Although there’s little doubt Daniel Craig is best known to viewers as James Bond, for a certain demographic, he’s also carving out a niche as cinema’s most proactive Jewish Avenger.
Craig took a back-seat to Eric Bana when it came to righting wrongs for the Chosen People in 2005’s “Munich,” but thanks to his 007 clout, Craig is front-and-center in the new World War II drama “Defiance.”
At the junket for “Defiance,” a fact-based film about the Bielski brothers brigade, Craig shies away from the idea that this latest project is a companion piece to “Munich.”
“If you’d like to do that you’re more than welcome to that, but I don’t put my work into a sort of DVD collection, my blue period here or something or my Jewish period here,” says Craig, who plays Tuvia Bielski, leader of the Jewish resistance fighters in the Belarusian forest. “I mean, genuinely, and I know this might sound kind of naive, but when I read this script the last thing on my mind was ‘Munich.’ I just read this. This deals with something that’s close to my heart because my grandparents went through the second World War, but it has a direct sort of link to all of us which is the first World War was the war to end all wars and this war was the war that stopped and made us all human which was that we all signed treaties and said that we’d never do this again. We’ve been doing it ever since, year by year, worse and worse and wiping our asses on these treaties.”
Craig, joined by Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell in “Defiance,” continues, “It’s an important piece of history. This story in itself I found so inspiring because it was about the way that people survived this situation and when they stopped fighting. That was the other thing that came up for me. When do you stop fighting? When do you actually sort of find peace? When do you start living? That line in this movie is sort of drawn in the sand by Tuvia saying, ‘We stop this now and we start to live.'”
Tuvia Bielski and his brothers are credited with conducting the largest armed rescue of Jews by Jews in World War II, which is why Craig and his co-stars were able to meet with surviving members of the Bielski family on-set, which produced initial awkward moments.
“There’s no sort of starting point for the conversation and so they all sat down. I kind of sat them all down and I’m in uniform and working and it’s like, ‘It’s great to see you.’ I went, ‘Vodka? Vodka? Vodka?'” Craig recalls with a laugh. “I kind of wandered off and found the caterer and I said, ‘Have you got any vodka?’ And of course they did because we were in Lithuania, [where they have it] for breakfast over the cornflakes. They cracked it and I sort of slowly passed this around and we all sort of toasted and they kind of came out of their shells and got very loaded and had to be told to leave because they were making so much noise. We connected and they’re full of life. They’re full of energy. They’re a big family. They’re a strong New York family. You kind of go, ‘Good. That’s what this is about.'”
The film’s treatment of Tuvia — think Robin Hood meets Moses — is heroic, but not saintly. Craig may not want to link the two films, but like “Munich,” “Defiance” takes a look at vengeance that doesn’t leave out its darker side.
“They did very, very bad things and you always have to look at the net result which is that twelve hundred people walked out of this situation and survived,” Craig says. “But keeping that many people together and under control, there were power struggles and major sort of shifts in power. There was Zus Bielski [Schreiber] who was sort of trying to gain control. They took revenge on the local population. They fought very hard against the Germans at times. It’s that moral line that they’re walking, but for kind of a good reason that I found fascinating. The question is what would you do in a situation like this, how would you defend yourself? You’d like to think that you’d protect your family, that you’d protect the people around you, but what would you be prepared to do to actually make that succeed, to protect yourself and your family?”
In many ways, the “Defiance” theme of how people retain their humanity while also seeking revenge echoes Craig’s most recent Bond entry, the worldwide blockbuster “Quantum of Solace.”
“It’s great. We couldn’t have expected it to do as well as it has done,” Craig says of the success of “Quantum.” “We put the work in. We put the energy in and we made the best movie that we could. You can only hope from there on. If you knew that everything was a sure fire winner everyone would be doing it. So there’s always a risk involved and it’s been a pleasure to do it so well.”
Craig makes it clear that while “Quantum of Solace” was a direct follow-up to “Casino Royale,” he doesn’t want his next tour of Bond duty to make it a trilogy.
I’m done with that f***ing story,” Craig laughs. “I want to lie on a beach for the first half hour of the next movie, drinking a cocktail. I don’t know what we’re going to do with the next one. I know that we’ve finished this story as far as I’m concerned and we’ve got a great set of bad guys. There’s an organization that we can use whenever we want to use it. The relationship between Bond and M is secure and Felix is secure. We can try to find out where Moneypenny came from and where Q comes from. Lets do all that and have some fun with it.”
“Defiance” goes into limited release on Dec. 31 and opens wide on Jan. 16, 2009.