GE­ORGE LAZENBY OPENS UP ABOUT THE 007 PHE­NOM­E­NON

Ge­orge Lazenby, the Aus­tralian one-time 007, tells Troy Bramston why he let it slip away

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

How Ge­orge Lazenby, a 28-year-old Aus­tralian model and for­mer car sales­man, per­suaded Al­bert R. “Cubby” Broc­coli and Harry Saltz­man to cast him in the role of James Bond is the stuff of cin­e­matic leg­end. Lazenby, who played the im­mor­tal Bond in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice, says it was his bold­ness and con­fi­dence that con­vinced the pow­er­ful duo he could take over from Sean Con­nery, who per­son­i­fied the role.

“I was fear­less as I had noth­ing to lose,” Lazenby, 76, tells Re­view in a rare in­ter­view from Los An­ge­les, where he now lives, hav­ing made his for­tune in real es­tate.

“I al­ways thought peo­ple got to where they wanted be­cause they wanted it, and were bet­ter at it than any­one else. I can’t tell you why, but I felt at around the age of 21 that I could do any­thing I wanted — and did.”

With Daniel Craig’s lat­est Bond film, Spec­tre, earn­ing a stag­ger­ing $792 mil­lion at the global box of­fice — and $30m in Aus­tralia to date — the world is in the grip of an­other wave of 007 nostal­gia. All pre­vi­ous 23 Eon-pro­duced Bond films are on high ro­ta­tion re­play on tele­vi­sion, and a steady stream of books and doc­u­men­taries is flood­ing the mar­ket. And amid the ex­cite­ment, Lazenby’s one-off por­trayal of Bond is win­ning new fans.

Direc­tors Christopher Nolan and Steven Soder­bergh have re­cently rated OHMSS as their favourite Bond film, prais­ing its di­rec­tion and cin­e­matog­ra­phy, score and sto­ry­line. It is one of Ian Flem­ing’s bet­ter 007 nov­els and there­fore a film of greater depth than most oth­ers in the Bond canon.

Con­nery re­lin­quished the role of the in­de­fati­ga­ble Bri­tish Se­cret Ser­vice agent af­ter film­ing You Only Live Twice (1967). Lazenby was work­ing as a model in Europe at the time, hav­ing fol­lowed a girl­friend there. In Lon­don he was best known for a goofy spot on a chocolate com­mer­cial. Mag­gie Ab­bott, an agent, rec­om­mended he au­di­tion for the va­cant role. “She said none of the 300 peo­ple tested on film have what I had,” Lazenby re­calls. What was it? “She said: ‘Your huge self-con­fi­dence.’ ”

Lazenby went to Con­nery’s tai­lor in Lon­don and picked up a suit the ac­tor had or­dered but didn’t want. He vis­ited Con­nery’s bar­ber and asked for the same hair­cut. He al­ready had a Rolex watch. But Lazenby couldn’t get an au­di­tion as he wasn’t a mem­ber of the ac­tors union.

Un­de­terred, he talked his way past the re­cep­tion­ist where the au­di­tion­ing was tak­ing place, raced up­stairs, leaned in the door­way and said, “I hear you’re look­ing for the next James Bond.”

The test­ing went on for months. Lazenby had voice coach­ing. They cor­rected his Aus­tralian swag­ger. Ro­man­tic scenes were shot. Lazenby says the pro­duc­ers even sent women to a ho­tel room to se­duce him, to check that he wasn’t gay. Saltz­man was sold when Lazenby ac­ci­den­tally flat­tened a stunt­man.

The new Bond was an­nounced in Oc­to­ber 1968. It was only then that Lazenby re­vealed to di­rec­tor Peter Hunt that he had never acted in a movie. Hunt, Lazenby says, was stunned, but said: “Stick to your story and I’ll make you the next James Bond.”

Con­trary to myth, OHMSS was a com­mer­cial suc­cess. With a bud­get of $US8 mil­lion, the film’s world­wide gross was $82 mil­lion — more than Con­nery’s first two films, Dr No ($59 mil­lion) in 1962 and From Rus­sia with Love ($78 mil­lion) in 1963.

The ur­bane Roger Moore, who played Bond in seven films from 1973 to 1985, rates him­self as “a lit­tle bit be­hind Ge­orge Lazenby” and has said OHMSS was “a great film”. Moore and Lazenby re­main friends; they oc­ca­sion­ally email jokes to each other.

Lazenby re­calls din­ing in a Los An­ge­les restau­rant some­time af­ter the film was re­leased. Con­nery walked in, spied Lazenby, shook his hand and said, “You were good.”

Con­nery, it is uni­ver­sally ac­cepted, was Bond. While Craig has found favour in the role, the fa­mous Scots ac­tor set the stan­dard. He mas­tered Bond’s sig­na­ture qual­i­ties: in­tel­li­gence, tough­ness, en­ergy, droll hu­mour and sex ap­peal.

It didn’t help Lazenby’s cause that Con­nery re­turned to the role in 1971 for Di­a­monds are For­ever. The im­pres­sion was that Lazenby had been a mis­take, an aber­ra­tion.

Yet OHMSS showed that the char­ac­ter could tran­scend an ac­tor. Lazenby en­sured a fran­chise was born. As Broc­coli later said, “James Bond 007 is the real star.” But if the story of how Lazenby won the role of Bond is as­ton­ish­ing, the story of how he gave it up is even more so.

“Yes, I turned down do­ing an­other film,” he says. “It was hip­pie time and get­ting laid in a suit was dif­fi­cult. You had to have long hair and bell bot­toms. It was the time of Easy Rider. Bond was part of the es­tab­lish­ment.

“I was re­stricted to about five women for nine months. I’m not brag­ging but once in a while, be­fore I was Bond, I passed that num­ber in a day … it was a won­der­ful, crazy time.”

Pro­moter Ro­nan O’Rahilly — of pi­rate ship Ra­dio Caro­line fame — con­vinced Lazenby that Bond was passe and there were bet­ter film roles with larger pay pack­ets. “Bond is Con­nery’s gig,” he told Lazenby. “Make one and get out.”

“I had fin­ished the film and not signed the con­tract,” Lazenby says. “I had a man­ager [O’Rahilly] who kept send­ing con­tract changes back.” Saltz­man of­fered Lazenby £1 mil­lion for a sec­ond Bond film. He turned it down. David Picker, the pres­i­dent of United Artists, of­fered Lazenby a seven-film con­tract with the of­fer to do other movies in be­tween his 007 com­mit­ments. That was also re­jected.

OHMSS pre­miered in De­cem­ber 1969. Largely filmed in the Swiss Alps and in Por­tu­gal, it is faith­ful to Flem­ing’s story about Bond court­ing and mar­ry­ing Teresa di Vi­cenzo (Diana Rigg), the daugh­ter of un­der­world fig­ure Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), while track­ing down crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas).

Af­ter the rough fight­ing open­ing se­quence in OHMSS, Lazenby turns to the cam­era and says: “This never hap­pened to the other fella.” It is the only time Bond has bro­ken char­ac­ter.

“Yes, that was my line,” he re­calls. “Be­cause I did my own stunts, I used to ask, ‘Did the other fella have to do this?’ ” Hunt told him to say it on cam­era to “break the ice” with the au­di­ence.

Lazenby’s Bond still likes mar­ti­nis shaken not stirred; uses a Walther PPK pis­tol; drives an As­ton Martin (DBS); flirts with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell); and has testy re­la­tion­ships with M (Bernard Lee) and Q (Des­mond Llewe­lyn). There is plenty of stunt ac­tion but less hu­mour, fewer gad­gets and a greater fo­cus on char­ac­ter.

In the clos­ing scene, Bond’s new wife is killed in ma­chine­gun fire by Irma Bunt (Ilse Step­pat), Blofeld’s hench­woman. It all but re­duces Bond to tears. We don’t see Bond re­veal as much emo­tion un­til Craig’s Casino Royale (2006).

Hunt wanted to end the film with the new­ly­weds driv­ing off into the sun­set, with the next Bond film com­menc­ing with the tragic scene. But this would not have been true to Flem­ing’s novel. Nev­er­the­less, it left au­di­ences shocked and de­flated.

The film­ing of OHMSS did not go well. “The di­rec­tor and I fell out on the first day,” Lazenby says. “We didn’t speak for the whole film.” There were re­ports of ac­tors not get­ting along and pro­duc­tion dif­fi­cul­ties. Lazenby was ar­ro­gant, de­mand­ing and petu­lant.

“Af­ter the film I was told by one of the stunt guys that he told Hunt many times that I could get hurt,” Lazenby re­called. “Hunt replied, ‘ No one has seen him yet. If he gets hurt, we get a sec­ond shot.’ ” Yet Hunt later praised Lazenby’s por­trayal of Bond.

Lazenby says he needed to do more “grow­ing up” and learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence. De­spite the prom­ises from O’Rahilly, the lu­cra­tive film roles never came. Lazenby be­lieves he was “black­listed”. He be­came an oc­ca­sional B-grade movie and tele­vi­sion ac­tor.

Of the six ac­tors to of­fi­cially play Bond, Lazenby is the only Aus­tralian, though Mel Gib­son, Sam Neill and Sam Wor­thing­ton, among oth­ers, have been con­sid­ered for the role. Flem­ing, mean­while, en­vis­aged Bond vis­it­ing Aus­tralia “in search of trou­ble and just that one, fi­nal, fa­tal Aus­tralian blonde”.

Last Septem­ber, Lazenby re­turned to his home town of Goul­burn, NSW, and hap­pily mixed with fans at the in­au­gu­ral SPYfest, a film fes­ti­val or­gan­ised by Goul­burn Mul­wa­ree Coun­cil, cel­e­brat­ing the spy film genre. Yet he ad­mits he has not seen Spec­tre. “I haven’t seen a Bond film since mine or met the lat­est fella [Craig],” he says. “As for what do I think of the other Bonds, they are all ac­tors do­ing what they do. Yet all stuck with the stigma of Bond.”

Lazenby re­grets not do­ing “one or two” more Bond films. But in the end, it was his choice. “I could have had a great film ca­reer if I toed the line,” he re­flects. “Yet I wouldn’t have had the won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences in life that I’ve had and I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I wanted.”

I HAVEN’T SEEN A BOND FILM SINCE MINE GE­ORGE LAZENBY

Ge­orge Lazenby to­day, main pic­ture, and as James Bond in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice, above and be­low

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