- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

To hear Daniel Craig tell it, the less an actor flashes a gun on screen, the better.

“You start shooting guns in the first 10 minutes of a movie, you gotta shoot off tanks in the last half hour,” the craggily handsome actor says. “In ‘Bullitt,’ a gun comes out twice … we don’t need it,” Mr. Craig adds, referring to the 1968 action thriller starring Steve McQueen.

Neither does Mr. Craig’s character in “Layer Cake,” a new gangster film opening tomorrow. His no-name protagonist — identified only as XXXX — doesn’t believe in violence. He doesn’t have to. He has “associates” to handle the rough stuff.

That might come as a shock to anyone who has heard rumblings that Mr. Craig, 37, is slated to become the next James Bond. The actor, however, dismisses such talk as premature, and Dame Judi Dench recently told a journalist that Pierce Brosnan is returning to the role after all.

Yet when looking at Mr. Craig and his body of work (which includes 2002’s “Road to Perdition” and “Sylvia,” with Gwyneth Paltrow, the following year) it’s easy to see why the powers behind the Bond franchise might have visualized him as the next 007. He can be dryly charming and efficient on-screen, but he flashes an undercurrent of danger that hasn’t been seen since Timothy Dalton donned Bond’s tuxedo.

Mr. Craig puts some of those attributes to work in “Layer Cake,” a thriller about a reticent drug dealer looking for an early-retirement plan. It’s the kind of role that calls for intensity, not theatrics, which suits his no-muss, no-fuss demeanor.

That style is in play off-screen, too. Mr. Craig’s working-stiff appearance seems legit. He’s also polite, though somewhat coy when responding to endless variations on the question, “Are you the next James Bond?”

While chatter over whether he’ll play Bond persists, Mr. Craig briefly sidesteps the matter by shifting the focus back to “Layer Cake” — a small film that may drum up additional press because its director, Matthew Vaughn, produced “Snatch” in 2000 and the 1998 sleeper hit “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

Mr. Craig, though, doesn’t lump “Layer Cake” in the same category as those two films, both directed by Madonna’s husband, Guy Ritchie.

“I’ve got nothing against ‘Lock, Stock’ and ‘Snatch,’ but they’re not really my kind of movies,” he says. “Matthew and I wanted to make something more classically British … like ‘Get Carter.’ Much more real.”

But the Bond question won’t go away, and Mr. Craig finally relents. There’s nothing real about the rumors at this point, he says — but he’d be foolish not to consider the part if it’s offered, he adds.

“There is at this time a huge amount of smoke and not a lot of fire,” he says. “The British press decided to call it. There’s not an awful lot I can do.”

He does have ideas, though. If chosen, Mr. Craig would like to see the series about Ian Fleming’s superspy return to its roots.

“It’s one of the most iconic figures that’s ever been,” says Mr. Craig, who mentions 1964’s “Goldfinger” as a Bond favorite. “You’ve got to be constantly updating it, but remember what Bond is, in essence.”

Such talk would not have seemed possible in the early years of his career. Shortly after leaving London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Mr. Craig made his movie debut in 1992’s “The Power of One.” More work followed, but nothing that could put him on any major studio’s must list.

Eventually, he began garnering quality roles in such films as “Perdition” (as Connor Rooney, the loose-cannon son of Irish mob boss Paul Newman) and as the two-timing Darren in “The Mother” (2003), in which he romances a woman twice his age and later becomes involved with her daughter.

Today, he’s preparing to shoot Steven Spielberg’s untitled drama involving the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorism. He also has a film based on the life of Truman Capote in the can, which again teams him with Miss Paltrow and also stars Sandra Bullock. (Mr. Craig plays Perry Smith, a convicted murderer who developed a close friendship with Mr. Capote during the author’s research for his best-selling book “In Cold Blood.”)

So even if Bond’s license to kill is never issued to Mr. Craig, he has ascended to that rarefied, if unconsummated, condition — Hollywood’s next big thing.

Yet Mr. Craig dismisses such talk, fearful of its downside and of fame’s unpredictability.

“I’m always very nervous,” he says. “You’re cautiously optimistic about everything. When people say, ‘This is your time,’ I say ‘Lets just see what happens.’ It always works out in a way you don’t expect. That’s what’s exciting.”

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