It's the Bond between us
LOOKING every inch the debonair spy in a navy suit with gold pocket handkerchief, Daniel Craig seems as proud as punch.
And no wonder – he's basking in the glory of his latest Bond, Skyfall.
It's the 23rd instalment in the longest-running film franchise, which is celebrating its 50th birthday. The stakes could hardly have been higher as Craig donned the iconic tux again.
"I love playing Bond, it's an honour and I get a big kick out of doing it," says Craig, 44.
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It's his third outing as the legendary MI6 secret agent, following Casino Royale in 2006 and Quantum Of Solace two years later.
"I had an opportunity when they gave me Casino Royale to sort of wipe the slate clean, because we were starting again," says Craig.
"Bond's a soldier, a person who tries to hide his emotions and be in control all the time, and pushing those boundaries is interesting."
The result is an epic movie, laden with glamour in the shape of mysterious Severine (Berenice Marlohe) and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris), a brilliant villain in the bleach-blond vision of Silva (Javier Bardem) plus gadgets galore thanks to the return of Q, played by king of geek chic, Ben Whishaw.
Bond wouldn't be Bond without a streak of humour, something that's been missing in Craig's former outings.
"I love Mike Myers but he really ruined it for us [in the spoof Austin Powers movies] because he took the best Bond gags," says Craig. "But I always maintained if we could get good writing then the jokes would come, and they have."
The laughs are never to the detriment of Bond's emotional journey, in keeping with the vision of Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director who helms this gargantuan movie.
"I put everything that I ever wanted to put in a Bond movie into this movie," says Mendes, 47, who was until recently resident in Church Westcote, near Bourton-on-the-Water.
"At times I thought this is no way to make a living because the pressure never seemed to let up, but it's like childbirth. You get to the end and think, 'Oh, that wasn't so bad'."
There's no bigger Bond fan than Mendes. It was at a party in New York in 2009 when the pair, who worked together on The Road To Perdition, talked about collaborating again.
"I was picking his brains about the next Bond movie because I respect him as a director and I think he has great ideas," Craig recalls.
"As the conversation went on, we said the things we loved about Bond and I ended up offering him the job," he adds, laughing.
The timing couldn't have been more perfect for Mendes. "I wanted to come back to England to make a movie. I wanted to make a big-scale movie, to work with Daniel again, and I needed a challenge," he says.
"In this movie Bond's pushed to the limit, it kills him in a sense, brings him back and he's a shadow of his former self.
"He has to work himself back to who he is, and even the audience don't know what stage of rehab he's reached when Silva says to him, 'Look at you, you're barely held together by your pills and drink'."
So to Silva, one of Bond's most memorable villains.
"Javier brings this mischief and relish to the table," says Mendes.
It was Craig who first approached Bardem, 43, about being part of Skyfall. "I've been a fan since I was a kid but that's not the right reason to do something," says Bardem.
"It's really about the material and whether you can bring something to a role."
On reading the script, the actor found there was a lot to play with. But he wasn't so keen to throw himself into the stunts.
"I had a glimpse of it but I'm a great believer in stunt doubles," he laughs. "I saw Daniel doing it himself and it was crazy."
But as Craig puts it: "I love the fact Bond takes a lot of battering, and so he should – he's an agent."
Even when that agent's middle-aged. A running theme of Skyfall is that Bond's getting on a bit.
"Well, he is," says Craig, smiling. So it begs the question, how old is too old?
"I'm contracted for another two Bond films . . ." he says. " But I'm not going to outstay my welcome."