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    Bond Goes Blond with Craig

    Hollywood's worst kept secret is official: Daniel Craig has been issued a license to kill.

    The golden-haired British actor will slip into the tuxedo vacated by Pierce Brosnan as the next James Bond in the upcoming Casino Royale.

    Craig is the sixth thesp to take on the role, after Sean Connery (1962-71), George Lazenby (1969), Roger Moore (1973-85), Timothy Dalton (1987-89) and Brosnan (1995-2002). He is the second Englishman to play the role (after Moore) and the first blond.

    In a dramatic revealing ceremony, the actor was whisked down the Thames River on a military boat Friday before alighting at a waterside news conference, which was held inside a Royal Navy facility.

    "I had a couple of martinis when I found out," Craig told reporters about learning of his selection. (He didn't mention whether they were shaken, not stirred.)

    "It is a huge iconic figure in movie history, and those things don't come along very often," he said.

    Craig said he was aware of the possibility of being "trapped" by the stereotype of the role, but said he was not allowing himself to worry about it.

    "We've got an incredible script, and that's my first line of attack," he said. "Once I'd read that, I realized that I didn't have a choice. I had to go for it."

    Craig, 37, is perhaps best known to American audiences for his lead role in the high-octane 2004 crime thriller Layer Cake. He also appeared as Angelina Jolie's rival in 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Tom Hanks' tormentor in 2002's Road to Perdition and a mental patient opposite Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley in this year's The Jacket.

    Later this year, Craig is set to star opposite Eric Bana in Steven Spielberg's terrorism drama, Munich, due out in December.

    Even before the official announcement was made, Craig was widely considered to have the role locked up after the U.K.'s Daily Mail reported as much earlier this week. However, Eon Productions denied the rumor, claiming no decision had been made.

    Bond producer Michael G. Wilson said Friday that 200 actors had been considered for the part but that Craig was the only one to receive a formal offer. The actor said he only learned he had been chosen for the role on Monday.

    Among the other leading men who were reportedly in the running for the role were Clive Owen, Colin Farrell, Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana and Croatian ER hunk Goran Visnijc.

    Craig's hair color won't be the only change to which die-hard Bond fans will be forced to adapt. According to remarks made by Casino Royale screenwriter Paul Haggis last month at the Toronto Film Fest, MI6 gadget maker Q, most recently played by John Cleese, will not appear in the film. It will be the first absence of Q since Live and Let Die.

    "We're trying to reinvent Bond. He's 28. No Q, no gadgets," Haggis said, adding the new installment is "trying to do for Bond what Batman Begins did for Batman."

    The news of a Q-less, gadget-less movie did not appeal to some of the franchise's most loyal devotees.

    "No gadgets or Q, eh? Why not get rid of the theme music, the cars, girls and vodka martinis as well?" asked a poster to the MI6.co.uk fan forum. "In fact, why not just jettison all the factors that make Bond movies...well, Bond movies, and start a whole new franchise with characters and situations which no longer have anything to do with what we've come to know and love over the past 40 years, let alone Fleming's original novels."

    Further roiling the sensibilities of fans was Wilson's statement Friday that Moneypenny will also not be featured in the movie, though M will return. However, it was not confirmed whether Dame Judi Dench will play the spy chief.

    Director Martin Campbell said that Casino Royale will reveal a darker, colder side of 007.

    "I certainly think it will be a little bit darker--that's not to say it won't have its sense of humor, of course it will have that," the helmer said Friday.

    Campbell said the film will explore the early roots of the Bond mystique.

    "It is really the arc in which he becomes Bond," Campbell said. "He starts out just having earned his double-0 stripes and comes out at the end the Bond we know and love."

    "A lot of the embryonic Bond things will come out in the film--how he gets the Aston Martin, how he mixes a martini."

    Campbell's leading man is ready and willing to do his part.

    "Together with Martin, I want to make the best film we can, the most entertaining film we can," Craig said.

    Casino Royale, the 21st film in the Bond franchise, begins shooting in January in the Czech Republic, the Bahamas, Italy and at Pinewood Studios near London. The finished product is slated for a Nov. 17, 2006, release.

    Meanwhile, Wilson revealed that work is already underway on the 22nd Bond film.

    Assuming that Craig proves not to be a Lazenby-esque one-hit wonder, the film will mark his second outing as the world's most iconic spy.

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