On October 28, the Montclair Film Festival honored the one and only Daniel Craig with their 2022 Tribute Award and hosted a one-night only conversation between him and frequent festival moderator Stephen Colbert. The festivities are a yearly tradition at the festival, which celebrated its eleventh edition this year with 130 films shown over the course of ten days.
The two shared plenty of laughs and even a few drinks–Craig’s drink of choice is a “skinny bitch,” a vodka soda with lime juice–as they dove into the many stories and memories behind Craig’s 30+ year career spanning several iconic roles in film, television, and theater. Beloved by the world for his 17 years and five films as James Bond, fans are eager to see him return as Benoit Blanc in Glass Onion, the upcoming follow-up to Knives Out that opened the festival just one week earlier.
The event was hosted at the beautiful New Jersey Performing Arts Center, with all proceeds going to support Montclair Film and their mission to bring the best in film and visual storytelling to New Jersey. In a conversation full of fun moments, here are ten key takeaways that will give you more insight into the life and mind of one of Hollywood’s most talked-about talents.
1. Daniel Craig Gets More Nervous On Set Than On Stage
Despite beginning his acting career in theater, Craig is more commonly recognized as a film star. He got his first on-screen role in 1992, but the actor still feels nervous every time he goes on a set.
“I think I’ve played a lot of terrified men because I was scared,” explained Craig. “Somehow, being on a film set, it feels more controlled.” He particularly noted the camera as a nerve-wracking element to acting on film rather than theater.
According to Craig, theater is easier for him because it gives him the freedom to make mistakes. “A lot of things can go wrong, and often do,” he said. Theater has many moving parts, meaning that actors and stage crew will often make small mistakes that go unnoticed by the audience. There’s no camera catching every little detail like there is on set.
Craig grew up surrounded by theater. His mother was a talented stage actress and even got accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts but could not afford to go. She did, however, imbue her love of theater into her son.
“It became my church,” insisted Craig, referring to the theater. He would often spend time at the bar just as the actors had finished that night’s show. “I literally just thought they were gods. I didn’t realize they were drunk,” he said, laughing.
2. Daniel Craig Didn’t Truly Understand Shakespeare For Years
Despite portraying some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters, it took years for even Daniel Craig to fully grasp the Bard’s poetic but cryptic language.
“I’m in my 50s now and I’m just understanding Shakespeare,” admitted Craig after recounting his first time performing Shakespeare as the Duke of Venice in Othello. “God, I didn’t know what I was saying.” He would go on to make his London stage debut as Agamemnon in Troilus And Cressida.
In 2017, Craig earned raves for his performance as Iago in Sam Gold’s Off-Broadway production of Othello, starring opposite David Oyelowo. This past summer, he re-teamed with Gold for a Broadway revival of Macbeth that marked his return to the Great White Way after a near decade-long absence.
When asked how to approach Shakespeare’s heady monologues, Craig said it was important to get it in your bones. “You have to let the ‘duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum’ of it all overtake you.”
3. Daniel Craig Wouldn’t Accept The Role of James Bond Without Reading a Script First
Most young actors would be honored to be offered the role of James Bond. Craig’s response? “Well, I would need to read a script.” Cue disbelief from the audience, as well as Colbert himself. “That’s what we, in America, call ‘huevos rancheros.’”
When Craig was first approached by Barbara Broccoli to take on Bond, he was initially hesitant. “I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” he said to her. Broccoli had previously spoken about having to “woo” Craig into taking on the role, intrigued by his reluctance. He was convinced after reading the script for what would eventually become Casino Royale.
4. Daniel Craig Still Doesn’t Enjoy Being Famous
Craig was put under an international spotlight when he took on the role of James Bond, a spotlight he initially resented but has since come to terms with.
“I used to hate it, but I think that was fame I didn’t like,” clarified Craig. “I had to get used to being famous which is still so foreign to me.” The actor explained that being famous came with perks but ultimately made relationships feel transactional.
Craig was immediately lambasted for not fitting the archetypal Bond look and persona. “Everybody fucking hated me,” he remembered, reminiscing over his first official press conference as James Bond. He remembers wearing a life jacket as he was brought to press by boat, to which some believed “that’s not what James Bond would do,” according to Craig.
One can imagine how it would get to the point where, following his work on Spectre, Craig went on record saying he would rather “slash [his] wrists” than play Bond again, a statement he has since rescinded. He would go on to reprise the role one final time in No Time To Die.
5. The Queen of England is a Surprisingly Giving Scene Partner
Who knew Her Majesty could act?
For the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Danny Boyle directed a short film featuring Craig, as James Bond, escorting Her Majesty to a helicopter for the Opening Ceremony. Colbert was curious, “what kind of scene partner is Her Majesty?”
Craig had nothing but kind words to say. “She’s very giving,” he noted. She even improvised, according to Craig, which I’m sure wasn’t on anyone’s 2012 Olympics bingo card.
Earlier this year, Craig was anointed by Queen Elizabeth II with a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG), a medal of chivalry for his achievements in film and theatre. When asked what the proper circumstances are to wear the medal in public, Craig bluntly responded “never,” much to Colbert’s amusement.
6. Daniel Craig Looks For Generosity in a Director
Craig has worked with many of cinema’s most accomplished directors: Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, and Sam Mendes, among others. At one point in the conversation, Colbert asked Craig what he looks for in a director. “What do you want that relationship to be?”
“Great directors love actors and cast actors because they know how to act,” said Craig. “They don’t teach people how to act, which happens…and it’s not pleasant.” One key word Craig noted was “generosity,” as his best experiences have come from directors who collaborate with their actors as well. “I always try to take something to the set–an idea. Doesn’t have to be a good idea.”
“That doesn’t mean there can’t be conflict,” he clarified. “Sometimes something good can come from that, so long as there is respect…no assholes.”
One director Craig particularly enjoys working with is Rian Johnson, the mastermind behind Knives Out. “I had never read a more perfect script,” said Craig, who has often had to deal with projects where the script was either unfinished or was being rewritten every day on set. “[Rian] doesn’t start filming until he’s finished the script.”
He spoke about how much fun it was to connect the dots as he was reading the script for Glass Onion. He also shared that Johnson does share ideas with him, after which he “leaves him alone. He has a process and I don’t want to mess with it.”
7. Daniel Craig’s Dad Went To School With The Beatles
Growing up in Liverpool, Colbert naturally asked Craig about The Beatles. “Everybody’s dad went to school with The Beatles,” said Craig dismissively, quickly followed up with the caveat, “My dad actually went to school with The Beatles.”
Colbert and Craig took some time to geek out about the recent reissue of “Revolver,” which includes an outtake track of “Yellow Submarine” featuring bandmate John Lennon singing different lyrics. During the audience Q&A, when asked who he would like to have dinner with, living or dead, an audience member shouted out “John Lennon,” to which Craig seemed receptive.
“It’s in my bones, but I love the Stones,” admitted Craig, another all-star rock group that originated in England.
8. Daniel Craig Wouldn’t Give Advice To His Younger Self
It’s a common question during audience Q&As–what advice would you give to your younger self? In a surprising turn, Craig said he wouldn’t have given him any advice.
“I think about this quite a lot,” he began. “I don’t think I would’ve listened. I would’ve just told me to go fuck myself.” Though it gave the audience a hearty laugh, Colbert agreed with Craig’s sentiment. He recounted a story in which Colbert’s pastor reassured him that, if his then-deceased father had tried to give him advice before his passing, he probably wouldn’t have listened.
Earlier in the evening, Craig discussed his early years trying to make ends meet as an actor. Despite some stints without work, Craig said that neither he or his mother were ever worried about his potential as an actor. They somehow knew it would all work out.
9. The Focus Puller is Daniel Craig’s Favorite Job On Set
There are many unsung heroes on a film set, smaller roles that never quite get the attention they deserve. One such role in the Focus Puller, who is in charge of making sure the right subject is in focus throughout each shot. It turns out that this is one of Craig’s “favorite jobs on set.”
“They are in line with the emotions of the scene,” explained Craig. Whatever is in focus conveys the drama. This can be hard to maintain for wide-sweeping crane shots or even for shots that require just a simple focus rack.
Craig spoke admirably about his crew shooting his final Bond film, No Time To Die. “You’re working with some of the best in the industry.” In the documentary Being James Bond, Craig can be seen getting emotional on his final day of shooting.
10. Daniel Craig’s Favorite Bond Film is Goldfinger
During the audience Q&A, someone asked the golden question. “What is your favorite Bond film?”
After giving it some thought, he decided that “Goldfinger takes it,” though it looked like a difficult choice. The third film from Sean Connery, the original James Bond, is considered by many Bond fans to be one of the best, if not the best Bond film of all time. Goldfinger is the highest rated classic Bond film on Letterboxd, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDb.
According to Craig, he never got the chance to meet any of his fellow Bonds except for Pierce Brosnan, his direct predecessor, who had nothing but nice things to say. Back in 2008, when asked about Craig as Bond, Connery called him “a terrific choice.”
When asked who should be the next James Bond, Craig bluntly responded, “it’s not my problem. It will continue without me.” Colbert responded, “Subtext: Idris Elba.”
Larry Fried is a filmmaker, writer, and podcaster based in New Jersey. He is the host and creator of the podcast “My Favorite Movie is…,” a podcast dedicated to helping filmmakers make somebody’s next favorite movie. He is also the Visual Content Manager for Special Olympics New Jersey, an organization dedicated to competition and training opportunities for athletes with intellectual disabilities across the Garden State.