The latest Bond movie finds Daniel Craig as world-weary spy facing up to Javier Bardem's villain - and his own demons. He talks to Michele Manelis.
As the film falling on the 50th anniversary of the 007 screen franchise, it's perhaps predictable that Skyfall takes James Bond back to his roots.
Directed by Sam Mendes - the English film-maker's first British movie, having started out with the Oscar-winning American Beauty - the 23rd Bond film is something of an origin story.
It's also the third outing for Daniel Craig after the spectacular debut of Casino Royale and the mixed result that was Quantum of Solace. In Skyfall, Craig's Bond might be every bit the indestructible tough guy, but the film shows that time moves on, even for 007.
In Skyfall he reveals a vulnerable side - and not just when he's being tortured. He's coming to terms with middle age and he's a tad emotional as he revisits his humble and dark childhood.
"I think there's a feeling that he's shot up, he's been blasted, bashed around and injured. And I'm six years older than I was in Casino Royale, so some of that is just me," Craig smiles.
The English-born actor is in promo mode at a luxury hotel overlooking Central Park, just a few miles from the home he shares with wife Rachel Weisz in downtown Manhattan. Famously press-shy, he's a little less glacial than usual and, at times, verges on friendly.
The emotive element in the storyline is derived from the exploration of his complicated, somewhat contentious relationship with M (Judi Dench).
"The story with Judi is very big, and to just brush over that and not give it something substantial would have been wrong," he says.
The script was written by Bond aficionados Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and added newcomer John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo) to the team.
Continues Craig: "Yes, Bond is more emotional but he's not that emotional. I think he's still kind of crusty and cold, and the thing is, there are rules and parameters of this franchise. Otherwise, it would cease to become a Bond movie.
"The story certainly addresses things from his past, but at the same time, we still blow everything up - which is always important in a Bond movie."
Nor would it be a Bond movie without a memorable villain. Javier Bardem stars as Raoul Silva, and brings the sinister-yet-comedic element to the story. This over-the-top baddie is as playful as he is psychotic, but of course, underneath it all, he feels that he's simply "misunderstood".
Craig: "It was a lot of fun to work with Javier. He was a great choice for the role and he plays it in a very amusing and lighthearted way."
There's one particular scene with Bardem which might surprise Bond's macho fanbase. Says Craig: "I hope people find it funny. It makes me laugh every time I see it."
The series is the longest-running franchise in history. And like its predecessors, Skyfall is essentially an action thriller set against exotic locales. With a reported budget of US$150 million (NZ$182 million, down from Quantum of Solace's reported US$200 million), Skyfall lands in Istanbul, Shanghai, and the Scottish Highlands.
But it was London that played a big role in the film and was also a major attraction in landing Mendes to direct it.
"The opportunity to shoot in London was like a red rag to a bull to get Sam," says Craig. In fact, it was Craig who suggested Mendes for the job.
"Yes, I'm to blame." Craig smiles in the knowledge his unusual choice was rewarded by an exemplary film.
"I knew Sam wasn't an action director but I also knew he'd find out how to do that, which he did brilliantly. I also knew he was a huge Bond fan, and the fact he's English, actually does help because we found that Britishness in the movie we were after," he says.
"Actually, I was drunk at a party when I asked him about doing it, but now that I've seen it, I feel better off."
The film merges the old with the new methods in how we manage terrorism in the modern world.
Skyfall introduces a young Agent Q (Ben Wishaw) as a techno-nerd, which highlights the old-school ways of Bond.
"Bond is part of the generation of spies who confronts, who is on the frontline. But this new form of terrorism, the war on a cyber level, is the new way forward." It also provides comedic fodder and nods to the traditional ways of Bond.
"Bond's not anti-technology, it's just that he does something else. I think that, that collision of the worlds, is interesting."
In keeping up with the times, co-star Eve, played by Naomie Harris, is an MI6 field agent and a take-charge, very capable alpha female. However, the exotic and mysterious beauty, Berenice Marlohe, leans more towards the conventional Bond girl.
"There's a contradiction about Bond when it comes to women, and that's what I like about him. He's a chauvinist but he can't help himself because he loves women.
"Hopefully the attitude has changed since 1962. We've gone through a seismic shift. A lot still needs to change, but a lot has. He loves to sleep with women and he doesn't apologise for it but to put him in the real world, there are strong women in front of him who are like, 'no, I'm not going to take your shit'. That's an interesting dynamic and makes it modern. Sex is still part of the story, an important part."
In person, Craig appears to be in as good shape as his character.
"Well, I'm certainly not in the same shape as I am when I'm doing a Bond movie. It's impossible. It's one thing to work out every day because I have to, and if I didn't, I'd get injured. When I'm training I do six days a week for six months but I find it very boring," he says. "And in real life, I don't have to jump off the top of trains very often so it's not necessary to train like that."
The movie is, of course, packed with stunts, many of which Craig executes himself.
"Yes, I do a lot of them, but I don't want to go, 'oh yeah, I do my own stunts'," he sighs. "I have a team of people who make me look good, but I do as much as I can," he says.
Unlike some of the other Bond movies, Skyfall is a standalone film which doesn't necessitate the audience to be fans of the series.
Craig sums it up: "I never quite understood why a Bond movie should not have everything. We've got a good script, some of the best actors in the world and all the action and the explosions and the Bond mess, the Bond-ness," he laughs. "It's value for money. After 50 years, we had to make the best one that we can. I think it's a beautiful movie. And, the thing is, who says you can't have everything?"