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Let Actors Be Bond Once

The producers of the James Bond franchise are looking for one actor to play 007 for the next decade, but the Bond films would be better off if several stars each took a crack at the role

Ringer illustration

The producers of the James Bond franchise have a problem: They still don’t know who the next Bond will be. Eon Productions head honchos (and half-siblings) Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson—who have worked on the film franchise in various capacities since the ’70s, and who succeeded their father/stepfather Albert “Cubby” Broccoli as stewards in 1995—gave an interview to Variety in which they summed up the state of the search for Daniel Craig’s successor. In the piece, which was published on Wednesday, the producers revealed that they aren’t close to naming the next Bond. Although they’re no longer in “total denial” about Craig retiring from the role, as they were in early 2020, the casting process is still in its “early days,” and they haven’t yet pitched prospective actors for the part.

Although one might think casting Bond would be a top priority for the people who make Bond movies, Broccoli and Wilson seem to be proceeding at a surprisingly leisurely pace with their first 007 star search since they broke up with Pierce Brosnan by phone after 2002’s Die Another Day. After all, Queen Elizabeth served for 70 years; but when she died, England had a replacement lined up the same day. If her majesty can be replaced that quickly, why can’t the man on her majesty’s secret service? It’s not as if the producers haven’t known for some time that the Aston Martin might need a new registration. Craig’s fifth and final Bond film, No Time to Die, came out a little less than a year ago, following repeated postponements. But it’s been almost three years since Craig publicly confirmed that No Time to Die would be his final film in the franchise—which wasn’t a shocker, considering he almost quit being Bond after 2015’s Spectre. Presidents are elected and sworn in, and Supreme Court justices are appointed and confirmed, in a lot less time than it’s taking to anoint a new Bond.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the producers want someone to be Bond for far longer than any president post-FDR has served—and almost as long as a Supreme Court justice’s average tenure. In response to longtime Bond contender Idris Elba’s comment last month, “When I look in the mirror, I don’t see James Bond,” Broccoli and Wilson said they understood why the 50-year-old Elba might not want the job:

“The thing is, it’s going to be a couple of years off,” she notes. “And when we cast Bond, it’s a 10-, 12-year commitment. So he’s probably thinking, ‘Do I really want that thing? Not everybody wants to do that. It was hard enough getting [Daniel Craig to do it].” Wilson interjects: “And he was in his early 30s at the time!”

Most young actors, say Broccoli and Wilson, think they want to do Bond, but don’t fully fathom the commitment of carrying a franchise across many years. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh yeah, it’d be fun to do one,” Broccoli laughs out loud. “Well. That ain’t gonna work.”

Yes, young actors and would-be Bonds, you can fuck right off with your reluctance to be Bond for a decade or more. What do you think this is, every other role? You only live twice, but you’d better sign up to be Bond four or five times. Diamonds are forever, and so is playing this part. The world is not enough, and neither is portraying Ian Fleming’s famous spy once.

Broccoli and Wilson, like Bond himself, like to do some things the old-fashioned way. But insisting that Bond be a long-term relationship seems to be limiting the pool of potential leads and blocking the Bond-movie pipeline. As 007 once said, “I help people with problems.” Stipulating that Broccoli and Wilson made GoldenEye, whereas I only played it on N64, I think I can help them with this one. The solution is simple: Let people play Bond once.

The notion that playing Bond isn’t a phase, it’s a lifestyle goes back to the beginning. Cary Grant, the best man at Cubby Broccoli’s wedding, was considered for the first Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No, but he wasn’t offered the role because the actor, then nearing 60, was unlikely to commit to multiple movies. Eventual choice Sean Connery signed a contract for six films, though he hung up the tuxedo (temporarily) after the fifth, before later reprising the role twice (including one non-Eon performance). Like Connery, Roger Moore played Bond seven times. Moore’s successor, Timothy Dalton, played Bond only twice because his contract expired due to a legal dispute between Eon and MGM that delayed his third film indefinitely; he was willing to come back for one more when that matter was resolved, but he walked when Broccoli told him he’d have to stick around for another four or five. Both Brosnan and Craig signed four-film contracts (unbeknownst to Craig, who explained last year, “I don’t really look at contracts or any of those things”).

There’s one big-screen Bond I didn’t list in the preceding paragraph (not counting David Niven, who played the character in a non-Eon 1967 spoof): George Lazenby, who went one and done with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Broccoli tried to lock up Lazenby too, making him an offer for six more movies, but the actor had tired of the role and didn’t think the franchise had a future. That’s convenient, because it means my proposal wouldn’t even force the stewards of the series to break from Bond tradition. Don’t look at it as shattering the Connery-Craig-Moore model of starring in five or more movies; look at it as embracing the Lazenby Precedent of appearing in only one.

In back-to-back-to-back Bond films from 1969 to 1973—On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, and Live and Let Die—three different actors played Bond. (And John Gavin almost supplanted Connery for the middle movie.) The franchise survived, and thrived. (The well-regarded OHMSS was a box-office disappointment by Bond standards, but it was still “one of the highest-grossing films of the year,” despite being Lazenby’s first film of any kind.) So why can’t the producers pass the Bond baton from movie to movie today without having the skyfall?

If anything, this era is especially suited to Bond becoming a more rapidly rotating role. In their conversation with Variety, Wilson and Broccoli reaffirmed their allegiance to theatrical releases, but who knows what the box office will look like in 10–12 years? Maybe it’s best not to sign any long-term deals. This is also an era of extremely old acting stars, which means many of the headliners who might move the needle as Bond have the same strike against them that Grant did 60 years ago: They won’t want to play the part for a decade.

It’s not only older actors who might have reason to balk at being Bond. Between the dual demands of production and promotion, Bond is a time suck that prevents actors from taking other roles. (“It’s a big commitment,” Broccoli said. “It’s not just showing up for a couple of months of filming.”) It also carries the potential for typecasting that could prevent them being offered other roles they want. As Elba said in 2019, “Bond is one of the biggest franchises in the world, and for that reason, whoever ends up playing it, lives it. You’re that character, and known as that character for many, many years. I’m creating characters now that can still live alongside Idris. Not ones that take over me and solely define me.” He had a point. Bond may be a lucrative role, but it’s not necessarily a formula for creative fulfillment: As I noted in 2016 (during a previous round of who-should-be-Bond discourse), post-Lazenby Bonds have acted in fewer and, on average, lower-rated films during and after their stints as 007 than they did before becoming Bond.

Removing some of these barriers to being Bond would allow the producers to choose the best Bond available, not the best Bond available for the next 10–12 years. In addition to ensuring easier access to top talent, diversifying Eon’s actor portfolio would actually protect the producers. If one film flops, fine—switch Bonds and distance the franchise from the stinker. If the face of Bond gets soiled by a series of Ezra Miller–style scandals, no sweat; your franchise’s future isn’t tied to one person. Not having to pay a premium to persuade one actor to be Bond full time might even save the producers some money. What could be more fitting for the 2020s than M outsourcing assignments to the gig economy?

Plus, there’s no need to make the one-movie model an ironclad law; if an actor really clicks, there’s always the option of trying to bring them back. And this way, no actors would play Bond long enough to grow to loathe the role, as almost every Bond actor has, from Connery (who fantasized about killing the character) to Craig (who regrettably talked about killing himself if he had to play Bond again). As Broccoli recalled, Craig said, “‘Well, I’m going to do it. I really want to be a part of it, the whole thing.’ And he lived to regret that.” The downside of frequent recasts is that no actor would have time to settle into the role; the upside is that no Bond would be obviously over it à la Connery, who by the end, Chris Klimek wrote for The Ringer last year, “couldn’t be bothered to hide his lack of interest in the part.”

A more flexible approach to the franchise would also earn Eon extra publicity by playing into the current fan frenzy for casting speculation. The Bond rumor mill, like the Marvel rumor mill, would never take time off. It’d also ensure that, after 25 movies, the franchise continues to feel fresh.

Maybe Elba doesn’t want to be Bond until he’s past 60, but who wouldn’t want to see him be Bond once? (As even Elba admitted, it “would definitely satisfy the will of a nation.”) And why should Wilson and Broccoli restrict themselves to one actor from a list of intriguing candidates, when they could give us glimpses of several and associate their combined star wattage with Bond? “Would [insert star here] be a good Bond?” has always been a fun question; this way, we’d get more answers. Barbara Broccoli’s parents claimed that her ancestors invented the vegetable by crossing cauliflower with rabe, then introduced it to the U.S. None of that actually seems to be true, but that shouldn’t stop us from pointing out that if it were true, it might make a good metaphor for the virtues of mixing multiple actors to craft the next decade of Bond films.

And while Wilson and Broccoli could septuple down on white men from Commonwealth countries, they could also broaden their definition of who can be Bond. Test the waters with an American Bond, a queer Bond, or a female Bond, which would change the meaning of “Bond girl.” (Past Bond actors have been divided on that last idea, which Broccoli seemed to veto in 2020.) Shine the franchise’s spotlight on actors of different ethnicities. Experiment with different mixtures of comedy and drama, action and character study. Set up a Spider-Man: No Way Home-style meeting of multiple Bonds! Speaking of superheroes, why can’t Bond be like Batman? DC’s biggest film franchise has allowed stars like Val Kilmer and George Clooney to don the cape and cowl for one movie apiece—admittedly, not with the most encouraging results—and even those who’ve played the part longer haven’t answered the Bat-Signal for spans of more than three to five years.

Broccoli and Wilson have already tampered plenty with the traditional Bond archetype, with pretty positive results. As Broccoli put it, “Bond is evolving just as men are evolving.” Craig’s Bond differed from his predecessors in his physical appearance, his treatment of women, his emotional vulnerability, and his serialized story—not to mention the fact that he actually died. If the next step for the franchise is “a reinvention of Bond,” as Broccoli said in June, then now wouldn’t be a bad time to rethink how the series’ stars are selected. Granted, a Bond revolving door would put the kibosh on the continuity that became a hallmark of Craig’s Bond films, but upcoming movies needn’t extend that recent trend.

However quickly one face of the franchise gives way to the next, the Bond brand—and decades of Bond iconography—already loom larger than whoever plays him. As Klimek wrote about Connery’s departure after You Only Live Twice, “Plenty of actors had played Tarzan … Broccoli pointed out as Connery packed his bags. He had been a (mostly) good employee, but Bond was the star.” That’s far more true today than it was when Bond had been played by only one person. So what’s wrong with upping the turnover and tapping several stars to drop in for a quick bite of the Bond apple over the next 10–12 years? The concept of one-off films may have made Broccoli LOL, but it doesn’t strike me as a laughable suggestion. It might be in Bond’s best interest.