'I never wanted to be James Bond,'' Daniel Craig says brusquely. Other people may have had that fantasy growing up, he says; all power to them, but he never did. So there is no point asking him how it feels to be living that dream.
''I don't know how that feels. What I do onscreen is a total invention, a totally made-up thing. It's as far from me as anything is possible to be. That's the acting challenge: that I have to pretend to be this super-spy, when … I'm a kid from Liverpool.''
Skyfall is Daniel Craig's third outing as 007. It is also his best, which cements his standing as the best Bond since Sean Connery defined the role in the 1960s. Together with director Sam Mendes, the notable English theatre director - whose last film before Skyfall was the witty indie comedy Away We Go, also about as far from Bond as it's possible for anything to be - Craig pushed for more lightness this time around than he had been able to play in Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace, with a few more of the flip ripostes and bad puns that used to be Bond's hallmarks. Mendes has also brought back a version of Q (Ben Wishaw), the ''quartermaster'' whose predecessors provided generations of Bonds with fun spying gadgets.
In Skyfall, spymaster M (Judi Dench) is being targeted along with her colleagues at MI6. Cyber-security breaches at the organisation have led to the identity of NATO's spies (who are embedded in terrorist organisations) falling into the hands of a mysterious and vengeful foe (Javier Bardem).
At the same time, however, Skyfall gives Bond a tragic backstory. He is also more emotionally expressive than in any of the previous 22 official James Bond films. Craig's Bond already has all of Craig's own intensity, which means no matter what he's doing - even when he's sparring with the geeky new Q (Ben Whishaw) - there is a melancholy about him that no other Bond had. You just know he goes back to his sun-lounger in the Bahamas and broods.
''I don't analyse the differences between him and Pierce [Brosnan] or him and Sean,'' says Mendes, who is a long-standing friend of Craig's. ''I think those other Bonds were products of their time and were asked to do different things. Pierce could have played it differently. So could Roger Moore. For me, Daniel is exciting because there is a friction between who he is and who Bond is. Two plus two equals five, in a way. It's a bit of magic.''
One of the emotions Bond experiences this time round is bitterness; he senses that spies are getting a little old in this high-tech world. So is Bond - Craig is now 44. ''Sucks, doesn't it?'' Craig says bluntly. ''But what are you going to do? You can't stop it. But I'm not going to get defensive about it. Bond's hurt very badly in this movie and it's less about the ageing than it is about the clash of worlds. It's not getting political, but governments are far happier sending in spy satellites and drones than putting people in the field; their excuse is that it's less dangerous, although I think it's probably an economic reason as well. Bond's part of the old school, that you've got to go and look people in the eye. He's like me in that respect, I suppose.''
Craig's old-school attitude is one reason he never responded to the outpouring of fury when he was announced as the next 007: he doesn't do social media. ''I don't blog, I don't go on Twitter and I'm not on Facebook,'' he growls. ''And I never f---ing will be … That's just not my way.'' Nor is it his way to smile for the paparazzi, which has earned him a reputation as permanently angry. ''I challenge anybody to f---ing smile,'' he argued recently. ''I'm just not that person. I'm never going to arrive at an airport after a 12-hour flight and go, 'Oh, hi everyone, it's so great to see you!' I can't do it.''
The Englishman lives in New York with Rachel Weisz, whom he married in June last year. Nothing could prepare you for blockbuster celebrity, he says, but he still manages to meet friends in public: ''People have got more important things to worry about in New York than James Bond being in the bar.''
Still, he is the face now on every billboard; you wonder how often people sidle up to ask if his drink is shaken or stirred. Not that he would give them the opportunity, of course. Kids from Liverpool drink beer.
The top five 007 films
The early Bond films didn't just defy credibility; they shook it, stirred it and put it in a leopard-skin bikini. Guy Hamilton's first film for the franchise boasts a cracking lesbian Bond girl in Pussy Galore, the iconic golden corpse, henchman Oddjob's lethal steel-brimmed bowler, and sleek Sean Connery, who wears a diving suit with a plastic duck on his head. Mad, fairly bad and absolutely fab.
Casino Royale (2006)
Rebooting Bond without (many) gadgets or parlour badinage, director Martin Campbell and a ferocious Daniel Craig match other modern thrillers, disguising some of the series' most bizarre plotting - MI6 and the CIA choosing to defeat their man at poker rather than just take him out - as stylish action.
From Russia with Love (1963)
Memorable for its Cold War atmosphere, the second Bond established much of the template - the title sequence, Q, Blofeld as head of SPECTRE - with the bonus of the scarily neutered Rosa Klebb, played by the great Lotte Lenya. Note: all the best Bonds have a strong whiff of sexual perversion.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby, once dismissed as Connery's unworthy successor, is undergoing reappraisal among aficionados: he looked like Bond, fought as balletically as any Bond and fell in love with the flawless Diana Rigg, his equal in wit and style.
Nobody understands the lethal-satellite-provokes-war plot, but it doesn't matter: Pierce Brosnan's first film introduces the most charming of the Bonds as well as Judi Dench's severe M, the dazzling black-widow villain Xenia Onatopp and the theme of betrayal from inside M's ranks.
GENRE A James Bond film.
CRITICAL BUZZ Although the Connery Bonds remain enshrined as holy writ, this is universally agreed to be the best Bond anyone can remember: ''a supremely enjoyable 50th-anniversary outing,'' to quote one review among many. Skyfall is No.1 at the box office in 25 countries.
STARS Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Berenice Marlohe.
DIRECTOR Sam Mendes.