DANIEL CRAIG bounds into the room, his arm in a sling. "Damn, I was hoping you wouldn't notice," he says. Wound up like a coil from talking all day, he's eager to cut the crap when it comes to his interpretation of Bond. "I genuinely just nicked a lot of stuff from Ian Fleming," he says.
"His Bond is very psychological: he thinks, he's morally ambiguous, he's an assassin, he kills people for a living; at the same time he always gets his man and goes after the bad guys. But there's no deep and meaningful thing here. I don't approach it like some big dramatic piece."
He's reluctant to claim any ownership over the character, though. "I think I'm only borrowing it, don't you? This is all great, but I think someone else is going to come along and hopefully do a better job than I've done. It's not mine. It's Ian Fleming's, it's the Broccolis' – I could say I'm the caretaker, but that's a really naff thing to say."
Director Marc Forster also understands his relationship with Bond could be temporary. "If this film doesn't become a commercial success, I'm going to be on a very long vacation," laughs the German-born, Swiss-raised filmmaker.
Craig and Forster probably don't have much to worry about, but such is the pressure of following up Casino Royale, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed (albeit bafflingly so) Bond film to date, that even though they're holed up in five-star luxury at London's Dorchester Hotel before the world premiere of Quantum of Solace, they'd rather crack self-deprecating gags than pat themselves on the back.
That's unsurprising, though. Before Bond, Forster was an art-house filmmaker in the enviable position of being able to make modestly budgeted pictures such as The Kite Runner, Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland with complete artistic freedom. It's little wonder, then, that he considers his move into the blockbuster arena something of a risk. According to producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (the step-son and daughter of the late Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli), he took a lot of persuading, not least because when they approached him 18 months ago there was no script, no title, just Daniel Craig and a release date.
"Yeah, that's true," says Forster. "It was only when I met Daniel that I was inspired enough to take it. I thought he was incredible. Then I got on a plane to Italy and I thought, what am I doing? Am I crazy? I started thinking maybe I should talk to Barbara and Michael and pull out because I was frightened. There was no script and suddenly I was scouting the world for Bond locations, going, OK, we could shoot here, here, here and here, and all I had was a release date in my head. It was intense."
Nevertheless, he was soon buoyed by the realisation that doing action was not as difficult as "doing intense psychological scenes with actors". Which may be why, despite a CV that suggests he was brought on board to deliver a talkier, more character-driven Bond film, Forster has actually made the most action-packed instalment to date. Kicking off just moments after the end of Casino Royale it barely stops for breath as 007 traverses the globe to find those responsible for the death of his lover Vesper Lynd. Indeed it's a film that cuts so ruthlessly to the chase it has already received flack for being a little too pared down, with rumours circulating that some of the performances – particularly Gemma Arterton's Bond girl, Agent Fields – are lying on a cutting-room floor somewhere.
Not so, says Forster. Aside from a 45-second sequence involving Craig, everything that was scripted ended up in the movie. "I just wanted this to be a much shorter film. Casino Royale was way too long for my taste; that poker game was really slow, so I wanted to make this a really tight and fast film. It should be like a bullet."
Still, even though Quantum of Solace is not the touchy-feely Bond film that was threatened, its makers make it sound as if they've shot a three-hankey-weepie. Ask Forster about Bond's relationship with M (played once again by Judi Dench) and he refers to 007 as an emotionally dysfunctional orphan in search of a parental figure. Get Broccoli on the subject of the film's relationship to Casino Royale and she expounds at length about how Lynd's betrayal of Bond in the previous film has left him broken-hearted and wondering if she ever really loved him. Blimey.
It's a relief, then, when Craig finally bounds into the room, and a reminder that it is his bruising, brutal and brooding take on 007 that has really made Bond relevant again, especially in a cinematic landscape dominated by Jason Bourne. Bring up this comparison (which is even more pronounced this time out) to Forster, Wilson or Broccoli and you'll be treated to a weary, resigned acknowledgement that, yes, stylistically there is some overlap, especially in the use of handheld cameras to make the action more realistic and emotionally intense. But, says Wilson: "If you look at the character and the storylines they're really different. Bond has a kind of sophistication and a different approach."
"Just having the Bond girls and the villains makes it different. There are certain things that are said in a Bond film that are iconic and you want to keep them in there," Forster says.
A faster, more intense Bond is certainly preferable to another jump-the-shark moment such as the invisible car in Die Another Day. "That idea was based on real technology," protests Broccoli sheepishly.
"Unfortunately it just looked a bit too science fiction-like when we executed it," Wilson chips in. "But that happens a lot in Bond films. Moonraker was another point where we went a bit too far and had to bring things back down to Earth with For Your Eyes Only. It's a constant cycle and if the Brosnan films got a little fanciful, these ones have given us the chance to strip them back again."
Finally acquiring the rights to Casino Royale was actually the real motivation for the current reboot, says Wilson, though Craig reckons there was another good reason for starting again from scratch. "It's hard to believe, but there is a generation of people who don't know the Bond movies. They haven't watched them the way I watched them growing up, so just saying the lines and introducing the characters and expecting them to understand who these people are would have been the wrong thing to do. But I do think that means we can do anything in the next Bond movie. We can introduce Moneypenny and Q back into it, I think we've just got to get the best actors we can find, and ask them to do the best job."
So, he'll definitely return as James Bond? "I don't know. I'd love to do another one. Maybe I'm just superstitious – or stupidly pessimistic. I just want to see how it goes and if I get the chance, I'll do it."
• Quantum of Solace is in cinemas tomorrow. Read Alistair Harkness's full review of the film in tomorrow's Scotsman Review
What other directors should have a go at Bond?
1 Michael Mann. If you want an ultra-modern take on Bond that will thoroughly avoid Bourne comparisons, Mann is the guy. Gorgeous visuals, gut-punching action sequences and style and glamour in abundance – just don't let him use Chris Cornell on the soundtrack.
2 Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight director would be great for delving further into Bond's twisted psyche. He's no slouch in the action department either and could provide 007 with the thoroughly terrifying nemesis he needs.
3 Quentin Tarantino. Turned down for the Casino Royale gig because of his adult-oriented sensibility, but it would still be great to see Bond get his freak on with the Kill Bill director. Think of the fun he could have with all the vintage references.
4 Alfonso Cuarn. The Mexican auteur briefly made the Harry Potter franchise good and proved his mettle as a serious, super-smart action director with the innovative, harrowing, war-on-terror-referencing Children of Men. An apocalyptic Bond could be astonishing.
5 Darren Aronofsky. Back on form with his new film The Wrestler, he could marry the adrenaline-juicing visual style of Requiem for a Dream to his newfound humanism and explore an older washed-up Bond unable to let go of his secret agent glory days. He'd have to wait 15 years for Craig to look suitably ravaged, though.