Back to Bond: Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem on ‘Skyfall’ Memories, ‘Dune’ and That ‘Heartbreaking’ 007 Finale

Daniel Craig (“No Time to Die”) and Javier Bardem (“Being the Ricardos”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon Studios. For more, click here.

Since starring together as hero and villain of 2012’s “Skyfall,” Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem have continued to test themselves on screen. Last year, Craig finally bid farewell to James Bond with “No Time to Die,” a moody sendoff for his iteration of the British superspy. Meanwhile, Bardem flexed comic and musical chops as the bandleader and early television star Desi Arnaz in “Being the Ricardos.”

Daniel Craig: Are we supposed to talk intelligently for 30 minutes? I’m not sure I’m capable of doing that. And I know I’m not capable of talking intelligently about acting for 30 minutes.

Javier Bardem: Imagine me doing it in English.

Craig: Terrifying.

Bardem: So we have lots of things in common. We were born almost on the same day.

Craig: Almost on the same day, a year apart from each other. You’re one year younger than me. But you’d never know it now.

Bardem: We celebrated our birthday together once.

Craig: I remember you were in drag, but I know that’s a whole other story.

Bardem: Coming out of a cake. I was supposed to be the Bond girl that night, and oh, my God, I was. And my detective work says we both play rugby.

Craig: You played for Spanish International School, right?

Bardem: Yeah. I’m always saying that playing rugby in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan. There were 20 of us. Of course I would be in the national team.

Craig: Still, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. We do have a lot in common — a love of acting and a love of working with people that we are inspired by. Getting the chance to work with you was a dream come true. You go, “Can we ask him? He’ll probably say no.” You said yes. I’ve missed you ever since.

Bardem: With Sam Mendes, I felt so protected, so welcome, so taken care of. I will never forget how beautiful and supportive you were in every way, but especially in the famous scene in the elevator where they had to walk and talk in a foreign language, in one shot.

Craig: That was a big deal because you had to walk, talk — and you speak English beautifully, but it is a second language. It was complicated. One thing I related to so much is you did it, Sam shouted “Cut,” and you went, “No, no, no, I was saying the Oscar speech in my head!” You got very pleased with yourself, and there’s that voice going, “God, you were good.”

Bardem: “Oh, my God, you’re nailing it. Oh, my God, what brand am I going to wear?”

Craig: I know, that’s always the worst take. When you’re watching yourself. The best ones are when they ask, “What were you thinking?,” You go, “I have no idea.”

Bardem: In “No Time to Die,” you made the impossible. When I watched it, I saw every aspect of the human being — framed in the profile of James Bond. The comedy, the drama, the pain, the suffering, the joy, the love — I don’t know how you did that. Because the character is who he is. He has to represent himself constantly in front of everyone to make sure that they know who they’re dealing with. But within that, there’s this human being.

Craig: Gosh. Well, thank you. We’ll end it there. I’ve got nothing else to say.

I had this idea. I wanted to kill him off a long time ago, in “Casino Royale,” for all sorts of reasons. One purely egotistical, which was that I felt like I needed to end what I did on it, and that I would only be satisfied if I could walk away and there was nowhere else for that to go. That someone else would have to come along and invent something completely different. But I knew the only way to make it work was that it had to be based in love. In “Skyfall,” it’s the story of his love for Judi [Dench], which is complicated and toxic. And every time we’ve concentrated on love, it’s paid dividends.

Madeleine [played by Léa Seydoux] was undiscovered in the previous film. And she was enigmatic, and I felt like that relationship was there for the discovery. They were flawed human beings, and of course they were madly in love with each other. When we’d done that, I really understood it. I just said, “I’ve got to enjoy this,” you know? I’ve sometimes not enjoyed it. I’ve sometimes been too hardworking. I’ve been too serious about the whole thing and too involved with too many things. I tried to make myself involved with the things that mattered. And that was me getting on set and being in the right frame of mind for each scene.

Bardem: It’s a great work. I really recognize the quality of the actor bringing all of that into a character that is so iconic. Congratulations. So did you already do “Macbeth” [on Broadway]?

Craig: We start rehearsals in February. Yeah, something a little simple to do. It’s one of my favorite plays. It’s short — relatively — which is always good.

Bardem: What do you make of “Macbeth”?

Craig: It’s a play that starts, and it literally powers through to the end. It’s an amazing piece of writing. I’m sure you feel the same way, but one of the nicest things to do is sit around with a bunch of actors and a good director talking about good text. I could do that every day of my life.

You’ve got to talk to me about bandleaders though. I want to talk to you about Desi. How musical are you? I had no idea.

Bardem: Well, apart from coming out of birthday cakes dressed like a Bond girl, not much. I sang “Happy Birthday to You,” my best Marilyn Monroe impersonation. When they told me to sing, I was like, “Are you sure of that? Are you sure you want me singing?” And then I try.

Craig: I mean, I was blown away. And those two people are incredible. I didn’t realize how formidable they were.

Bardem: Yeah. I didn’t know the story about Lucy and Desi at all, because the show wasn’t as popular in Spain as it was in the States. So I really jumped in without knowing much about it. And then, through the research, there was a moment like, “Oh, my God, this is so iconic. What am I doing here?” It was too late to pull back — “OK, I have to do it now.”

Craig: How was it talking [Aaron Sorkin’s] dialogue?

Bardem: When you have rich text with so many layers, you feel enriched, you feel gifted as an actor, and you also feel cursed by it. Because there’s no way to hide. To have to really reach those images and be around those images physically, embody those images in order for the text to make sense.

Craig: Is he tough on you?

Bardem: No, not really. He’s one take, two takes at the most.

Craig: So you have to be ready when you get to set.

Bardem: It’s more like a theater experience. There is not much rehearsal. And he’s more keen on making sure that you understand that there must be a pause. There must be a way to make sure that you digest that in order to answer what you have to answer. He knows that everybody’s trying to get into the fast pace. He’s like — no, no, no. I want people to listen to each other. So it’s the opposite of what people imagine he will ask for.

It was a short shoot. On the singing, I worked with this singing coach called Fiona [McDougal] from Scotland through Zoom. And her face, the first time I opened my mouth — she was so nice. “OK, I think we have some work to do.”

Craig: Believe me, I empathize. I can’t count, so there’s no way I can sing. You really need to be able to know when to come in.

Bardem: But hold on, you did a brilliant “SNL” episode. There must be a lot of counting there, no?

Craig: I don’t know. Have you done it?

Bardem: No.

Craig: You have to do it! You would be unbelievable. All they say is make sure you read the cue cards. And you think, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll improvise a bit.” I wish you could improvise. You’re glued to these cards or at least trying not to be glued to them. And then the next thing, it’s “Cut!” And you’re whisked off, putting a wig on your head. It’s fabulous. It’s like doing the biggest school play there is.

It was their last show [before COVID in March 2020]. Rachel [Weisz], my wife, she’d come up already. She said, “Do you want me there?” I said, “I don’t really want you in the audience. I think it’s kind of crazy.” But it was so electric during that last show, because everybody was just on edge about everything.

Bardem: Your comedy chops are so brilliant. I don’t know how you were able to bring that in such a relaxed way. Because for me, the thing that blocks the first when you’re nervous is the sense of humor.

Craig: I know that really good comedy comes from really good writing. I don’t have improvisational chops. The idea of going and doing an improvised gig — it gives me heart palpitations. That’s the waking nightmare of walking onstage and going, “Go.” I need words. I need all that support.

Bardem: Come on. Improvise Shakespeare now.

Craig: Believe me, I’ve had a few dreams already. I’ve had two or three dreams of standing onstage looking around going, “What am I supposed to be doing?”

Bardem: That’s a classic.

Craig: Yes, the anxiety of it all. So look, you did “Dune” with Denis [Villeneuve]. Have you read the books?

Bardem: I read the books when I was 21, and I felt like, “Oh, wow. All right. What an LSD trip. Great.” Then the offer was Denis sitting down saying, “I have this role but it’s very, very small. But if there is such a thing as a second one, you will have a bigger role.” And I said, “I don’t care.”

Craig: Yeah. He becomes the main part of the story.

Bardem: But I said, “I don’t care.”

Craig: How was shooting it?

Bardem: It was shot in the desert in Jordan, and in Hungary on the stages. I loved Denis because it’s a dream of his youth to make this movie. His famous line is “I deeply love it, but let’s do another one.”

Craig: As an actor, that’s all I need.

Bardem: Are you shooting “Knives Out 2”?

Craig: We did the second one this summer, in Greece, and then we filmed studio work in Serbia. It’s in the can. Rian [Johnson] is editing now, and it’ll be out, I think, in the fall of this year. How much have you been working?

Bardem: Funny enough, this year, which has been so problematic and so hard for so many people, has been by far the busiest year of my life, because some breaks have fallen together because of the COVID postponement. And also, I actually never felt the right to say no. There is so much loss of jobs. I said, “Yes, I’m going to do it.” This last year, I did three movies back to back, which I’d never done before.

Craig: Did you enjoy that?

Bardem: I enjoyed that, but it’s been exhausting. I can’t do that anymore, because of the family. In my nervous system I have two weeks, at most, to be apart from my family. After two weeks, I can’t operate.

Craig: It’s really a tough thing to do. One of my things about doing Bond was always that struggle. They take such a long time to shoot. It’s a year, basically. And that makes it very hard. And of course you’re very committed to your job as all talented people are committed to their job. And there’s a certain amount that takes you away, and my 3-year-old, right now, does not understand. So if you have the opportunity and the luxury of doing it, you have to try and balance it.