What does it mean to be the best actor to represent the character of James Bond? Is it the individual who plays the part the best? The one that best reflects the ideals of the original literary character? The answer will depend on which rabid James Bond fan you ask, though the likely solution is somewhere between the two.
Appearing in the most iconic films of the character’s filmography, history points to the late Sean Connery as the greatest to ever don the 007 status, typified by films such as From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and Diamonds are Forever. Helmed by the likes of Terence Young and Guy Hamilton, Connery is certainly lucky in the fact that the filmmakers responsible for his globe-trotting adventures had the whole of author Ian Fleming’s collection. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice are recognised as products of their 1960s context, created shortly after the release of the novels the films are based on.
“Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless,” remarks Vesper Lynd in Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Facially resembling the composer, singer and actor, truthfully, a large majority of the actors that portray James Bond fit this billing, none more so than Sean Connery, sporting a stiff British sensibility with a dark, violent core. Daniel Craig isn’t too far behind him either, perhaps displaying more of Bond’s gruff demeanour than his suave sophistication, however.
Looks were never the priority for the casting of James Bond, as, if they were, Roger Moore would have never got the part, with all the upper-class ponce of the Queen’s lackey and about as much intimidation as a wet slice of bread. Consider instead that the actors of James Bond are cast by their attitude and similarities to the sensibilities of the original iteration.
As stated in chapter one of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, “It was part of his profession to kill people. He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it…it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon. If it happened, it happened. Regret was unprofessional”. Picking apart Fleming’s masterful deconstruction of his own character, the line “cool about death as a surgeon” springs to mind not the plain-faced sophistication of Sean Connery, but instead, Daniel Craig, the perfect embodiment of James Bond’s elegant attitude to his profession.
Instead of going with the trend of history, the track record of Daniel Craig instead suggests that he is the most plausible actor to ever take up the mantle of 007. Best reflecting the character’s personality, Craig’s Bond was different. Before he’d even shot his first gun or thrown a henchman off a high railing, he was already a broken man. A wounded action hero forged from a sincere reality, ready for the uncertain challenges of the new millennium.
Speaking to GQ in 2020, Craig discussed the themes of his Bond films, stating: “The biggest ideas are the best…And the biggest ideas are love and tragedy and loss. They just are, and that’s what I instinctively want to aim for.” These are themes that the franchise had never before sincerely dabbled in. Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore and Sean Connery may have alluded to a greater sincerity toward feelings of love, loss and regret, but the emotion never really resonated and were always performed with hollow insincerity, sometimes even a wry smile.
Constantly flitting between a defender of morality and a violent advocate for justice, just like the original literary character Daniel Craig’s Bond is neither good nor evil. As Ian Fleming stated in a 1964 interview with Playboy, “He’s [Bond] got vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway”. If yu want class, sophistication and a surgeon-like attitude to justice and murder, simply witness the conclusion to James Bond’s magnum-opus Casino Royale.