Back in 2006, Daniel Craig starred in his first movie as James Bond, Casino Royale. The film provided a sorely needed new direction to the spy franchise, doing away with CGI and elaborate gadgets, and replacing them with gritty realism, and in-your-face action. In an interview with Polygon, the director of the movie, Martin Campbell, revealed that the most difficult part of making Casino Royale was not filming the high-octane action scenes, but rather figuring out a way to include the card-playing scenes in an entertaining manner.
"There was a lot of [card] playing in it. It was the thing I sweated on more than anything else. [According to the movie's editor Stuart Baird] It was difficult to think how you keep the audience engaged in those card games. Everybody was terribly worried that people would be bored with it."
Their concern was understandable. Despite its reputation for being one of the best action movies of the past two decades, a large chunk of Casino Royale is dedicated to showing James James Bond playing a high-stakes game of poker against the main villain, Le Chiffre.
After weeks of research and preparation, Martin Campbell finally hit upon a method of doing something that had rarely been achieved before: make a long session of card-playing interesting to the audience. The almost 30-minute sequence was constructed as a microcosm of the rest of the movie and its leading character.
Throughout the game, audiences get to watch Daniel Craig display many of the qualities that made his Bond such a fan-favorite. He takes huge risks, bluffs expertly, and is almost always one step ahead of the competition. Even when caught unawares, and literally poisoned in the middle of the match, Bond is able to leave, stave off a heart attack, and return to the game nonchalantly sipping his drink. For Campbell, Bond's ability to operate under immense pressure and even push back is what makes the whole sequence so memorable.
"I think the sequence was pretty convincing. What you realize is, it's not just the card games - it's the stakes. It's also two guys eye-f***ing one another, basically. That was the secret."
Despite Campbell's determination to make the game as authentic as possible, at the end of the day they were making an action movie, which needed some cool moments. One such cool moment occurs after the poker match has ended, and Bond has won the prize money. In a generous gesture, Bond casually slides a plastic chip worth $500,000 over to the dealer as a courtesy tip... even though the chip is worth nothing now that the game has ended. Campell still finds that little mistake amusing.
"I always laugh at the end when Bond just flips him half a million. It was just amusing to me - it's not Bond's money."
Despite that small hiccup, Campbell and his crew were successful in taking a very long poker match and turning it into a breathlessly exciting battle of wits between Bond and Le Chiffre, even if most of the audience did not understand the finer details of the game they were witnessing. This news originated at Polygon.