Daniel Craig can't stand listening to Nicole Kidman. In fact, it's so painful that he has stuck his fingers in his ears and is humming loudly to drown her out. Meanwhile, Kidman is happily responding to a question about whether the 38-year-old actor changed after landing his role as James Bond last year.
“Oh, completely,” deadpans Kidman, 39, who was with him, shooting one of their upcoming films, The Invasion, when he got the call. “In 24 hours he became a diva,” she adds, with a nod toward Craig, who continues to hum his tune as the pair sit in the cozy bar of a London photography studio, where they're sharing a bottle of sparkling water. But then Kidman breaks down and tells the truth: “Oh, he didn't change at all,” she says in her haute-Aussie twang. “The thing about Daniel, and the reason I like working with him, is that he's an actor's actor.”
Of course, Craig has heard the whole thing, and he seems far more alarmed by the compliment than by the faux insult. “How dare you!” he shouts, and they both giggle.
It is a chilly, slate gray autumn Saturday, and Kidman, who's barefoot and still wearing a caffe latte—colored Dior gown from the fashion shoot, and Craig, in a navy blue cardigan more suited to Mister Rogers than Mr. Bond, are punchy after a long day posing under hot lights. On Monday they'll return to the London set of The Golden Compass, a fantasy adventure film based on the first book in Philip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials. The movie, to be released later this year, is their second collaboration, the first being The Invasion, which is loosely based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers and is also due out in 2007.
Despite the photo-shoot fatigue, Kidman and Craig can't seem to get enough of each other. He's decidedly less jittery when she's around, and she brightens—instantly—when he walks into the room.
“She turns me on,” says Craig mischievously in his smooth, deep voice. “In the nicest possible way, you understand. Not in any sordid, horrible way.” And then he pauses, reconsiders and laughs: “Well, come to think of it….”
All kidding aside, the fact is that both Craig and Kidman are already attached to other people. Kidman married country singer Keith Urban last June and moved with him to Nashville, Tennessee. Craig has been dating Satsuki Mitchell, a movie producer whom he met while filming The Jacket in 2005, and is raising his teenage daughter, whose mother is his ex-wife, Fiona Loudon.
It's been a heady few months for Craig, the muscle-bound British fireplug who began touring with the prestigious National Youth Theatre at age 16. Although he's been a working actor for more than two decades, it was only last November, when Casino Royale hit big, that the masses started paying attention to his background: the well-regarded theater work (which included the original London production of Angels in America), the alleged affairs with Kate Moss and Sienna Miller, and even the former nickname, Mr. Potato Head, a reference to his rugged complexion and sticky-outy ears.
Of course, it's the way Craig carries off those imperfections that gives him his star power, prompting people like Joel Silver, who produced The Invasion, to praise him as a fantasy hybrid of old-fashioned leading men. “In the Thirties and Forties, Hollywood used to refer to ‘rug actors’ and ‘dust actors,’” says Silver. “Cary Grant was a rug actor—he could do the love scenes—and John Wayne was a dust actor, who could shoot and fight. Daniel can do rug and dust. He's got craggy good looks, and he's a masculine tough guy—and let's face it, there aren't a lot of them around.” In The Invasion, both Craig and Kidman play doctors fighting off extraterrestrials who snatch humans' personalities. Silver says the genuine chemistry between the two actors helps give the story a touch of romance, “but it's also a creepy, paranoid movie—weird and dark and exciting.”
In The Golden Compass, which features flying witches, gypsies and talking bears, Kidman and Craig play star-crossed lovers. She is the wickedly manipulative Mrs. Coulter, and he is the adventurer and scholar Lord Asriel. In the film's climax, the two play out their one romantic scene on the North Pole, while straddling two universes. Director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) says that although the sequence was shot on a soundstage with 60-foot ceilings, a green-screen backdrop and giant fans blowing fake snow, the result is a “great sentimental moment—a throwback to the moment Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara say goodbye.”
With a chuckle, Craig vows that his and Kidman's next film together will feature no aliens or special effects. “We're going to do some kitchen-sink drama about working-class people outside Sydney,” the actor says. In the meantime, Craig will be picking up where he left off in Casino Royale, delving deeper into the murky psyche of Agent 007. The actor says he didn't know until Casino Royale came out whether he'd have a future as James Bond. “If it had bombed, we wouldn't have done another one,” he says, adding that meetings were due to begin in January about the plot of the next installment. Early reports say that the film will be based on Ian Fleming's short story “Risico,” with Bond going to Rome to infiltrate a drug ring flooding Britain with heroin. Craig is playing dumb about the details, but he does say that if he has his way in future sequels, Fleming's beloved bimbos will be as obsolete as shoe phones. “I want the women to be fabulous, intelligent and great. If Bond has affairs—and behaves a bit more like Bond—there has to be a good reason for it. Otherwise it doesn't work. That's not what people are interested in anymore.”
John Maybury, who directed Craig in Love Is the Devil and The Jacket, suspects that Craig's newfound celebrity will have a minimal effect on his work. “Of course Bond will give him a career upgrade,” says Maybury, “but I do not doubt that he would come back to a little director like me. At the end of the day Daniel follows the work, and he'll want to stay in touch with theater and small cinema. I'm sure Bond is going to give him the confidence to take even greater risks.”
Speaking only one week after the film was released, Craig says he has yet to see stacks of brilliant film scripts piling up at his feet. “You have to look for them,” he says. “Nothing changes on that level.” Still, he says it's a thrilling period in his life. “I haven't stopped working for a while, but I'm actually having a pretty good time with everything. It's quite remarkable, really.”
Kidman's state of mind isn't quite as easy to gauge. When her costar leaves the room to go pick up his daughter, she visibly deflates, and her humor takes on a dark edge. “A-list? Wow!” she says, responding to a question about her status in cinema land. “Is that the same as A-class drugs? Sorry,” she quickly adds with a laugh. For the remainder of the interview she seems wistful and somewhat melancholy. Her recent personal travails are well known to anyone who's walked past a newsstand lately: In October Urban began a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse. Asked whether she's happy in her new marriage, Kidman pauses and says, “Um, to be honest…yeah. But I don't talk about my marriage or my family that much.” She adds, “Keith is a wonderful man.” His base in Nashville, she says, has become a real home for her too. “It's our haven, and obviously my priority is my life in Tennessee now.”
On the career front, in any case, the actress is feeling wholly re-energized. Last spring, she says, her passion for acting returned after a dry spell. The catalyst was a still-untitled film directed by Noah Baumbach costarring Jennifer Jason Leigh; it's a family drama in which the two play sisters. “It came along at a time in my life where I really needed to fall in love with acting again,” Kidman says. “I go through stages where I'm not able to act because I don't have anything to say. I don't have anything inside me. You just don't have the urge—it's almost a primal urge.”
Kidman is also jazzed about an upcoming film by frequent collaborator Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!), set in pre—World War II Australia. “I deeply, deeply love both Baz and Catherine Martin, his wife,” she says. “It's beautiful to be rediscovered by a director time and time again as you change and morph and continue to grow, to have somebody who kind of knows your core and can help to bring things out of you that you don't expect.” Kidman is known for her seriousness on the set, and Weitz says it never once flagged during The Golden Compass: “Even when she was clutching the Day-Glo green beanbag—which in the film will be a golden monkey—she was intense. There's a real veracity, a real humanity to her acting.”
So does the veteran movie star have any advice for her friend Craig, a celebrity neophyte? Kidman, who now pulls in up to $17 million per film, says the movie business is still a complete mystery to her. “To be honest, there's no rhyme or reason to somebody's success,” she says. “I wish there was some sort of formula. And I think you just always feel like you're going to be bumped off.
“You must try and stay brave, and as much as that gets frightening because there's so much more to lose, you've got to be willing to lose it all,” Kidman adds, sounding eerily like the complex Bond heroine Craig has been dreaming about.
Hair by Luigi Murenu for Kérastase Paris; makeup by Lucia Pieroni for Clé de Peau Beauté; manicure by Glenis Baptiste for Holy Cow. On-set production by Ben Kalway. Set design by Gideon Ponte for Magnet UK. Fashion assistants: Laetitia de l'Escaille, Karen Clarkson, and Lucie Greene. Special thanks to Spring Studios, London.