LOS ANGELES — James Bond is still in a foul mood over that whole dead girlfriend thing from Casino Royale. But the man who plays him is as happy as can be.
Even as Daniel Craig ticks off all the injuries he sustained shooting Quantum of Solace, he gushes about what a great job he has, updating the world's most-famous spy for a new era.
Starring in one of the most-acclaimed installments in the franchise's history has carried Craig a long way since the dark, early days, when fans scorned him as a bad casting choice and scoffed at the notion of a blond, blue-eyed Bond.
Craig's delivery as a raw, angry young 007 in Casino Royale has silenced the critics, though he suffered months of online slings and arrows leading up to the release of that 2006 hit.
Fans didn't think he looked like Bond. They carped that his predecessor, Pierce Brosnan, should have had the chance to do another Bond flick or two. And they definitely didn't feel Craig, a stage-trained actor with little action experience, could act like Bond.
“It is kind of name-calling at it's very basic level,” the 40-year-old British actor recalled in an interview. “I understood the passion. Believe me, I do understand the passion. These movies mean a lot to people. I get it. But they mean a lot to me, as well. I don't feel out of place in this equation.
“To respond to the criticism would have been the wrong thing to do. I'm sure some of it's still out there, but you can't please all the people.”
Based on early results for Quantum of Solace, the caretakers of Bond have managed to please most of the people.
In advance of its U.S. release Friday, the movie has been out in theaters overseas for two weekends, debuting as the No. 1 film in every country where it played and hauling in $160 million.
Quantum of Solace picks up where Casino Royale left off, with Bond in such a vengeful mode over the loss of his lover that he goes rogue in pursuit of a shadowy group linked to her death.
Craig's Bond shares great interplay with spymaster M (Judi Dench) and teams with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) on her own revenge mission as they track a phony environmentalist (Mathieu Amalric) trying to corner a South American water supply.
The new movie expands on the makeover begun with Casino Royale, in which the randy, sexist Bond of old gave way to a physically meaner but emotionally vulnerable man capable of having his heart broken.
In Quantum of Solace, Bond doesn't even drink his trademark martini, and he forgoes his cliched self-introduction, “Bond, James Bond.”
“It needs to be refreshed,” Craig said. “If it's just done where you tick off the boxes, OK, there, martini, ‘Bond, James Bond,' and all that, it feels kind of a parody of itself.
“And I think because of Austin Powers, that didn't help. Very funny movies, but they have not helped the cause. He almost reinvented the whole genre by making fun of it. ... We now have to kind of reinvent it again, so someone else can parody it. And I'm sure they will, very rapidly.”
Quantum of Solace runs well under two hours, the shortest in Bond history (Casino Royale ran nearly 40 minutes longer). Yet director Marc Forster, himself a target of fan gripes for his lack of action experience, packs Quantum of Solace with car chases, explosions, close escapes and a lot of hand-to-hand combat.
Promoting the film, Craig still bore signs of the toll the six-month shoot took. His right arm was in a sling from surgery to repair his injured shoulder. He got kicked in the face during a stunt and had to have eight stitches. In another scene, he “lost about a postage stamp worth of skin” on one of his fingers and had to have the wound cauterized at the emergency room.
While he also took his lumps filming Casino Royale, Craig found each injury on Quantum of Solace grabbing headlines.
“There was this whole deal going on because it was like the curse of Bond,” Craig said. “We had a very serious accident on the set. A stuntman was injured very badly. Thank God, he's absolutely fine now.”
“It's part of the territory, really,” he said. “The joke is that these things happened to me at the most inane times. The biggest stunts were fine. It's the way the world is. You put a thousand people together for six months, things will happen. Suddenly, I've become this stunt guy, I've got like a degree in anatomy. I could be an orthopedic surgeon.”
In his teens, Craig worked with Britain's National Youth Theatre and began his professional career on the London stage in the early 1990s.
He moved into film and television, landing small parts in movies such as Elizabeth, focusing heavily on independent productions. Craig eventually won key roles in Road to Perdition and Steven Spielberg's Munich, along with leads in smaller films such as Layer Cake and Enduring Love.
Though he appeared in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Craig did not have the kind of background that screamed 007. For the keepers of Bond, though, Craig always was on their short list.
“Any time you see him on screen, you can't take your eyes off him,” said Bond producer Barbara Broccoli. “He has a real screen presence, real charisma. And those blue eyes. So it was obvious to us he would be the right person.”
“He's handsome, sexy, a leading actor of his generation, a really nice human being,” said Broccoli's stepbrother, producer Michael Wilson. “So what else was there?”
Director Forster said he signed on to make Quantum of Solace so he could work with Craig. Forster said Craig got a raw deal when fans complained about him before Casino Royale came out.
“I heard how people were thinking he's not the right Bond, but I thought, well, he's a real actor,” Forster said. “I thought that was actually very courageous and smart to choose him.”
At first, Craig himself thought he was the wrong choice to take on the role once played by Sean Connery and Roger Moore. He had grown up a moderate fan of Bond but could not see himself in the part when he met with Broccoli and Wilson.
“I was like, ‘Thank you, good luck with finding whoever it is who's going to play this.' But Barbara's very persistent. She kept at me,” Craig said. “Finally, they presented me the script. I loved it. I went, ‘Oh God, no. This is too good to turn down.'”
After Casino Royale, Craig followed with a couple of studio duds opposite Nicole Kidman, The Invasion and The Golden Compass.
He's signed for two more Bond movies after Quantum of Solace, whose continuation of the Casino Royale story line has some fans wondering if a trilogy is in the works.
“I don't think we can do a direct sequel. We've done that now,” Craig said. “But certainly, there is as far as the bad guys are concerned and the organization that we've set up, there's definitely room for bringing that in. But whether they stand as a trilogy, I don't know.
“I'm hoping it's a good sign that people feel it should be a trilogy, because it means they feel there are untold stories there. I just feel myself instinctively that there are untold stories there. I want to throw the ball out there and see what happens.”