British actor Daniel Craig became known to audiences the world over when he was revealed as the new James Bond, slated to cement his role as the suave spy in 2006's Casino Royale. His status as an action star was quite sudden, and many were surprised at the announcement, thinking of him as an unknown. Ironically, the classically trained actor had put nearly 50 roles under his belt over the previous 15 years, from star-studded Hollywood features to highly respected independent ventures.
Before Craig was a working actor, much less a famous one, he didn't just want to be an actor, he wanted to be a good one. At the age of six he was appearing in school plays in Liverpool, at 14 he was acting on his high school stage in West Kirby, and by 16 he auditioned for and joined the National Youth Theater's troupe for their tours of Manchester, Spain, and Russia. He went on to toil through low-paying jobs as he repeatedly auditioned for the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, determined to get in and undergo the classical training that would help him excel at his craft. Finally in 1988 at the age of 20, he was accepted and proceeded to study there for the next three years under the tutelage of Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Colin McCormack. After graduating in 1991, Craig had a whirlwind of activity to keep up with. In 1992 he began his career on screen, appearing in the film The Power of One. He also married Scottish actress Fiona Loudon, who gave birth to their daughter Ella that same year. He would appear in over ten films, TV movies, television shows, and failed pilots over the next two years, until his marriage to Louden came to an end in 1994. He got back in the game in 1995 with a role in the Disney film A Kid in King Arthur's Court, returning to England soon afterward to star in the acclaimed BBC2 miniseries Our Friends in the North and the four-part series Moll Flanders.
It seemed that the actor couldn't stay busy enough, working on several projects a year that ranged from highly respectable drama to trash TV horror. In 1997 he worked with German director Peter Sehr on Obsession where he met his future girlfriend, German actress Heike Makatsch. His first leading role in the U.K. came in 1998 with his portrayal of George Dyer, the intimate friend of painter Francis Bacon (played by Derek Jacobi) in John Maybury's Love Is the Devil. He was developing an impressive resumé and a great skill at taking on an entirely new persona with each new role. He would play a 19th century Irish refuge in Love & Rage, a young soldier in the WWI film The Trench, a framed Jesuit priest in the royal biopic Elizabeth (Starring Cate Blanchett), a Kenyan gamekeeper in the Kim Basinger film I Dreamed of Africa, and the manager of a run-down hotel and health-spa in the satirical comedy Hotel Splendide.
American audiences finally got a real taste of Craig's acting when he took a part in an action-packed summer blockbuster, 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Playing Angelina Jolie's present rival and former lover, Craig was so effective at his trademark immersion into his role that audiences hardly recognized him when he appeared the next year in The Road to Perdition as the spoiled son of an Al Capone-era mob boss, complete with a perfect American accent. His skill for blending so adeptly into his character and environment gave him the odd combination of being wildly praised but seldom recognized. He would appear in many more challenging and thought-provoking roles over the next few years, most notably as Ted Hughes, poet and husband to Sylvia Plath (Played by Gwyneth Paltrow) in the biopic Sylvia (2003). In 2004, he took British audiences on a thrill ride as a coke dealer without a name in Layer Cake, which became a sleeper hit in the U.S. as well. The following year found him playing significant roles in American films like The Jacket and Steven Spielberg's Munich.
The script that would mark his debut in the franchise would be Casino Royale, the only of author Ian Flemming's original James Bond books to have never been adapted into a screenplay for the film franchise, as its rights were purchased in 1967 to make a spoof of the film series rather than a real Bond movie. The choice of Craig for such a famous and well-loved character had some audiences scratching their heads, but those who'd taken a look at the actor's long and impressive filmography were ready to see him take on the job. To say his debut as Bond was a success is an understatment: Released in late 2006, Casino Royale quickly rung up the highest box-office tally of any Bond film, and it garnered the best reviews the franchise had seen in years. Audiences and critics alike became Craig loyalists. He would stick with the Bond franchise for years to come, but the veteran actor continued to take risks on the big screen with such efforts as Defiance, Cowboys & Aliens, Dream House, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.