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    Craig Bonding Again

    He hasn't even graced the gun sight yet, but Daniel Craig is already gearing up for another go-round as 007.

    The English thesp, who's getting ready to make his big debut on Nov. 17 as the sixth actor to play James Bond in MGM's Casino Royale, the 21st installment in the four decade-old franchise, is aboard to star in a follow-up now in development.

    "As we wrap production on Casino Royale, we couldn't be more excited about the direction the franchise is heading with Daniel Craig," producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said in a joint statement released through Sony Pictures. "Daniel has taken the origins of Ian Fleming's James Bond portraying, with emotional complexity, a darker and edgier 007."

    According to the Hollywood Reporter, Roger Michell, the helmer behind the 1999 Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts romantic comedy hit, Notting Hill, and the 2002 Ben Affleck-Samuel L. Jackson thriller miss, Changing Lanes, is in talks to direct the as-yet-untitled project, currently known only as Bond 22, slated to hit theaters May 2, 2008. (It will square off against another potential blockbuster, Paramount's Iron Man.)

    No word on the story line, but the trade says it comes from an original idea suggested by Wilson.

    In any case, the move is a big thumbs-up from the Bond brain trust and comes in the wake of withering fan criticism of Craig's casting, with some calling for the ouster of the 38-year-old actor before he had the chance to swig his first martini onscreen.

    Back in February, when the Martin Campbell-helmed Casino was still shooting, detractors stirred controversy by launching CraigNotBond.com, to protest the hiring of the first blond Bond as a replacement for fan favorite Pierce Brosnan. The anti-Craig faction called him an "unknown and unattractive" performer and vowed to boycott any Bond film in which he starred. The site further petitioned Eon Productions to revoke Craig's license to kill and bring back Brosnan.

    But Craig quickly racked up an endorsement from original 007 Sean Connery, who rushed to his defense, praising him as a "terrific choice," and three other 007 predecessors, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Brosnan, also gave Craig their votes of confidence. Meanwhile, Judi Dench, who plays spy boss M, has also called his performance in Casino "edgy," while Bond babe Caterina Murino told the BBC last week that her costar is a "great actor" who will give fans "something they've never seen before."

    While Craig has public appeared unfazed by the fan backlash, Murino said that the criticism has left him feeling a little shaken, but insisted that his rugged depiction of Bond will please fans in the end.

    "When he's going to kill someone, he looks like a real killer. When he kisses me, when he makes love, he's so sexy," the Italian actress said, adding that the latest adventure in the Bond series will be much more violent than previous entries.

    Bond producers apparently are betting big on him, too. The BBC also reported that Craig is signed to play Bond through 2012, giving him plenty of opportunities to hone those secret agent skills.

    Craig most recently starred as an assassin in Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated Munich. His other credits include Lara Croft: Tomb Raider The Road to Perdition, Layer Cake and Enduring Love, which was also directed by Michell.

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