While he’s currently prepping to reprise his steely-faced turn as agent 007 in the next James Bond movie, Daniel Craig will be showing up no less than four times on the big screen before the year is out. Arguably, his most scrutinized upcoming role is that of crusading Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist in David Fincher’s new film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Craig sat down recently with Esquire to chat about a variety of subjects, pertaining to both his personal and professional life. However, it was the actor’s comments about Fincher’s next dark work of cinematic art that were perhaps the most intriguing.

Fincher’s English-language take on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling murder mystery novel will be R-Rated, which has been a given since it was announced that the filmmaker responsible for titles like Se7en and Fight Club would be calling the shots on the highly-anticipated project.

However, even with that in mind, Craig admitted to Esquire that he was taken back by the “adult” tone of the early Dragon Tattoo footage Fincher showed him:

“… I grew up, as we f**king all did, watching ‘The Godfather’ and that, movies that were made for adults. And [‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’] is a $100 million R-rated movie. Nobody makes those anymore. And Fincher, he’s not holding back. [The studio has] given him free reign. He showed me some scenes recently, and my hand was over my mouth, going, ‘Are you f**king serious?'”

Many a person likely had a similar reaction after they glimpsed the risque black-and-white promotional poster for Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo as well (for a full look at the NSFW one-sheet, go HERE).

Fans of Larsson’s book (and its well-renowned Swedish film adaptation) should be pleased to hear that Fincher isn’t going to be handling the author’s source material with kiddie gloves, but is instead diving headfirst into its dangerous world of murder, rape, and institutionalized corruption, among other things. As Craig’s costar, Rooney Mara, can attest, Fincher made it clear from the get-go that he is interested in delivering a chilling Noir thriller that was semi-jokingly referred to as “the feel-bad movie of Christmas” in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo teaser trailer.

According to Craig, though, that doesn’t mean that Fincher and his Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York) are merely interested in making Dragon Tattoo as visually shocking and provocative as possible. It was apparently the overall unnerving and disturbing atmosphere of the early footage Fincher showed Craig that really got under the actor’s skin:

“It’s not that [David Fincher] simply showed me footage that was horribly graphic. It was stuff that was happening, or had happened. And somehow you don’t see it… There’s more than one way to sense violence… Much more powerful ways than seeing it step-by-step.”

In an age where a lot of filmmakers seemingly adhere to the rule that “more is always more,” the comparatively subtle approach to cinematic storytelling that Craig is referencing here just sounds all the more refreshing.

Like Mara in role of Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander, Craig being cast as Blomkvist has already prompted comparisons to actor Michael Nyqvist’s incarnation of the character in director Niels Arden Oplev‘s Swedish-language Dragon Tattoo film. Both his turn and Noomi Rapace’s performance as Salander in that film are considered spot-on by many fans, which begs the question: How can Craig and Mara stand out in comparison?

Well, as demonstrated in early images of Mara as Salander, the Social Network actress has undergone a physical transformation that’s even more extreme than Rapace’s. Craig, by comparison, will have to show off his vulnerable side more so than he does as James Bond or seems to in this month’s Cowboys & Aliens. He’s done it before, though (see: Enduring Love), and there’s good reason to think his take on the Blomkvist character will work.

For more from Daniel Craig, check out the full interview over at Esquire.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo hits U.S. theaters on December 21st, 2011.