James Bond and The Perils of Casting a New 007

With the question of who's playing James Bond in James Bond 25 unresolved, we look back at the casting conundrums 007 has faced before.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Since 1962, fewer men have played James Bond than have walked on the moon. Despite the relatively long turnaround of the role, the subject of who might follow in the footsteps of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig in the future has fuelled many column inches and tabloid splashes.

It feels as if speculation about the seventh 007 in Eon Productions’ long-lived spy franchise has been at fever pitch since this time last year, when Craig was doing the promotional rounds for SPECTRE and commented that he would rather “slash [his] wrists” than play Bond again. It’s only after a year of constant reports on the subject that his far more optimistic comments at last weekend’s New Yorker Festival can be painted as “a massive U-turn” as one outlet had it.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got the best job in the world. I’ll keep doing it as long as I still get a kick out of it,” Craig said at the Beyond Bond talk. Last month, Bond executive producer Callum McDougall nixed a lot of the speculation by telling the BBC that Craig is still the “first choice” to front the 25th film in the series.

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But over the series’ history, vacancies for the lead role have been relatively scarce. If you have a hankering to play 007 in the middle of another actor’s successful run, the closest you’ll probably get is by playing the old game to get your own James Bond name – take your surname, then add your first name and then your surname again.

But Eon have had to look for new stars every once in a while, and it doesn’t always lead to the incumbent being replaced. Looking back over the long history of the series, there are some interesting glimpses at what could have been, including actors who were signed on and ready to go before plans changed, and a number of megastars who rejected the part. Starting at the beginning, here’s our look at the previous vacancies for role of the ultimate British movie hero.

Dr. No

When Eon acquired the screen rights to Fleming’s novels in the early 1960s, they had to find the right actor to bring the main character to life in Dr. No. Fleming’s personal preferences were Cary Grant and Richard Burton, on whom he had based aspects of Bond on the page.

Burton turned it down due to salary dispute and his feeling that the concept was untested. Grant, who had been best man at producer Albert R. Broccoli’s wedding, was more interested, but at the age of 58, only wanted to sign on for one film, whereas Broccoli wanted an actor who would sign for a three picture deal.

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Stanley Baker and James Mason turned down the role for the same reason, while Patrick McGoohan declined because he didn’t like the character’s promiscuity. Rex Harrison and David Niven were also ruled out on account of their advancing years, although Niven would later play the ‘original’ Sir James Bond in the chaotic 1967 spoof of Casino Royale. As Burton had observed, this kind of franchise undertaking was untested at the time and some felt that it wouldn’t work out.

Rod Taylor was another contender who turned it down and in 1986, he told Starlog magazine: “I refused because I thought it was beneath me. I didn’t think Bond would be successful in the movies. That was one of the greatest mistakes of my career! Every time a new Bond picture became a smash hit, I tore out my hair.”

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Out of the final contenders, Richard Todd was all set to take the role, winning Fleming’s approval, but a scheduling conflict ruled him out. And so the role was won by 32-year-old Sean Connery, who bested director Terence Young’s preferred actor, Richard Johnson, for the part. Connery wasn’t the producers’ first choice, but Young gave the actor a crash course in cool before filming began and an icon was born.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

During the production of You Only Live Twice, Connery announced that his fifth outing as Bond would be his last. By then, the Bond films were a global success and Broccoli was eager to reassure viewers that they could carry on without Connery, telling interviewer Alan Whicker: “We will, in our own way, try to continue the Bond series for the audience because it’s too important.”

Still, having made such an impression, the process of replacing Connery must have been daunting. Eon were certainly selective too – for instance, Broccoli said in a later interview that Oliver Reed was near the top of their list, but was ultimately deemed to be too big a star.

TV treasures Peter Purves (then fresh off of a stint as Steven on Doctor Who) and Peter Snow (who would later master the swingometer) also auditioned, to no avail. Elsewhere, Terence Stamp revealed in an interview with the Evening Standard in 2013 that he lost out on the role because he had some radical ideas about starting the movie as Bond “in complete Japanese make-up” so as to get the audience used to him instead of Connery.

Even more amusingly, Dick Van Dyke was also summarily dismissed by Broccoli during a phone conversation in which the actor brought up the poor notices for his English accent in Mary Poppins, to which the producer replied “Oh, that’s right, forget it.”

But plenty of actors turned down the part for various reasons too. Connery had made the role his own in such a way that the question of being typecast had already reared its head – Michael Caine, a close friend of the star, turning it down because of his previous role in the Harry Palmer films. Timothy Dalton was in consideration too, but ruled himself out because he felt he was too young.

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In the end it was George Lazenby, a male model who now freely admits that he blagged his way into consideration, who was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the darkest and most emotional entry in the franchise up to that point. He beat established actors John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Robert Campbell, and Hans de Vries to the part on the strength of an action-packed screen test in which he got carried away and actually punched a stunt coordinator, although Lazenby’s acting chops and personality weren’t what the producers were looking for in the end.

Diamonds Are Forever

Lazenby had been offered a seven film contract by Eon, but was convinced by his agent that the franchise would quickly run out of steam in the 1970s. This might be one of the all-time silliest career moves ever made, but Eon found themselves with another vacancy in the lead role. They auditioned several stage actors this time around, including Michael Gambon, who recounted the tale with no ego whatsoever in an interview with RTE’s Ryan Turbridy in 2010.

“I said, I can’t play James Bond, because I’m bald, I’ve got a double chin and I’ve got girl’s tits. So he said, well, so has Sean Connery… he said, ‘you could well do it.’ But he didn’t offer it to me!”

Eon ultimately signed American actor John Gavin, who was well known for his roles in Psycho, Spartacus, and Thoroughly Modern Millie as the third actor to play Bond. However, the studio brass at United Artists weren’t happy with this and decided the film would need some of the box office clout of the earlier, more successful films. Specifically, they wanted something that would replicate the success of Goldfinger, bringing back plot elements, story beats, and most importantly, the leading man.

Connery was persuaded back by a then-record $1.25 million salary, a percentage of the box office gross and a development deal on two more features with the studio (Sidney Lumet’s The Offence and a Macbeth adaptation that ultimately didn’t come to fruition). Gavin’s contract was honored in full, which along with Connery’s salary, made for a more expensive film than usual.

As Gambon’s less-than-flattering anecdote suggests, Connery wasn’t at his best in this final official outing and it’s an especially poor sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, given how the ending of that film has Blofeld murder Bond’s wife, but that little development is hardly even mentioned in this commercially concocted retread. But the first Bond film of the 1970s is an outlier in comparison to the new era that was just around the corner.

Live & Let Die

1973’s Live & Let Die marked the third change of lead actor in as many films and Eon finally got hold of Roger Moore, who had been in the running to replace Connery the first time around in a version of The Man With The Golden Gun, before Moore signed on for another series of The Saint. Despite this earlier plan falling into place, there was still a search for a new star.

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In the ’70s, Bond would become more reactive to Hollywood trends, integrating elements of blaxploitation and martial arts as well as tipping their hats to the first blockbusters, Jaws and Star Wars, with varying degrees of success. This might have been why the role of Bond was also offered to various American stars, including Adam West, Burt Reynolds, and Clint Eastwood, who have all since said that they turned it down because they felt Bond should be British.

Somehow, this brought them to conclusion that Bond should be played by an English actor this time around, which ironically ruled out Gavin again when he came back into the running. Jon Finch, who played the title role in Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth, turned down the role that would certainly have made him a household name, preferring to work every once in a while rather than take on global stardom.

Despite Eon’s experience with Lazenby, explorer Ranulph Fiennes (Ralph’s cousin) was also invited in to audition, even though he wasn’t an actor. In an appearance on Top Gear in 2004, Fiennes revealed that he was rejected for having “hands too big and a face like a farmer.”

Englishness and reasonably sized hands aside, Broccoli was looking for a ‘known face’ this time around, and given Moore’s popularity as Simon Templar on The Saint, he fit the bill and over the next seven films, he would go on to be the longest-serving Bond, despite a couple of wobbles on whether to continue along the way.

For Your Eyes Only

The first wobble came in 1979, following the production of Moonraker. After The Spy Who Loved Me, Moore’s initial three film contract was up and from then on, his contract was negotiated on a film-by-film basis. While Eon waited to see if the star would return, other actors were considered.

Dalton once again turned down an audition, this time because he was unhappy with the direction that the series had gone in – For Your Eyes Only had been hastily replaced by the mad space opera of Moonraker in the wake of Star Wars‘ massive success. Following their casting of Moore, Eon auditioned various other TV spies, including The Professionals‘ Lewis Collins and Quiller‘s Michael Jayston. Patrick Mower, who’s now best known to Emmerdale fans as wheeler-dealer Rodney Blackstock, was also up for the role.

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Had Moore been unavailable, Broccoli’s first choice was Michael Billington, who had got as far as doing a photo shoot for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and had previously played KGB agent Sergei Barsov in the iconic pre-titles sequence from The Spy Who Loved Me. Billington screen-tested for the part of Bond five times in the course of his career, but he was passed over when Moore signed on in 1980.


After For Your Eyes Only, Moore was reluctant to continue in the role and Eon started searching all over again, eventually settling on a very interesting choice. James Brolin wasn’t British, but he was a Hollywood leading man of some standing at this point. After a successful screen test, Brolin was cast as the fourth Bond and was ready to relocate to London when a long running feud bubbled up again.

Kevin McClory, who had once been embroiled in a legal battle with Fleming and Eon over elements of the story Thunderball, (including SPECTRE and Blofeld) had mounted a remake titled Never Say Never Again at Warner Bros, and had tempted Sean Connery back to the role for the first time in 12 years. The film was being released in 1983, in direct competition with the next Eon film, Octopussy.

United Artists, which had been acquired by MGM in 1981 after the costly failure of Heaven’s Gate, felt that Octopussy would have a better chance at the box office if it starred an established Bond. The producers got in touch with Moore and persuaded him to come back again.

Brolin’s screen test, in which he performed the traditional audition piece from From Russia With Love, was finally released on 2000’s Octopussy: Ultimate Edition DVD. It gives us an interesting picture of what might have been – his English accent was on point and he certainly looked the part. Brolin got to send up his brush with Bond a couple of years later, with a cameo as the suave ‘P.W. Herman’ character in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

The Living Daylights

With a mighty PR elbow to the rival production, Eon announced that Moore would return for a seventh outing, A View To A Kill, the day before Never Say Never Again premièred in London. Alas, during the filming of this one, it became abundantly clear to the 59-year-old star that it was time to retire, when he discovered that he was older than his female co-star Tanya Roberts’ mother. Moore reflected in 2007: “I was only about four hundred years too old for the part.”

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When the longest-serving Bond finally hung up his Walther PPK, on the down note of a critically and commercially unsuccessful entry, there was a change in focus for the future of the franchise. MGM suggested Mel Gibson and Christopher Lambert, but the three frontrunners for the role were Sam Neill, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan.

Brosnan, who was then starring on NBC’s Remington Steele, was famously ruled out after the publicity around his casting revived interest in the show and at the last minute, the network exercised an option to bring him back for another season, much to Broccoli’s fury. According to art director Peter Lamont, speaking in an interview on the Ultimate Edition DVD of The Living Daylights, Broccoli declared definitively that “Remington Steele will not be James Bond.”

Director John Glen and the other producers were reportedly impressed by Neill, whose screen test was released, like Brolin’s was, on as a special feature on the Ultimate Edition, but Broccoli wasn’t sold. Simon MacCorkindale and Robert Bathurst also auditioned, although interestingly, Bathurst has since opined that he was only brought in as “an arm twisting exercise” for Timothy Dalton, to make it look as if they were still auditioning actors in order to get him to sign on.

Dalton was initially unavailable, but eventually signed up on the promise that the series would get back to something like the seriousness of the source material and he was officially named as the fourth Bond in August 1986. Dalton is possibly the best actor to have played Bond to date, and looking at the approach that the Craig films would take two decades later, his two outings in the role were ahead of their time.


Legal action involving Broccoli’s decision to put the franchise rights up for sale stalled the seventeenth Bond film throughout the first half of the 1990s and as a result, we didn’t get to see the version of GoldenEye that pitted Dalton against Anthony Hopkins. Just imagine that for a minute and whimper quietly – we’ll wait.

Dalton had publicly guessed that the series itself, not just his tenure in the lead role, might be coming to an end after the poor reception for Licence To Kill in the busy summer season of 1989. His contract expired during the delay and after reading a draft of what would become GoldenEye, he officially announced that he was quitting the role in 1994. This and various other personnel changes behind the scenes meant that the series would be starting from scratch after the longest break between films since its inception.

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Under the creative stewardship of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, GoldenEye brought the series up to date for a post-Cold War world, but preserved the old trappings of the series in the process. Almost a decade after Remington Steele scuppered his first chance at playing Bond, Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role, but there were still other candidates in the running.

Sean Bean was actually Eon’s first choice for the role after Dalton resigned and when MGM insisted on Brosnan, the script was reworked so that the villain, Alex Trevelyan, was a contemporary of Bond’s rather than a mentor, giving Bean a role in the film. Paul McGann was also in the running, if Brosnan hadn’t accepted the role.

But the offer to bring Brosnan back wasn’t as cut and dried as it might appear and other stars turned it down. Back in 2014, while promoting Non-Stop, Liam Neeson revealed that he turned down the role at around the time GoldenEye was in pre-production, but he had a very good reason.

Neeson told the Hull Daily Mail: “It was about 18 or 19 years ago and my wife-to-be said, ‘If you play James Bond we’re not getting married.’ And I had to take that on board because I did want to marry her.” He would establish his formidable action chops later on in the likes of the Taken films, while it was Brosnan who signed a four picture contract, taking the franchise up to its 20th entry and 40th anniversary on the big screen.

Casino Royale

Released a few months after The Bourne Identity and just over a year after 9/11, Die Another Day looked rather silly and anachronistic upon release and the critical response reflected this. As the producers sought to counter the camp of the previous instalment by taking Bond back to his roots, Although the series’ first ever hard reboot was underway, Brosnan made it known that he was still available for a fifth go around.

Quentin Tarantino took an interest in making the film with Brosnan and setting it in the 1960s, but Eon was interested in bringing the series up to date with a world in which Matt Damon was kicking other spies’ heads in. In February 2005, GoldenEye director Martin Campbell was brought in to oversee yet another major update of the series- the never-before-seen origin story of 007. But having decided not to renew Brosnan’s contract, the leading man wasn’t announced until October that year.

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This time around, Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor were the biggest stars to turn it down, both on account of their other franchise roles. Jackman was about to play Wolverine again, presumably in X-Men: The Last Stand, judging by the timing. Meanwhile, McGregor had apparently had his fill of franchise roles after playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.

He told the Daily Record in 2005: “With Star Wars, we did a three-month shoot and a couple of weeks of pick-ups so it wasn’t an enormous involvement. But with Bond, I suppose it’s a much longer shoot and there’s a massive amount of publicity. I would worry about not being able to do any other work.”

Wilson has said that there were over 200 names of actors from all over the world listed at one point or another, including the likes of James Purefoy, Rupert Friend, Dougray Scott, Sam Worthington, Alex O’Laughlin, and Goran Višnjic. According to Campbell, the only other actor in serious contention with Daniel Craig was a 22 year old Henry Cavill, who was ultimately considered too young at the time.

Craig was the first Bond to be cast in the age of online fandom and the bottom half of the internet emerged with much wailing and cries of “Craig Not Bond dot com!” before he proved his naysayers wrong with one of the very best Bond movies to date. He’s apparently signed on for a five film contract, but given the various delays over the course of his ten year tenure thus far, questions about whether or not SPECTRE was his last film have persisted.

Bond 25 and beyond?

So, who’s next? Until we hear otherwise, Craig is still the current James Bond, but that’s not going to stop anybody speculating. The bookies’ runners and riders include Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Luke Evans, Aidan Turner, James Norton, and just about any other able and eligible male over the age of 30.

The process for Casino Royale sounds like it was more widespread (if not more open) than previous vacancies, but the family-run Eon is fairly conservative in its casting process. That’s why we think the smart money is on Henry Cavill eventually taking over the role. If the path taken by Moore, Dalton and Brosnan is any indication, being considered for the role once before is the best way to be considered again later on, and Cavill has been publicly enthusiastic about taking on the role as recently as this year.

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That said, since his Casino Royale audition, he’s taken on the role of Superman, which probably takes as much time in the gym preparing as it takes actually shooting the movies. Plus, given how Eon have been sticklers for choosing actors who don’t have other commitments, maybe Cavill is more likely to be the next but one, if not Craig’s successor. In the meantime, he did a nice line in super-spy suaveness in last year’s remount of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Elba was previously open to the opportunity but has more recently ruled himself out on account of his age, making Hiddleston, who did some solid Bond-esque work in BBC One’s The Night Manager, the new heir apparent in the hearts and minds of entertainment writers and their readers. Cavill’s availability notwithstanding, we suspect that the sheer amount of support for him already means that the job is probably his if he wants it.

But as we’ve noted with stars from Michael Caine to Ewan McGregor, not every movie star wants to commit themselves to a role like Bond, and outside of notable potentials like these, the casting process is probably going to be altogether more unpredictable when the time comes. It’s never been a complete unknown, but hardly anybody correctly guessed the current Bond before he was announced.

If we had to guess, we’d say that Daniel Craig will be back to complete his five film contract, especially after the way that ended. Whoever takes the role after he quits will have big shoes to fill, and you can be sure that entertainment outlets will be measuring the feet of every eligible actor between now and an official announcement that the search is on again.