Monday Morning Critic – Daniel Craig, James Bond and the Actor/Artist Dichotomy of Spectre

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“It used to be, there was truth and there was falsehood. Now there is spin and there are gaffes. Spin is often thought to be synonymous with falsehood or lying, but more accurately it is indifference to the truth. A politician engaged in spin is saying what he or she wishes were true, and sometimes, by coincidence, it is. Meanwhile, a gaffe, it has been said, is when a politician tells the truth — or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head. A gaffe is what happens when the spin breaks down.”
—Michael Kinsley

Politicians and actors have a lot in common when you look at it deeply. Washington, DC, is often called “Hollywood for Ugly People” and there’s a lot of truth to that. Politics and film are about illusions; actors want you to think they’re someone (or something) other than who they are and politicians want you to think they’re someone they really aren’t. There’s a reason why 99% of politicians and entertainers come off as phonies when they talk for longer than a couple minutes on a lot of topics; if they told the truth about their choices in life we’d think a lot less of them.

It’s very rare that you get the truth. You get a version of it usually. The only time the truth comes out in Hollywood is rumor and the gossip mill in the same way the truth only comes out in political memoirs from people who have no more desire to run for office. The truth, like the the poster for Michael Clayton proclaimed, can and usually is adjusted based on circumstance. It’s why every press junket features actors proclaiming how great a film, even when they know it’s terrible, and why the moments when an actor drops the filters are memorable. We’re used to actors selling us more than telling us about a movie.

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Eddie Murphy proclaiming on Saturday Night Live that they should’ve seen the size of the check he got for Best Defense as a justification for starring in an admittedly terrible film ranks as one of the most memorable versions of it. And Daniel Craig, the man currently best known as James Bond, dropped one of the biggest truth bombs of the year in the run up to this winter’s latest Bond film Spectre. Could he imagine himself doing another Bond film right now?

“Now? I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists. No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.”

For as much grief as he got for it there’s a lot of truth to what Craig is saying that makes a ton of sense. It’d be easy to criticize him, and point out the large checks he gets to play one of cinema’s greatest heroes, but that’s coming from a place of greed and envy. “How can you be upset making tons of money with a studio film that revolves around you?” is the ultimate question that is at the heart of this sort of complaint. It’s like when a professional athlete complains about their profession. Every guy would love to be a pro athlete, with the sort of glamorous lifestyle we think a guy like Tom Brady has, but they don’t understand that the privileged lifestyle of a guy like Brady comes with a cost.

Nobody rides for free and the cost of playing Bond, or any high profile role, has to take a toll on one’s psyche as both an artist and a star. There’s a certain dichotomy between being a working actor and being an artist that taking on a role like James Bond would force. To understand why Craig would not want to even think about playing Bond again, even if he’s contractually obligated to, is to understand what playing a character like James Bond entails. A lot of people don’t understand the sheer magnitude of playing a tentpole character has on a career both in the short and long term.

In the short term Craig has to arrange his entire schedule around the next Bond sequel. Starring in any tentpole franchise besides Bond is going to be difficult if he’s going to have a significant role because Bond isn’t a several week commitment. After a multiple month shoot he also has the press tours, et al, and a massive tentpole like Bond can keep him off any other set for at least a year all told. That means there are plenty of roles, big and small, that he has to pass on regularly because he has obligations. One can imagine how difficult that has to be to deal with as an artist; while I imagine he hasn’t passed on a lot of amazing roles since he took on being James Bond I’d be very curious to see what roles aren’t being presented to his management for him because of it.

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He also has to maintain the Bond look, thus he can’t really change all that much physically, for as long as he has the role. The one downside of being the modern Bond is that Craig has to be in fairly good shape year round. He can’t take a role where he has to put on 30 pounds, or lose 30 pounds, because there’s a general look he has to be around as there’s a sequel every couple years to make. He can’t be Christian Bale and radically change his look every film for the sake of.

While that doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world one has to imagine that after a while you’d like to be able to take that risk, acting wise, to change your body for a role. Those roles won’t present themselves to Craig right now because he’s never far removed from having a Bond film on his docket. Look at Cowboys & Aliens, his biggest film since he took on the role. He was still built like Bond then. Same with his role in the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; physically he was still impressive because he had a Bond role on the horizon both times.

Craig probably just wants to be able to drop some muscle and have more of an average build than the artificially jacked up one he has to maintain. It’s why professional athletes look profoundly different once they stop playing sports; the sheer amount of dedication to physical pursuits isn’t required anymore, thus an athlete’s body can change radically in a couple years.

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Plus Craig has a long term worry about once his time ends as Britain’s greatest secret agent. Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan have both been able to shuck the label of being Bond, and get regular work … but Timothy Dalton’s career peaked as Bond. So did Roger Moore. Craig’s biggest films have been as Bond and he hasn’t had a massive hit outside of it. The most notable thing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Cowboys and Aliens was that Craig’s appeal hasn’t extended beyond Bond. Skyfall, Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale are his biggest hits and his shots at being more than just someone famous for playing James Bond have all wound up failing.

There’s a reason why an American version of The Girl Who Played with Fire or Cowboys and Aliens 2: Electric Boogaloo haven’t been made. Craig isn’t a bankable star when he isn’t playing James Bond, pure and simple, in the same way no one buys a ticket to see Vin Diesel when he isn’t driving a car. Craig’s bankability as a movie star is directly tied to playing Bond; five minutes after he’s done playing Bond he’ll stop being relevant to the box office as a movie star. He’s not a box office attraction; the character is.

Craig knows this by now and he’s admitted that Bond is more challenging from a physical standpoint than an artistic one. It is understandable why after his fourth outing that moving on sounds likes a good idea. At the heart of every actor worth a damn is a desire to take on a role that’s challenging in every area. Playing James Bond obviously isn’t and Craig is coming off his fourth film in the franchise. Craig will most likely return, as he’s under contract and the film series is making insanely more money than ever in part because of him, but this is a rare look behind the curtain of cinema.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Bridge of Spies – The real life tale of a prisoner swap during the Cold War, as an insurance lawyer negotiated the swap of Francis Gary Powers for Rudolf Abel.

See it – While they’ll probably overlook the part where Jim Donovan was a substantial part of the Nuremberg trials, as Donovan had a fairly historic career, this is one of the great stories of the Cold War left to be told. Plus Spielberg has a fastball that is rarely matched and this looks like 100mph down the middle.

Crimson Peak – Guillermo Del Toro does a horror movie.

Skip it – I like Del Toro’s work … just not in this particular genre.

Goosebumps – Jack Black plays R.L Stine as the Goosebumps books come to life.

Skip it – As much as I know we’re supposed to think Jack Black is funny … he’s not and this film is going to suck.

Woodlawn – It’s the 70s and only one thing can cure the power of racism: JESUS!

Skip it – Yeah … Christian sports movies are the worst.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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