James Bond | Can you tell an actor’s going to get the role based on their latest films?

James Bond
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Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s turn in Bullet Train has led to theories he’s going to play Bond next. But do actors who play Bond-like characters go on to actually play 007? We take a look.

At the time of writing, at least, there’s much speculation about Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his connection to the James Bond franchise. In March, a British newspaper with a big red masthead spread the rumour that the actor is secretly being lined up to play 007, taking over from Daniel Craig.

It’s a rumour so persistent that Taylor-Johnson has started to get a bit cross when ‘The Bond Question’ is brought up in interviews. When asked by an Associated Press reporter about the whole matter, Taylor-Johnson looked down at his feet, as though trying to repress some terrifying wellspring of anger, before abruptly marching off with a chirpy, “Alright, have a good one!”

Adding fuel to all the speculation was Taylor-Johnson’s performance in the 2022 action thriller, Bullet Train. Several outlets – such as Gamespot – have suggested that his urbane turn as British assassin Tangerine bore some marked similarities to James Bond.

“His character carries himself very similarly to how James Bond does in several of the 007 movies,” Gamespot’s Luis Joshua Gutierrez writes.

This begs the question: is there a pattern of actors appearing in roles that showcase their suitability for Bond? Does history prove that performers who appear well-dressed, urbane and deadly in one film or show then go on to get the 007 gig?

Let’s have a look:

Daniel Craig (2006 – 2021)

Daniel Craig in Elizabeth (1998). Credit: Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

We’ll start with the most recent Bond actor first. Daniel Craig already had a long and varied career before he landed the 007 role in the mid-2000s, having appeared in both intimate dramas (Obsession, Love Is The Devil) and big, Hollywood thrillers (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Road To Perdition).

One role that really showcased Craig as a possible Bond contender, though, was Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn’s 2004 thriller in which he starred as the cool and suave drug dealer, XXXX. In retrospect, Layer Cake looks uncannily like Craig’s audition reel for Bond. Regularly seen in well-tailored suits, and in one scene wielding a pistol, he looks very much like 007. Two years later, Craig made his debut in Casino Royale.

Oddly, though, it wasn’t necessarily Layer Cake that sold Craig to production company EON. According to The Hollywood Reporter, producer Barbara Broccoli “had her eye” on the actor ever since he briefly appeared as priest and assassin John Ballard in the 1998 period drama, Elizabeth.

“There’s a shot of him walking down the corridor,” Broccoli told the outlet, “and I said, ‘Oh, my God. He has the most incredible presence on the screen. You cannot take your eyes off him on the screen.’”

Needless to say, there isn’t a crisp suit or pistol in sight in Elizabeth – which goes to show that it isn’t necessarily the most Bond-ian roles that land an actor the 007 gig.

Pierce Brosnan (1995 – 2002)

Pierce Brosnan with Jeff Fahey in The Lawnmower Man (1992). Credit: New Line Cinema.

Having appeared in the likes of The Professionals and The Fourth Protocol, Irish actor Pierce Brosnan caught EON’s attention with the spy thriller TV series Remington Steele in the mid-1980s. Brosnan appeared as the title character from 1982 onwards, and even the first episode suggested a connection to Bond, given its title was Licence To Steele.

In fact, Brosnan was initially cast as Bond in 1986, with his debut intended to be The Living Daylights. But then US channel NBC selfishly decided to un-cancel Remington Steele, which prompted producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli to drop his Bond offer to Brosnan. The actor therefore went back to playing Steele for one final (and very short) season in 1987.

Of course, Brosnan was again offered the 007 job in the 90s, making his debut in 1995’s GoldenEye.

To get to the point of the article: with his smooth persona, smart suits and taste for globe-trotting adventures, the Remington Steele character was undoubtedly a fitting shop window for Brosnan’s potential as Bond. Certainly more so than the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man, in which he’s oddly cast as a computer obsessive who answers the phone one day and hears the immortal words, “Larry? It’s Timms. Your chimp’s dead.”

Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)

Timothy Dalton with Ian Holm in Mary Queen Of Scots (1971). Credit: Universal Pictures.

An experienced stage actor before he began appearing in TV and movies, Timothy Dalton’s earliest big-screen roles were period pieces, including Wuthering Heights (1970) and Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971). Although he appeared as Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights, replacing the originally-cast Pierce Brosnan, Dalton was first offered the role when he was in his early 20s.

In the documentary Inside The Living Daylights, Dalton said he’d been approached by 007’s producers after he’d finished the aforementioned Mary, Queen Of Scots, in which he played the distinctly un-Bondian Henry Stewart, second husband to Mary.

All of which is starting to make us wonder whether you’re more likely to be cast as Bond if you appear in some sort of period drama.

Roger Moore (1973-1985)

Roger Moore in Ivanhoe (1958). Credit: Screen Gems.

Although he’d appeared in stage shows and films from the mid-1940s, it was through TV that Roger Moore became a star. He performed a number of rough-and-tumble stunts in the adventure series Ivanhoe in the late 1950s (sustaining a couple of cracked ribs in the process), and made regular appearances in 1960’s Maverick.

It was as Simon Templar in the hit thriller series The Saint, which ran for a total of 118 episodes, that Moore truly made his name. A suave modern-day Robin Hood with a penchant for expensive suits and fast cars, Templar shared numerous parallels with the Bond persona, and Moore was formally offered the 007 role by Albert Broccoli in 1972.

George Lazenby (1969)

Unlike the other actors on this list, former model and car salesman hadn’t made a single film before he appeared as Bond. His major claim to fame, at least on screen, was his work in TV adverts, most famously for Fry’s confectionery. Lazenby’s dashing good looks in his ads for Turkish Delight and Lyons Maid ice cream endeared the young actor to Albert Broccoli, though, who invited him to audition for the Bond role in 1968.

Interestingly, one 1964 ice cream ad (see above) looks particularly James Bond: there are shots of fancy watches, a spinning roulette wheel match-cutting to a spinning sports car wheel, and even a woman clutching the kind of white cat commonly associated with Blofeld.

Lyons Maid may have thought it was selling ice cream to the huddled masses; what it might have inadvertently done is sold Lazenby to Albert Brocolli.

Sean Connery (1962 -1967, 1971, 1983)

Sean Connery in Macbeth (1961). Credit: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The first big-screen Bond, Sean Connery is still widely regarded as the definitive incarnation of the character all these later – even if the novel’s author Ian Fleming was initially unconvinced.

A sturdy body builder who got into film and TV following stints in theatre, Connery was already 10 years into his screen career when he was cast as 007. Interestingly, two of his major roles before he starred in 1962’s Dr No were adaptations of Anna Karenina and Macbeth – which only adds to our working theory that it’s period dramas that more commonly pave the way to Bond stardom.

Hang on: Aaron Taylor-Johnson also appeared in an adaptation of Anna Karenina – the one directed by Joe Wright in 2012. He’s starred in a contemporary-set film as a character with Bond-like qualities, just as Daniel Craig did in Layer Cake. IMDb also informs us he once did a TV ad for Persil, following in the footsteps of George Lazenby.

Going by our distinctly unacademic reading of movie history, Taylor-Johnson really could be next in line to play Bond after all…

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