Bond is back

LONDON (AP) – The new blond Bond, sandy-haired Daniel Craig, met his public as “Casino Royale” had its world premiere in London.

Queen Elizabeth II, Elton John and Sharon Osborne were among those in the audience at Leicester Square on Tuesday as Craig made his screen debut as the suave secret agent OO7.

Craig, 38, was every inch a James Bond as he walked the red carpet in a tuxedo and black tie while hundreds of fans called his name.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s just incredible.

“Casino Royale,” the 21st James Bond film and the grittiest to date, opens in Britain and North America on Friday.

Craig said the movie shows how Bond became who he was. “He makes a few mistakes, but at the end of the day he becomes Bond,” he said.

The film was being screened as the annual Royal Film Performance, a 60-year-old tradition that raises funds for performers’ charity the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund. It is the second Bond film chosen for the royal honor, after “Die Another Day” in 2002.

Craig, whose screen credits include “Munich” and “The Jacket,” was already being praised in some quarters as the best Bond since Sean Connery, who played the first Bond role in 1962’s “Dr. No.”

Although the announcement that Craig would be the sixth actor to play Bond had triggered gripes from many fans of the franchise, producer Barbara Broccoli said she hadn’t been worried.

“To be truthful, it didn’t really bother us, because we knew we had the right guy,” she said. “The controversy didn’t disturb us.”

An adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first-ever Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” was previously filmed as a 1967 spoof starring Peter Sellers. It is one of the few Bond adventures not to feature the MI6 gadget-maker Q or the sharp-witted secretary Miss Moneypenny.

The Sony Pictures film retains many of the essential Bond elements, including sharp suits, gravity-defying chase sequences and spectacular locations that range from the Bahamas to Montenegro. Judi Dench once again appears as Bond’s boss, spy-master M.

But the screenplay, partly written by “Crash” writer-director Paul Haggis, provides a grittier-than-usual take on Bond, showing how he earns his license to kill. When asked if he prefers his martini shaken or stirred, he replies, “Do I look like I give a damn?”

Craig has already signed up for the 22nd Bond film, due for release in November 2008.