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WHO WILL BE THE SIXTH 007?

Category: Film Rumor News
Article Date: April 27, 2001 | Publication: The Guardian (London) | Author: John Patterson
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James Purefoy can't be the next James Bond - he stole my girlfriend

All of a sudden it seems like everyone wants to be James Bond. Apparently the venerable franchise still manages to cast a bewitching spell over male actors in their mid-30s. How long have they fantasised about strolling into that fabled gun-barrel iris, swivelling and firing and causing that curtain of crimson to cascade down the screen just before the traditional pre-credit action sequence and the mudbath-in-a-tittie-bar credits? How many thousands of hours did they spend in front of mirrors in their teenage bedrooms growling, "Good God, an ejector seat!" or "Dom Perignon above 39 degrees Fahrenheit is like listening to the Beatles without earmuffs" - or perhaps the most lascivious line in the series, repeated several times in Goldfinger: "Soooo, Puuussy . . ."? How is it that this endearingly preposterous, bizarrely anachronistic hero figure - whose original contexts, the cold war of the novels, the whizz-bang, gadget-gorged parallel-1960s of the Connery movies, have evaporated into dust - still manages to exert such a strong hold on actors?

The list of pretenders to Pierce Brosnan's soon-to-elapse licence to kill shows that actorly enthusiasm is extensive and undimmed. Brosnan's 007 contract with the Broccoli family expires after his next mission, and his recent movies, like The Thomas Crown Affair and particularly The Tailor of Panama, suggest that he's already in training for a post-Bond career. He hasn't definitively ruled out the possibility of re-enlisting for another stint, but whether he does one or two more Bonds, the replacement killers are circling already. And an odd bunch they are.

The most prominent and, I think, least likely candidate at the moment seems to be the Down Under Wonder, Russell Crowe. Unfortunately, Crowe is already a superstar on his own terms after the success of Gladiator, and he did a pretty useful quasi-Bond turn in the recent thriller Proof of Life, the film that is making people consider him for 007. There he was tough, utterly commanding, ruthless, babesome and forceful - which ticks every box on the Bond application form. Trouble is, he's also a very fine and subtle actor (witness his pudgy Jeffrey Wiegand in The Insider) and the character of Bond is little more than a chalk outline surrounding some timeworn quirks and a quiverful of smartass quips.

The last thing you need for this is a great actor; look at the way the series atrophied during the reign of the highly intelligent Timothy Dalton. Expecting Crowe - who would probably resent the franchise's constraints - to take on the role is as futile as Ian Fleming's oft-expressed desire to see Cary Grant playing Bond. Fleming was said to have been deeply uneasy about the Etonian superspy of his novels being played by Connery, a mere ex-milkman from Edinburgh - which proves that it's sometimes worth offloading the author once the movie rights have been secured.

No, what you need is someone like the medium-subtle Brosnan (my second favourite Bond after the magisterial Connery. Oh, sue me), a man who hungered after the role even before Dalton was recruited, and who was vocally narked at being passed over. Brosnan has been devoted to the franchise, which was in a confused post-cold war slump when he took over. He realised that his name was now on the door and after all his intensive lobbying for the part, he needed to deliver on his claims. And deliver he did. Even though his movies don't soar to the heights of Goldfinger or On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Brosnan himself has always been worth watching. This puts his replacement in a similar position to that confronting poor George Lazenby when he replaced Connery in 1969.

One odds-against candidate's ambitions seem to parallel those of Lazenby - whose previous experience included a chocolate commercial and little else. Colin Wells has been Brosnan's stand-in for the last couple of movies and his name seems to be in the running. This option suggests that the actor is merely an insertable/removable aspect of the Bond movies' design - as characterless as the gadgets, and every bit as replaceable. Although that approach worked with On Her Majesty's Secret Service - my favourite Bond these days, perhaps because it features such un-Bond elements as love, marriage, real emotion and actual tragedy - there was only a shadow 007 at the film"s centre.

The rise of Gerard Butler - "the Scottish unknown", as the tabloids are calling him - seems meanwhile to parallel the ascent of Connery in 1961: also Scottish, also little-known. A good but unfamiliar actor is what the series needs now, one who can grow in the role and make it his own (Broccolis permitting). I'm unfamiliar with Butler's work, but the profile seems to fit. Unlike that of Robbie Williams, who was patronised by casting director Debbie McWilliams: "Robbie, bless him, I don't think is quite what we are looking for." Oof.

Colin Firth's name has also surfaced here and there, probably because he currently turning heads in Bridget Jones, though perhaps his intelligence and coolness disqualify him for the role (which I don't think he's even seeking). I also have a sneaking suspicion that Fleming would have been delighted with him, and that clinches it for me: no Colin.

Better perhaps, if looking among the ranks of intelligent, posh actors, to examine the claims of James Purefoy from A Dance to the Music of Time. His name surfaced as a Bond candidate about a year ago in, of all places, the alumni newsletter of the school we both attended. I have no idea where that story came from, but to me it made immediate sense. Plus I'd have the chance to tell my friends, "See that new James Bond? He stole my girlfriend once, the bastard!" The truth of the matter was that she very wisely chose him, but I always chuckle appreciatively when he's on TV, and - who knows? - he might make a fine 007.

Copyright 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited

 


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