." They looked at more than 200 candidates, according to producer Michael Wilson, over a period of a year and a half. Some of them included Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, Gerald Butler, Colin Firth, Heath Ledger, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Hugh Jackman and Colin Farrell. But a leaked memo from Eon Productions revealed they thought Bana was "not handsome enough," Jackman "too fey," Farrell "too sleazy" and McGregor, who stands the same 5-foot-10 as Craig, "too short."
"The actor that I thought they were going to pick, and that I wanted them to pick, was Clive Owen," Gleiberman said, "because he looks so great in a tux and he's a great actor. And if they would have gone that way, it would have kept the series the way it was going." But Owen didn't want the part, so ultimately, the film producers found a candidate they liked and who liked them back.
"There's been speculation that we offered it to other people, but that's not accurate," Wilson said. "In the end, Daniel was the only one we offered the film to."
Was that a mistake? The choice of Tom Cruise to play Lestat in "Interview With the Vampire" got more of a welcome than this. In an NBC poll conducted by 26 affiliate stations across the country, more than half of the 22,000 Americans polled thought Craig was the wrong man. And across the pond, the Sunday Mirror found that 54 percent of their readers still wanted Brosnan, and 31 percent wanted Owen, while only 15 percent liked Craig. Seventy-three percent of Glamour UK readers said Craig wouldn't have been their first choice. No wonder the James Bond international fan club posted this joke on their site: "How many James Bond fans does it take to change a light bulb? One to change it, and 10 to complain that the original was better."
No one did more complaining than the site DanielCraigIsNotBond.com (originally CraigNotBond.com), which has collected 20,627 signatures as of Friday for a petition trying to convince the filmmakers to rethink their casting. It's also urging a boycott of the movie. The site, which has had more than 1 million visitors since it launched in February, has a long list of reasons it doesn't think Craig makes the cut, the least of which is that he's not enough of a Bond fan for them. "He doesn't like Bond, he doesn't like the book, and he doesn't like the fans," the site's Joe McElroy said. "Pierce at least understood it. But Daniel's not even attempting to play Bond. He's changing Bond."
"The critics have all kind of turned judge, jury and executioner before he'd even turned in a foot of film," "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell said. "So, you know, he had something to prove."
"People feel very strongly about it, and I don't blame them," Craig said. "I mean, there's a lot of people out there who Bond means a great deal to. Believe it or not, it means a great deal to me too. So my aim is to sort of put as much of myself and as much of my energy and talent, as it stands, into this movie. I hope I act it enough for people to believe that I'm Bond.
"What are the qualifications for playing Bond? I don't know," he said. "Hopefully, I've got some of them."
But for some fans, there still is only one true James Bond, and that is Connery — Sean Connery.
"He was the best," Playboy founder Hugh Hefner said. "Brosnan is probably my second favorite, but Connery defined the character."
"I would have to choose Sean Connery," said Alicia Keys, who plays an assassin in her film debut, "Smokin' Aces." "He's so gentlemanly, and he just has a presence." Still, she holds out for a choice that's bound to stir up even more controversy than Craig, because of age and race. "If it were up to me," she laughed, "Morgan Freeman would be the next Bond."
Check out everything we've got on "Casino Royale."
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