Before Casino Royale even started shooting, naysayers had their guns drawn: The new, blond Bond didn't look the part. He wasn't a marquee name. And how could the guy possibly inherit 007's sleek Aston Martin when he'd supposedly never driven a stick shift?! Such criticisms, however, left Daniel Craig, 38, neither shaken nor stirred. ''People feel very strongly about James Bond,'' says the Brit, ''and that's absolutely cool.'' But let it be known: Craig knows damn well how to handle a manual transmission. ''And I don't need to prove that to anybody!'' he laughs.
When the 21st official Bond film premiered in November, the steely star of Munich, Layer Cake, and London's West End presented 007 at his most human — vulnerable, even. And his success was unmistakable: $418 million so far in worldwide receipts and praise on a global scale. ''I could never have predicted that the response would be as good as this,'' he says, adding, ''but to say that I feel vindicated would suggest that I actually got involved [in the advance criticism], when I didn't. I really didn't.''
With such instant superstardom, of course, comes great change. ''Obviously, I can't just go to the bar and have a quiet drink,'' he says. ''That doesn't exist at the moment.'' And with upcoming roles in The Invasion, His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, and the next two Bond flicks, it may be a while before he can order a martini in public again — certainly not while his giant likeness appears on billboards at every turn. ''I'll catch it out of the corner of my eye and go, 'Oh, Jesus, there I am,''' he says. ''We were driving into Tokyo the other day, and there was a big poster and I looked up and went, 'There it is, there's the poster, we're here.'''
Yes, indeed. Daniel Craig has arrived. —Joshua Rich