Daniel Craig Interview DEFIANCE

     January 15, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Opening this Friday in wide release is “Defiance”. The movie is based on the extraordinary true story of a group of Jews that banded together to survive in a forest in Eastern Europe during WW2. The film was directed by Edward Zwick and it stars Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell as the three Jewish brothers that made it all happen. Here’s the synopsis:

The year is 1941 and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred by the thousands. Managing to escape certain death, three brothers take refuge in the dense surrounding woods they have known since childhood. There they begin their desperate battle against the Nazis. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell star as brothers who turn a primitive struggle to survive into something far more consequential – a way to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by saving thousands of others.

At first it is all they can do to stay alive. But gradually, as whispers of their daring spreads, they begin to attract others – men and women, young and old – willing to risk everything for the sake of even a moment’s freedom. Tuvia (Daniel Craig) is a reluctant leader and his decisions are challenged by his brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber)who worries that Tuvia’s idealistic plans will doom them all. Asael (Jamie Bell) is the youngest – caught between his brothers’ fierce rivalry. As a brutal winter descends, they work to create a community, and to keep faith alive when all humanity appeared to be lost.

To help promote the movie, I recently participated in roundtable interviews with most of the cast and the one below is with Daniel Craig. During our interview, Daniel was very open and honest about the making of the film and told some fascinating stories about the real historical events. While I’ve studied history, the events portrayed in this film were all new to me, and I’m sure it’ll be that way to a lot of you as well. And, of course, we talked Bond.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. And if yo’d like to watch some clips from “Defiance”, click here.

Question: So, has the shoulder and elbow healed?

Daniel Craig: It hasn’t been healed completely, but it’ll be done in January. I’m not ready for going back to work quite yet which I’m really quite relieved about really.

I know that the grandchildren came on the set of the film. How did that inform your role in this film…talking to people who actually knew him?

Craig: Very much. It’s sort of difficult because your mind is full of expectations when meeting a family member, a son, a daughter because you sort of feel that there will be an immediate connection to what you’re doing and that’s not the reality of it though. What did strike me about them very much and what was really very pleasant is that you’re kind of awkward when you meet someone like that. You’re like, ‘Hi. It’s lovely to see you in Lithuania. It’s very nice over here.’ [laughs] 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?’ 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, 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 load 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 heart of this movie is my relationship with Liev [Schreiber] and Jamie [Bell] and the fact that we’re a family unit and how we then make that into a bigger family unit. So I kind of felt good about it.

Did they tell you anything about him that you could actually use?

Craig: Well, the thing of it is that for all sorts of reasons he didn’t talk about it. My theory and I think it’s fairly accurate is that the children of the people that went through it started growing up and of course started asking questions and saying, ‘What was your experience?’ There were people who had gone through The Holocaust and had survived Auschwitz and these people had survived, certainly, in a very different way. I think the common theme was Tuvia Bielski. They said, ‘This man led us through.’

The Moses analogy is interesting and throughout the film. Being familiar with the story of Moses—

Craig: So badly. It’s not really historically accurate.

But in that story, Moses doesn’t really make it to the Promised Land.

Craig: Well, I think the obvious thing to say is that my character is not a particularly good Jew. He’s certainly not, but where we took that from in effect was that in Lithuania, Yiddish was the second language. These were totally integrated communities that got wiped out. That’s another part of the tragedy. There was trade. There was intermarriage. It was actually a huge melting pot that got destroyed and Tuvia is sort of a businessman. He’s first and foremost a Belarusian businessman. So we take the story on, like Allan’s [Corduner] says, ‘I remember you in glass –’ and him going, ‘I don’t remember you even slightly.’ School was never really that interesting to him. He only wanted to live life. I think that his faith is something that he’s never used and doesn’t even want to draw upon in this situation because he feels guilty about that fact, but in spite of that it sort of brings everyone together and it brings him together eventually. That was because my bible reading is not particularly good.

Is it hard not being James Bond in a James Bond-type moment, going into the house and shooting that guy?

Craig: No. I don’t sort of have those connections in my head. The situation is that the guy can’t really use a gun that well and certainly he’s never shot anyone in cold blood before and so it’s a completely different sort of mindset. The soundtrack isn’t going on in my head when I’m doing that.

You’re the hero throughout this film, but you do have to kill a member of your own band and do some pretty hard things. How did you approach that duality?

Craig: Well, that’s what fascinated me about this really. It’s obvious if anyone watches the film, if anyone reads the book, obvious if you sort of understand the storyline, these people did bad things. 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. But keeping that many people together and under control, there were power struggles and major sort of shifts in power. There was Zus Bielski 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.

Was some of that based on real things that happened?

Craig: Most of what happens in the movie is absolutely reported and it happened over a three or four year period. We sort of condensed a lot of that into one year, but the sort of running away, going through the swamp, the fact that a whole infantry of Germans were sent in to get them, twenty thousand men were sent in to actually root them out, them and other troops like them – it all happened. Obviously, this is a film and we’ve got to put it dramatically into a context.

Do you view this as sort of a companion piece to “Munich“, a Jewish sort of vengeance?

Craig: I don’t think that. 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. I mean, genuinely, and I know this might sound kind of naïve, 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 second 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. 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.’

How did shooting on location help inform your character?

Craig: Very much. A great deal. We always had to have in the back of our mind that reality. We were doing long days and six day weeks, but we had warm beds to go to and apparently, we were probably bitching about it, but we did have trailers somewhere. There were different sort of map references. They would give us a map in the morning and say, ‘If you can find it you can have it.’ So we’d stay on set, but we stayed on set literally constantly and we’d be under tents, tarps sort of watching the scenes. That made it very immediate. It made us all feel involved with everything and it gave a community feeling to us which was kind of essential for the movie, giving it that life. Like I said though, it’s cold and wet and damp and uncomfortable but you knew that you were going home that night so it was okay.

What was Ed Zwick’s rehearsing style like, a lot of rehearsing?

Craig: We had a lot of discussion before we started shooting. Sometimes you’d get to a scene on the shoot and it’d just click and you’d go, ‘Okay, we know what want to do.’ We’d set the camera up and we’d shoot it. Then other times there’s the very emotional stuff and you kind of give it more time and let there be more air around the scene. Then sometimes you’d just sort of hit a brick wall like you always do and everyone would come in and sit down and discuss it. We’d discuss the camera. The camera department would come in and say, ‘Maybe we can shoot it from up there. Maybe it’ll give it that feeling.’ If the scene wasn’t working we could rewrite. Clay [Frohman] was on set and would rewrite scenes as we were going along or we’d sort of improvise bits and pieces if we could.

What about the Russian? How hard was that?

Craig: I mean, I left school at sixteen and I can’t conjugate a verb in any language, even English. So Russian, I just did phonetically. Liev has an education and so he took pains to learn it a bit. It was tricky and difficult and especially because Ed suddenly heard, to his mind, remarkably well from whoever was teaching us Russian and decided to make two or three other scenes in Russian as well. I’m glad that we did it. I’m glad that we made the distinction because obviously the conceit is that we’re all speaking Yiddish to each other and that Russian is spoken and German is spoken around us and we all have an accent because it grounds it and it makes it sound that we have a uniformity because obviously we’ve got English, Lithuanian, French – there’s a whole international group of actors in there making it the Tower of Babel if we were speaking in our own accents.

“Quantum of Solace” was a huge worldwide success. For someone who works so hard on it, do you pay attention to that success at the box office?

Craig: I mean, of course I pay attention. It’s not like, ‘No. I’m not interested.’ It’s great. We couldn’t have expected it to do as well as it has done. 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.

Is there going to be a trilogy?

Craig: No.

Absolutely not?

Craig: No. No fucking way [laughs]. I’m done with that fucking story. 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.

With the studio doing so well with these movies, I’m sure they want to get started again quickly. Are you more interested in doing another project like “Defiance” before the next “Bond” film?

Craig: We don’t know when we’re going to do the next ‘Bond’. Certainly no one is thinking about it just at the moment and we’re going to give it a rest for the moment. If we can squeeze something in, if I can do something next year I will, but I haven’t found out what that’s going to be yet, but not another ‘Defiance’, not in the cold.

Has anyone approached you about a beach picture at all?

Craig: A beach picture? Well, I can’t surf. I can lie down.

I saw “Flashbacks of a Fool” a few months ago. It was very nice and intimate. Would you like to do more of those?

Craig: I’d love to. That was really a kind of labor of love. That was a friend of mine who had written that about seven or eight years ago for me. We managed to get it made and I’m very keen to sort of get stuff like that off the ground if I can, whether I’m producing or not or whether I’m in it or not. It’s nice to get that stuff on to encourage people I know with a lot of talent to just get on with it.

Being James Bond and having that be successful, a film like this will be that much more successful. Are you aware of that kind of presence?

Craig: Am I tracking it? No, I’m not. Of course I know what you’re saying, but there’s no real comment on it. If it gets more people in to see the film then that’s fantastic, but it’s a sort of given maybe.

Do you think of using that status to get personal, smaller movies made that you like?

Craig: For sure. In a sense this movie was definitely very much like that. Ed’s been struggling with it for a long time. He went to Europe and basically raised the money in individual territories, getting the money for this, and I think that me saying yes to it and getting my name it gave it that little extra push and thankfully Paramount and Vantage came in and picked it up here. So it’s that process. It’s not a very clear cut process. As much I’d like to say that I’m definitely going to do that it’s still a lot of work involved. But I’m going to definitely work that way and try to encourage things if I can.

Is that a responsibility that you feel?

Craig: I think so, yes. I mean, there’s definitely a responsibility and you have to sort of pay it back a little bit into the business. It’s also because I love doing it. It’s a narcissism as well.

Would you ever do a Steve McQueen movie because that’s what you were called after “Layer Cake”?

Craig: Well, he’s done them and I wouldn’t try to repeat that. Steve McQueen movies don’t need retouching.

You wouldn’t redo a “Bullitt”?

Craig: No. I mean, the movie is too good. I just wouldn’t be interested.

You did action sequences in this film and then of course in “Bond”. When you do other films are you looking for—

Craig: Kitchen sink dramas? Honestly, I know what you’re trying to do, asking if I’m consciously trying to pick stuff. I’m not consciously trying to do that. If there was that much material around for me to pick and choose from I would be doing that. But there is a finite number of good scripts. There are only so many good pieces of material, good books out there and you have to look for them. To say that I won’t do this is really kind of shutting the door on so much material. I keep my mind totally open and we’ll just see what comes along.

If there’s a book or a play that you really wanted to do though you have that clout to—

Craig: Yeah, but I’ve got to read it [laughs].

You could have your own production company and get those things developed.

Craig: Yeah, look, what you would normally do is if I was going to do a movie and it was going to go like that I would start a production company. I don’t need to start a production to do that. I can have a production company and office and sit in there and go [sighs]. It doesn’t have to work like that. You find the material. You get the job and you make the job. Having a production company is a byproduct of making a film. It doesn’t make a movie.

So there’s not something you’re dying to develop because it’s close to you, a dream project?

Craig: The first five books of the Bible. It’s a small thing I’ve been working on for years, but it’s just something that I really want to do [laughs].

We talked to Liev earlier about the fight sequence. It’s a visceral thing to see brothers beating each other up like that.

Craig: Well, having done a few now I know that the only way that you get them to look right is by rehearsing them. So that’s what we did. We did it for weeks before we started shooting. We went into the studio, put mats on the floor and sort of figured it out. What we wanted to do was try to make it as brotherly as possible which is why there’s punch in the bollux and aspects that would make you go, ‘Those are brothers fighting.’ There’s obviously a Cain and Abel thing with the rock and that came about as just a piece of improvisation. There was a rock there and it was about how we were going to end this, how we were going to end the fight because that was the only way to end the fight, the other one had to want to kill the other one. So there’s a rock to hand. Also, he’s bigger than me and I had to hit him with something.

He said it was your idea to punch him in the balls. Is that true?

Craig: Yes.

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