By Victoria Lindrea
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
Daniel Craig is a serious actor. Hailed for his literary-minded roles in films such as Enduring Love and as poet Ted Hughes in Sylvia, he has also revealed a darker side in Layer Cake and Steven Spielberg's Munich.
The actor considered turning down the 007 role
So he was understandably reluctant to give up a versatile career to camp it up as British super-spy James Bond - a role not typically associated with serious actors.
"I don't think I would have taken the role if it had been a continuation of Bond as we knew him, it just wouldn't have interested me," Craig, 38, tells the BBC News website.
"There have been a lot of incarnations of Bond, and the role has changed a lot."
"As far as I was concerned, the script I got was an actor's piece, so I was absolutely into doing it."
Craig's Bond is marked by bruises and a new-found fallibility
Casino Royale, the first book in the Ian Fleming series, takes 007 back to the beginning of his career.
"It was important for me to discover who this guy was. By starting at the beginning, as we do with Casino Royale - we were able to do that," explains Craig.
And when it came to character development, he was allowed "off the leash" on set.
"I just wanted to make sure that we were seeing a character go through some change within the movie.
"I started doing it, and nobody said stop - so I just carried on."
Any initial misgivings Craig had about taking the role can only have grown after the press and fans lambasted "the blond Bond", months before the film was released.
But now critics are arguing he may be the best Bond ever. But Craig insists it was not a question of having the final word.
"I wasn't looking for vindication. I'm just very happy with the response," he says.
"You have to try not to take any of the negativity that comes your way and twist that in on yourself.
"I wouldn't have made a commitment to this film unless I thought I could enjoy it - you need that energy level to get through a movie like this."
He made a point of doing as many of his own stunts, but admits the process could be "painful".
"The toughest set-piece was probably the opening sequence in Madagascar," recalls Craig, who found himself on the heel of a bomb-maker played by Sebastien Foucan, who developed the art of Parkour - or free running.
"Running up the side of a building is emotionally daunting, but it's physically hard work too."
"At the same time, it's exhilarating too," he adds.
The scene is a pastiche of the Ursula Andress scene in Dr No
Craig's physique has been much remarked upon, but he can only blush at the suggestions that he is becoming a sex symbol.
"It's just part of the film," he mutters when asked about the much-trailed scene which sees him emerging from the sea in a pair of well-fitted swimming trunks.
A lavish list of luxury goods also features in the film, and it is almost impossible to avoid the designer labels on screen.
But Craig insists the plethora of product placement does not detract from the action.
"The fact is, we couldn't afford make the movie unless we had that product placement. It's there and we're very grateful that it's there because otherwise the film couldn't be what it is," he says.
"If I think it's too much then I will push it out of the way, but I don't think it really infringes. After all, it's what Bond is all about."
Craig will return in the 22nd Bond film in 2008
While admitting to the pleasure of driving an Aston Martin, Craig's feet remain very much in the real world.
With films like His Dark Materials and The Invasion - a sci-fi thriller co-starring Nicole Kidman - due out next year, he seems determined to avoid being typecast as Bond.
"Nothing has changed. I'm reading scripts, I'm trying to find other stuff I want to do - as I've always done," he says.
But 007 has made Craig an international star, and there is no sign of his earlier reluctance to embrace the role.
"I'm very excited about the idea of going on and doing another movie. That was always the aim, to set something up so that we could continue the series."
Bond, as they say, will be back.