By Tom Colton.
My favourite character from the Bond movies.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
One element that spun out of the Panel Discussion on Worldbuilding was that one way of measuring consistency in a story, and to a smaller but still important extent in its worldbuilding, is evaluating whether characters remain the same each time they appear.
A live-action adaptation of any material has the additional problem of having to ensure the character looks the same between instalments (unless they adopt an approach where the role supersedes appearance, a principle which manifests itself in this very franchise), which is a rule which lives and dies by actor availability and their willingness to continue participating in the same franchise.
Same Character, Same Actor
Overall, the first five Bond films maintain great adherence to this principle with regards to most of the MI6 crew. James Bond is always Sean Connery, Miss Moneypenny is always Lois Maxwell, and M is always Bernard Lee. So far, so good. 007’s briefings in his boss’s office gives a sense of routine and regularity to the series and assure the audience that we’re witnessing different episodes of the same characters’ lives.
Moneypenny, M, and Bond, taken from From Russia With Love. That hat throwing trick is harder than it looks. God knows, I tried.
Not Quite The Same Character, Different Actor
Note that I said most of the MI6 crew, because already by From Russia With Love, some of the yarn starts to unravel.
James Bond, Moneypenny, M... Where’s Q? There are, in fact, two of him in the franchise as early as its second instalment. The simple reason is that the actor for the armourer named Q who gives 007 his Walther PPK, Peter Burton, wasn’t available for filming.
Peter Burton as Q in Dr No.
Come From Russia With Love, the same role had to be recast, but with his code name, “Q”. While in the novels that’s simply Major Boothroyd’s designation, the two characters are never implied to be the same person in the films. The rest is history, with Desmond Llewelyn appearing in every instalment (except Live and Let Die, although his handiwork is all over that film) until The World Is Not Enough, 36 years later!
And now Desmond Llewelyn is Q.
Same Character, Different Actor
Thus far, everything seems to be fine; the good guys are either the same, or have scheduling problems ironed over in dialogue. The bad guys didn’t matter so much since the only constant is Blofeld, and there are ways of getting around that too. So, when do things start to break down?
Dr No. Jack Lord as Felix Leiter.
It all started when Jack Lord, following upon his debut in the franchise in Dr. No, asked for too much money when Felix Leiter’s time came to return to the series, in Goldfinger, and was squarely turned down. Cec Linder’s Felix Leiter in Goldfinger, in short, acts nothing like Jack Lord’s in Dr. No, and has to be established as such through dialogue right at the beginning of the film.
Goldfinger, and now Cec Linder is Felix Leiter.
Well, perhaps like Q, this new interpretation would stick around in subsequent films? No! When its sequel, Thunderball, rolled around, Rik van Nutter was cast in the role, and mostly does his best impression of Jack Lord’s interpretation of the character.
And now, in Thunderball, Rik van Nutter is Felix Leiter.
Is consistency dead, buried for all time, or was he going to be the new regular? To cut a long story short, inconsistency won. Norman Burton’s Felix Leiter in Diamonds Are Forever doesn’t resemble any of the previous ones, nor would David Hedison’s in Live and Let Die. Even though Hedison would return as Leiter, he was interrupted by John Terry.
This one is Norman Burton in Diamonds Are Forever, but it's easy to lose track. The actors playing Felix Leiter have the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer.
The only consistent, recurring performance for Leiter would have to wait for the 21st Century, with Jeffrey Wright’s performance as the character opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond; Wright is now more famous for Westworld despite this being his breakout role.
Jeffrey Wright is now Felix Leiter in Casino Royale.
Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld wouldn’t be immune to this either, but this is a matter for another time due to his own particular bag of issues. Till next time!
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