'I've tried to remain who I am'

DANIEL CRAIG wasn't actively seeking another potential big-screen franchise - after all, his previous gig, the one about someone named Bond, still has a few miles left in it.

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Published: Sun 16 Dec 2007, 11:12 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:55 PM

However, moviedom's latest 007 couldn't resist when presented the opportunity to join the cast of The Golden Compass, the first film in a proposed trilogy based on Philip Pullman's fantasy saga 'His Dark Materials,' encompassing Northern Lights (1995) The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000).

Long a fan of the books, Craig signed on to play Lord Asriel. A scientist and adventurer, Asriel runs afoul of the Magisterium, the powerful institution that rules a parallel Earth where armored polar bears talk and fight, witches fly about freely and human souls are manifested in the form of "daemons," animal companions who accompany people wherever they go. Asriel is also uncle to Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a spirited 11-year-old who comes into possession of a truth-revealing device that resembles a golden compass on her way to a date with destiny, a date in which a mysterious woman named Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) takes a keen interest.

"I like the fact that Asriel is a bit of a revolutionary," Craig says. "Basically he wants to mix everything up. Knowledge is the most important thing for him, and the only way you're going to find knowledge is if there's somewhere to go and explore. You need to go and explore, because that knowledge, even if it does you bad, will change things.

"Change is always good, and that's where I think his passion comes from. The character I play has this revolutionary idea of splitting all of the universes up, so that all these ideas start flooding people and the whole thing gets turned on its head so that things can move on. I think the classic thing is that the majority of the people who are criticizing it probably haven't read the books, and they need to.

"And I'm sure that the Catholic Church, which has said that this is an attack on the Catholic Church, can handle it."

Craig plays a supporting role in The Golden Compass, though Asriel figures far more prominently in the subsequent two tales. The weight of the first film, however, falls on the slender shoulders of British newcomer Richards, whom Craig roundly praises.

"She had to be right, she had to be able to be a little girl, but someone we wanted to follow," he says, "and she's done that brilliantly, I think. She's so engaging. She's got sort of a feral quality about her, which I think was important for the role. If you follow her and you want to go with her into this world Philip Pullman created, that's just the icing on the cake.

"This whole (publicity) thing we're doing now is a little crazy," he admits. "My advice to her has been, 'Enjoy what's happening to you, because it's crazy and it's wonderful and it is fun."'

Is that how Craig has coped with post-Bond fame?

"I run away," the actor says, laughing. "Having a sense of humour is really key. You have to have a sense of humour with these things, and I've just tried to remain who I am. My life has changed. It's changed in the fact that I don't have the freedoms I did before, but I've also got a huge amount of other freedoms that have come along."

Craig may not have much freedom to play anything but Asriel and Bond for the foreseeable future: The next 007 film will begin principal photography in January, while The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - if they come to pass - would likely roll back-to-back, starting in late 2008 or early 2009.

"That will be the plan," he says, "but it just depends on how well we do (with The Golden Compass). I try not to count chickens, I really do, because there's no point. You'd go crazy. We're in good shape, and I'm very happy with the way this is working out. If they do another movie, I'd love to do it. We'll fit it in.

"It's not my job to make that work," Craig adds, grinning mischievously. "I pay people fortunes to make that work."

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