Tuesday, 4 November 2008

James Bond, Licensed to Act! - by Keith Farnan

As the latest adventure is released, comedian Keith Farnan, takes a look at the blond Bond's acting credentials.

The Scene: A dark interior - dusty, sinister, without a single shaft of sunlight. Suddenly, a figure, dressed in black, smashes through the roof to the floor. Raising himself slowly, carefully - calling into play every actorly instinct - the imposing Daniel Craig stands up. Covered in dust, he carefully surveys the scene before him - a chaos of colours arching across the walls and the floor - papers, sketches, notebooks strewn across the ground. It’s like the den of a Blofeld gone to seed. From across the room, a strange and evil- looking figure opens the door. Our hero directs his flashlight at his face. This is it, the moment of confrontation. And the villain utters the most horrifying thing imaginable! “Take off your clothes and come in here. You can have whatever you like!” Off our hero goes for a memorable night of homosexual debauchery with one of the most famous artists of the 20th Century!


This isn’t the way it’s meant to go down, if you’ll pardon the overwhelming and very deliberate pun. But this was the way it went for Mr. Craig, in one of his first mainstream cinematic outings, Love is the Devil: Study For a Portrait of Francis Bacon. Playing the lover/bit of rough to one of the maddest painters of the 20th century may not have been a pre-requisite to don the tuxedo and utter the catchphrase, “the name’s Bond…etc…”, but this and other similar acting forays certainly enabled Craig to make the super-spy franchise his own in Casino Royale.

Initially stoking the critical fires of the Bond geeks to the point that they set up CraignotBond.com, Daniel Craig has gone on to smash all doubts with a potent portrayal of Her Majesty’s secret weapon. The inside word is that his intensity is upped a notch in the forthcoming Quantum of Ridiculous-Title-But-What-Can-You-Do. We are talking serious acting chops, and not the kind Odd Job dispensed in Goldfinger. But how could the MysteriouslyQuietBondGeeks.com not have seen this coming?

Although it is hard to engage any sort of Stanislavski-like acting training, while a laser is being pointed at your double O’s, it’s not like Bond ever had to previously show any form of emotion whatsoever. He simply needed three particular expressions. Action expression, lady expression and delivery-of-a-terrible-ham expression. In fairness, Pierce Brosnan extended this by one, with his Outraged-I’m-being-treated-this-way-by-a-female-M expression.

In terms of competing with the other Bonds, Craig is street creds ahead in the indy acting stakes. Although Timothy “Worst Bond Ever” Dalton, had a string of serious roles, it failed to translate into anything remotely approaching suave, and well, you couldn’t see him for the trees. Connery - he didn’t need to act, he was just Sean Connery. Brosnan plodded around in Remington Steele, and Roger Moore came from the similarly Teflon- coated TV acting school of The Saint. I don’t actually think Lazenby had acted in anything before he came to be Bond. In fact, I think he was a tree. Frankly I think I could probably do one more tree reference but that would be three Tree jokes. And you can only deliver three tree jokes with a dry martini, a raised eyebrow and a slain henchman at your feet.

Besides the Francis Bacon’s bit of Sausage (Yes, I had to do that), Craig had already staked his reputation with earnest real-life portrayals of Ted Hughes in Sylvia in 2003 and Perry Smith in Infamous, the excellent adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood three years later. (It’s the one you didn’t see because you had already watched the Oscar winning Capote the same year.) Each of these roles gave Craig the edge he would need to hop into the tight blue trunks and stride out of the sea like Neptune. Ted Hughes could not have been more of a womaniser, more of a charmer, and he was so very incredibly English in that robust, Yorkshire, How's-your-Hovis-trouble-a-t'mill sort of way. He also caused the well-educated and intelligent Sylvia Plath, no less, to put her head into an oven. The only disappointment is that Plath put her own head into the oven without any prior shootout, knife fight or Bond zinger. “Do you expect me to write poetry?” “No, I expect you to die!”

In Infamous, Perry Smith’s strength was in his ability to emotionally manipulate Capote, but the deadly art of seduction was surely honed in the low budget kitchen sinker, The Mother. Craig plays a handyman who has a bit of DIY with his girlfriend’s Mother, who’s also a grandmother. This has to be seen to be believed, not because of the scenes of amour, but for the beard sported by Craig (no, not that sort of beard. A proper one.) He broke the boundary on a blond Bond - how about a beardy Bond?

In line with the modern actor/artist/thespian/producer/director/Jack-of-all-Trades, Craig has just released the independently produced Flashbacks of a Fool, apparently a film made for a friend. Thank god there was actually a reason for him to do it. Besides the wonderful cinematography and the realisation that the budget was spent on lighting, there is nothing but a vacuous script inhabited by a bemused Craig. Playing actor playboy Joe Scott, he has flashbacks, and yes he is a fool. So it is a Ronseal of a film - it does what it says on the tin.

It is commendable that Craig wishes to keep his acting career intact with the Bond Juggernaut in tow, but surely the highly anticipated Defiance will do enough for him in that respect as it portrays a trio of brothers fighting to protect Jewish Refugees from Nazis. Based on a true story, Craig stars alongside Liev Schrieber and Jamie Bell as three Jewish brothers whose family has been murdered by the Nazis. Not exactly sexy stuff. The other recent Bonds, Dalton and Brosnan in particular, seemed to want to immediately eschew any glamourous roles post-bond. This didn’t stop Brosnan making the slick remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, but Dalton camped it up in Hot Fuzz as a hilarious panto villain opposite Simon Pegg.

So here we go then, the next Bond. In the ultimate battle between the Bond Franchise and himself, it seems Daniel Craig has the acting chops to carry it off. Let’s just see what happens when Bond turns up at the Tate Art Gallery to the opening of Damien Hirst’s latest exhibition: “Take off your clothes and come in here. We’ll cover you in formaldehyde.”

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