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Craig to be First Blond Bond

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By Mike Collett-White

His name is Craig, Daniel Craig.

The English actor was named as the next James Bond on Friday, ending months of speculation over who would take over from Pierce Brosnan on Her Majesty's secret service.

In typically flamboyant 007 style, the 37-year-old swept up the River Thames on a power launch to a news conference, escorted by Royal Marines boats.

The first blond Bond, wearing a blue suit and red tie, posed for photos in the shadow of Tower Bridge and told reporters: "I'm kind of speechless at the moment."

The casting of one of cinema's most iconic characters closes the successful four-film run of Irishman Brosnan, who was shaken and stirred not to be retained to make "Casino Royale," the 21st Bond film, that starts shooting in January.

The 52-year-old described the decision by the Bond franchise makers to drop him as a "body blow."

"I was looking forward to making it edgier and grittier, and for all of that to go down in one phone call was highly disappointing," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Craig was the hot favorite in the runup to Friday's announcement, and his appointment was all but confirmed when his mother let the secret slip to a regional newspaper on Friday.

While little known in the United States, Craig will be more familiar to British audiences after appearing in the gangster caper "Layer Cake."

He also played alongside Paul Newman in "Road to Perdition" and was poet Ted Hughes opposite Gwyneth Paltrow's Sylvia Plath in "Sylvia." But it is the Bond role that could catapult him into superstardom.

Other actors rumored to have been approached to play 007 include Britons Clive Owen and Jude Law, Australia's Hugh Jackman and Croatia's Goran Visnjic.

Sixth Bond

Only five actors have played Bond since the first film, "Dr. No," more than 40 years ago. Brosnan, Sean Connery and Roger Moore were well-loved mainstays as the secret agent, while George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton were less successful.

For the filmmakers, there is more at stake than how to prepare Bond's Martini.

Not only is the character a national institution in Britain, but he is also one of history's most profitable film franchises.

The 20 official Bond films have netted nearly $4 billion in global ticket sales, of which Brosnan's four films grossed around $1.5 billion, industry figures show.

Media have reported that Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Hollywood backers of the new Bond film "Casino Royale" along with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc, were keen to keep Brosnan, mindful of his box office clout.

But Web sites devoted to all things Bond say producer Barbara Broccoli wanted fresh blood, with the plot of Casino returning to the start of the spy's career and therefore requiring a younger actor.

New Zealand-born director Martin Campbell will helm Casino, as he did "GoldenEye" in 1995.

Brosnan first played Bond in "GoldenEye" and last appeared in "Die Another Day" in 2002.

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