By Ryan Fleming
Bond. Not as Bond.
In these articles I have mentioned how nothing seemed to attract the eye of the producers of the Bond films than appearing in a role that is Bond in almost all but name. It was true for Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig, whose performances in The Saint, Remington Steele, and Layer Cake almost served as auditions for the role. The same was true for actors who were considered but did not land the role like Cary Grant and Adam West, whose performances in North by Northwest and chocolate milk adverts (no, really!) presaged their being linked to the role.
Somewhat bizarrely, the opposite can also happen. There are a few actors who were considered for the role and did not achieve it but went on to play other roles in the series. Sometimes this was done as a consolation prize, or to give vibes of 007 to another character, and sometimes it was just a coincidence in the small world of actors.
And though it has rarely happened there have been occasions where these two trends have intersected and an actor who has appeared in the franchise is considered for the role after giving a turn as a character similar to Bond himself. It’s these actors we’ll take a look at in this article; the bridesmaids of the Bond franchise, the men who made it on to our screens but not in the lead role. Though there was one occasion where one such actor played Bond anyway in a roundabout way.
The earliest such example of an actor playing a role in a Bond film after missing out on the role previously came in 1969. Seven years earlier, Ian Fleming himself had considered George Baker as one of the contenders to play his literary creation in his first feature film adaptation. As we know, Baker would miss the role, due to existing commitments to other productions, and Sean Connery would land the part. Baker would first appear on camera in the series uncredited as a NASA technician in You Only Live Twice. Two years later he would have a much more substantial part in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as heraldry expert Sir Hilary Bray. George Lazenby’s 007 would later impersonate Bray in an effort to infiltrate the villain’s Swiss mountaintop base.
The producers made the odd decision to dub over Lazenby with Baker’s voice – so in a way Baker did get to play the role! Though dubbing was not uncommon in films at the time - practically every Bond girl to that point had been dubbed and even Gert Fröbe’s wonderful performance as the titular villain in Goldfinger was dubbed by another actor - it did little to endear the new 007 to audiences. It might have been an effort to show what a master of disguise 007 was, but when the first words out of the new Bond’s mouth is “This never happened to the other fellow!” referring to his predecessor it cannot help but contribute to the idea that this is an imposter.
Baker would return to the franchise again in 1977, this time playing a Royal Navy officer at Faslane Naval Base in The Spy Who Loved Me. Unsurprisingly, he was not called upon to dub Roger Moore as he had Lazenby. Baker would not be the only supporting actor in The Spy Who Loved Me who landed a role after previously being considered for the lead.
If ever the phrase ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’ could be applied to an actor, it is a perfect fit for actor Michael Billington and the James Bond role. He was considered for the part on at least five occasions between the tenures of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. The earliest was in 1968 when he met with director Peter Hunt and did a few photo shoots. George Lazenby and others would pull ahead of him then, and with the return of Sean Connery in the next film Billington would not be considered again until the 1970s in the run up to Live and Let Die, and would have been offered the role by producer Cubby Broccoli if Moore had been unable to appear.
Billington would appear in The Spy Who Loved Me in a role consciously modelled on 007. We open on a dark, handsome man romancing a beautiful woman in bed. The man sits seemingly uninterested in the conversation until they are interrupted by a secret communicator hidden inside an everyday object. The man passes the gadget to the woman and leaves the room. In a wonderful piece of misdirection, we are led to believe that the top agent of the USSR is the man we are seeing on screen, but instead it is his lover, played by Barbara Bach, that is 007s equivalent behind the iron curtain.
This works to put Anya Amasova over as someone who is the equal of Bond, and the fact Billington’s character is killed soon after by Bond himself serves as a source of conflict between the top agents of the United Kingdom and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Billington was intentionally cast in the role to give the aura of James Bond to a male character that would be treated the same by the script as so many female characters had been before and since. A love interest whose death spurs the character to seek vengeance - only here, 007 is the villain, and his love interest the vengeful agent.
Roger Moore had initially only signed a three-picture deal on the Bond films, and The Spy Who Loved Me marked the culmination of that. Each of his subsequent four films were negotiated on a picture by picture basis and in every instance until the last one, Billington would audition for the role. He would audition for Moonraker before Moore quickly decided to return. He would audition for For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, but in both instances his stock seems to have fallen with Broccoli as he never came as close as he did in the 1970s. Though perhaps if Moore had not returned for either Moonraker or For Your Eyes Only and Timothy Dalton had also passed on the latter, then Billington would get his moment in the spotlight. Though already pushing forty at the time, he would still have been a decade younger than Moore and might have brought an injection of interest to the franchise during its historical '80s nadir.
Both Baker and Billington would play relatively minor roles in the franchise after missing out on the top job. There are others, though, who did not make the cut for 007 himself but would be given the opportunity to play the megalomaniacal villains that opposed him.
Eight years before he would appear as MI6/KGB double agent Aristotle Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, Julian Glover was one of the many actors to audition for James Bond in the wake of Sean Connery finally saying he would never play it again... at least until Never Say Never Again. Glover might have been able to portray the crueller aspects of the character in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun that Moore struggled with, but with the series on a downturn in the early 1970s Glover might not have been as willing as Moore to continue in the role, especially if it precluded him from taking other work - and Broccoli was notoriously controlling of the sorts of roles his Bond actors could appear in outside the series.
The 1990s would see another runner-up to the role of James Bond face off against the superspy as the villain, one that would consciously be modelled as the anti-Bond, being just as dashing and sophisticated... only a psychotic villain; one not on Her Majesty’s Secret Service at least. Sean Bean was among the many actors to audition for the role after Roger Moore finally departed following A View to a Kill. He was not one of the finalists but he must have made an impression, since when the series was returning after a hiatus in the mid-90s, he was the second choice of the producers if their first choice Timothy Dalton fell through.
As we know, Timothy Dalton did not play James Bond in GoldenEye. He was contracted for three films and had only done two, but by the time the third was finally gearing up for production after years of legal wrangles, Dalton felt he was too old, and told the producers if he returned it would only be for a single film. After six years away, this was unacceptable to the producers and they passed on a returning Dalton.
As we also know, Sean Bean did not play James Bond in GoldenEye, either. That was because the studio wanted neither Dalton nor Bean, they wanted the one that had gotten away back in 1987: Pierce Brosnan. Gone were the days when the Broccolis could fight the studio on the choice of lead actor as Cubby had done over Mel Gibson in the past decade, and they went with Brosnan, albeit very amicably. As a consolation prize for Bean, he was given the role of Alec Trevelyan, MI6 agent 006, Bond’s nemesis in the film, and a conscious mirror image of 007s abilities.
How would Bean have fared had he gotten the role? He might have been just as successful given the strengths of the Martin Campbell directed GoldenEye; we also might have gotten Pierce Brosnan as the villain in a strange mirror of our own history. The later films might have taken on a different tone to match Bean’s onscreen persona more than that of Brosnan: a gruffer take on the character, possibly with slight shades of what would later inform Daniel Craig’s performance. As 007, Sean Bean might never have become known as the actor that dies in every film and television programme in which he appears and might have meant he could not appear in such films as The Lord of the Rings, as it might have entered production during his tenure as 007.
Not every actor that landed a large role in a Bond film after failing to become the lead character has been a villain or even confined to one film. There is one who was considered for the role and then years later landed a recurring part, and also one who was considered for the role immediately after appearing in a recurring role across several films.
Almost two decades before he would take the role of 'M', 007s superior, opposite Daniel Craig in Skyfall, Ralph Fiennes was one of the many actors being considered for the role of 007 in the run up to the production of GoldenEye. His role of Gareth Mallory, who would become 'M', shows something of a potential future for Bond: a former man of action confined to a desk and becoming a lot more by-the-book as a result. Would he have brought the same qualities to Bond himself twenty years prior? Despite having what he felt were terrific meetings with the producers Fiennes says it never went anywhere and by his own admission would have made a terrible Bond. It is also possible that an actor whose most famous role to that point had been that of real-life Nazi war criminal Amon Göth in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List might not have appealed to the producers aiming for a triumphant punch-the-air return after several years.
GoldenEye did prove to be the success the producers hoped, and Pierce Brosnan would return in three films until 2002 – Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. In addition to the mainstays of 'M' (Judi Dench), 'Q' (Desmond Llewelyn and then John Cleese) and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), the ranks of MI6 would be filled out by operative Charles Robinson (later simply 'R'), played by Colin Salmon. After Pierce Brosnan was fired following Die Another Day, he was one of many touting Salmon as his successor in the role of 007.
Salmon had in fact played Bond many times before; he would often play the role in screen tests opposite actors auditioning for other roles such as the Bond girl. Salmon certainly would have brought qualities to the role that had been missing largely since Sean Connery and would not return until Daniel Craig - he could certainly have managed the streak of cruelty that informs the less camp takes on the character, as can be seen in his performance in crime drama Prime Suspect 2 during one of his earliest roles.
If Colin Salmon had become James Bond, he would have become the first black actor to take the role; calls for which have increased in recent years with the frequent touting of Idris Elba for the role of 007. Salmon would certainly make for a closer literary take on the character than Elba and has himself in recent years criticised such calls for an actor to play the role based on their race, saying that he would rather be chosen for his acting ability than his skin colour. Much akin to GoldenEye, the strength of what would become Casino Royale (both were helmed by Martin Campbell) is such that any actor taking the role can get off to a flying start. What difference might Salmon have brought to the role over Craig? Well, he might have done films more frequently than two a decade, for one thing...
Over the years there have been many actors who have failed to become James Bond but wound up playing a role in the series anyway; with a new Bond presumably on the horizon following the release of Craig’s last film No Time to Die this year, might we see something similar return? If it comes down to two actors, might the runner up land another role in the film? When we consider a lot of the names being bandied about to replace Craig, many of them already have some measure of fame, and there have certainly been many actors considered for the role throughout the years who were already household names or who would soon go on to find fame elsewhere. Despite success elsewhere, many of them might be known as an actor who missed out on the role of 007, and it is these men we shall take a look at next time: The familiar faces famous for not landing the role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007.
Ryan Fleming is the author of Reid in Braid, published by SLP