Pop culture has always played such an important role in my life, the real problem being I’ve never been able to let things go. For the most part, once a passion, always a passion, and I tend to just add more topics and characters into the mix. After all this time, it’s a wonder that there’s room for anything else in there. And this is the first in a series of pieces looking at those movie and TV heroes that impacted me the most. The fact that I still enjoy them might seem nerdy to some, but I made peace with that geeky side of myself a long time ago. After all, I’ve made a career writing about the things I love — there are worse things than that — and with the release of 25th 007 movie, No Time to Die, last year, James Bond seems like a good place to start.
In some ways it’s difficult to describe just how much James Bond has meant to me in my life. My introduction to the character — agent 007 for Her Majesty’s Secret Service — came with 1965’s Thunderball in the form of Sean Connery, who at that point was playing him for the fourth time. I only specifically remember one sequence from the theater (I was only five at the time), involving Bond on a traction machine that threatened to split him in half. But that experience was so profound that it instantly turned me into a Bond fan. Flash forward over 50 years and Bond is still going strong and so is my passion for the character. To be clear, I never imagined, like many audience members have, that I’m actually Bond. I would have been more than happy being his sidekick.
I’ve been there as the tone and the actors have changed, with Sean Connery giving way (briefly) to George Lazenby before returning for one more official film, followed by Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Some films may be better than others, but I can’t think of a franchise that I’m more forgiving of. If I’m disappointed by a particular film, the response is usually, “Ah, they’ll get it right next time.”
One of my favorite movie experiences? Beginning each film with the Bond theme and gun barrel moving across the screen, and concluding with the words “James Bond will return.” Perfect bookends!
And, now, a bit of f flashback.
James Bond wielded the knife with obvious skill. He approached, blade barely glinting in the light, and pounced, the knife coming down to join the awaiting fork. “I usually eat fruit,” he said simply, “but today I’m in the mood for a good English breakfast.” And with that, he began his meal.
Admittedly it’s not stopping Ernst Stavro Blofeld from stealing space capsules, weaponizing diamonds, and authoring all of Bond’s pain; preventing Auric Goldfinger from radiating the gold in Fort Knox or having Karl Stromberg and Hugo Drax threaten humanity with extinction, but it was my experience with Agent 007 back in 1994.
At the time, I was senior editor at Cinescape magazine and writing a cover story on the 17th James Bond movie—and the first one to star Pierce Brosnan—GoldenEye. Even more incredibly, I was flown to England to spend a few days on the set at Leavesden Studios, later to be home to the Star Wars prequels and Harry Potter films. Back in the day, a set visit was an entirely different experience than it is now. For the most part, these days, whenever you’re invited to a movie set it’s usually as a part of “genre day,” where upwards of 30 entertainment journalists are brought in at exactly the same time to speak to exactly the same people and get exactly the same quotes. But in 1994, I was one of only two journalists who came to the GoldenEye set on those select days, and while being ushered around from interview subject to interview subject, was allowed free rein to walk around and take things in while being sure not to interfere with filming.
You have to understand how mind-blowing a situation this was for a guy who grew up on the Bond films, and whose earliest “movie memories” include Sean Connery as Bond, trapped on that aforementioned traction machine in Thunderball. From there, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I became obsessed with all things 007. Either my parents brought me or I went with my friends (and bear in mind that we weren’t even 10 years old—times were definitely different) to the movies to see You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; Thunderball and You Only Live Twice; Diamonds Are Forever and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever (thank God for double-feature rereleases). Then, one day in 1971, my friends and I went to a matinee at the Marine Theatre on Flatbush Avenue to see a triple feature of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger—the first time I had seen any of them, so they were like brand-new Bond adventures to me.
We moved to Long Island in 1972 (on the night, coincidentally, that ABC ran Goldfinger for the first time on The ABC Sunday Night Movie). While I had to leave my life in Brooklyn behind, I had taken James Bond with me on the trip, and he’s never left. Roger Moore is James Bond? Okay, no problem. He wasn’t the same as Sean Connery, but this was James Bond and I wasn’t going anywhere (although The Man with the Golden Gun seemed to do everything it could to push me away). I saw The Spy Who Loved Me at the former Meadowbrook Theatre in East Meadow, New York, the lobby of which was adorned with not only a wide variety of stills, posters, and banners for the film, but had the Lotus Esprit right there to be gawked at. Two years later, I was in Manhattan at the Rivoli Theatre watching Moonraker in 70mm, and remember to this day my stunned joy at the pre-credit sequence, which had Bond thrown out of a plane without a parachute, and having to catch up to the baddie who had one to wrestle it away from him.
By the time For Your Eyes Only was released in 1981, I was attending college and on the school newspaper, and came into New York to interview producer Michael G. Wilson—and it was pretty amazing to me to be sitting there talking to someone actually involved with the James Bond films. Two years later, history would repeat itself, in that I would go and meet with director John Glen for Octopussy. Jump ahead two years and I was interviewing screenwriter Richard Maibaum regarding The Living Daylights; two years after that I was conducting interviews at the press junket for Licence to Kill, sitting right next to Timothy Dalton and asking him questions about his approach to Bond (he was serious) and how his take was different from Roger Moore’s (he was serious). Things went on from there as I embarked on my journalism career, once again bringing 007 with me as I conducted various interviews over the years.
Which brings me back to Pierce Brosnan’s trailer, chatting with him over breakfast—though it actually wasn’t the first time I’d spoken to the actor about James Bond. Back in 1986, while he was promoting his first starring role in a feature film, Nomads, there were rumblings aplenty that he would be offered the role, as Roger Moore had wrapped up his time with the character.
“There’s no truth,” he responded in that first conversation. “I’ve never been asked to play James Bond. Next question is, would I like to play James Bond? Well, I suppose I would like to have a crack, yes, but it hasn’t been a lifetime ambition to play James Bond. But the last year and a half I wish they would make up their minds one way or another, either cast somebody else or go ahead and offer me the damn part, because not a day goes by now without someone saying, ‘You’re going to make a great James Bond.’ ‘When are you playing James Bond?’ ‘We hear you’re playing James Bond.’ But no one has ever come to me and said, ‘Pierce, my dear boy, we’d like you to play Jimmy Bond.’ And so that may knock the rumor on its head, but I’ve said that before and the rumor seems to keep going round.”
For the record, he would be offered the role shortly thereafter, and signed, but released from his contract when NBC screwed him over by renewing his canceled series, Remington Steele, at the last possible moment, hoping to cash in on the Bond films’ popularity. The Bond people were having none of that, so Pierce was released and Timothy Dalton took on the part in 1987’s The Living Daylights.
In any case, I sat there with Pierce in his trailer for about 30 minutes, barely concealing my excitement as I hit him with what I wanted to be riveting questions. Instead, I came out with the most obvious one you could imagine: “So, how does it feel to finally say for the camera, ‘My name is Bond. James Bond’?”
“I suppose,” he replied between bites of breakfast, “it’s like it would be for any guy in a play. It’s not quite on par with Shakespeare, but nevertheless, it is known by the man in the street. The whole world knows it. Perhaps more than ‘To be or not to be . . .’ Yes, I find myself brushing my teeth in the morning, kind of mumbling the lines. Of course I do. I just practice it, I say it and I crack myself up. It’s quite funny, just a breath away from parody, really. I just kept it as simple as possible because I’m very aware that the audience is waiting for me to say it, so I share the moment with them.”
I also mentioned that the impression I have is that his Bond will be a hybrid of Sean Connery’s and Roger Moore’s, humor coupled with ruthlessness.
“I agree with that,” he said, hopefully not noticing how cool I thought it was that James Bond agreed with my theory. “It really should be pointed out that Roger made the part his own. There’s a generation out there that was brought up only with Roger. They didn’t know who the hell Sean Connery was, and Roger’s films did make a lot of money. First impressions, of course, were Sean. There will be people who accept me and those who say, ‘He’s not Roger. He’s not Sean. . . .’”
“He’s not George Lazenby,” I piped in, being a wiseass regarding the actor who had a one-shot as 007 in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
“Right,” Brosnan laughed, “he’s not George Lazenby.”
Things went on from there.
Later, special effects supervisor Derek Meddings took me around the area, explaining and demonstrating the virtues of using models over computer effects, giving me a tour of miniature buildings, including the nerve gas facility that opens the film. In mid-sentence, though, Meddings paused, a look of concern crossing his face. “Oh, dear,” he said in his natural British tongue, “you seem to have burst your zipper.”
I looked down and, sure enough, the zipper on my jeans had snapped open , revealing my underpants. I immediately looked up, embarrassed, and commented, “My wife told me I’d be so excited, something like this would happen.”
He seemed to enjoy that one as we proceeded to the newly added next stop, the costume department, where James Bond’s costume designer pinned me up. Hey, can you say you were pinned up by James Bond’s costume designer?
The following day, I sat down with producer Michael Wilson, who asked me if I wanted to watch the first teaser trailer for the film. Mikey, are you friggin’ kidding me? (I didn’t actually say that, but I thought it.) He brought me into his office and played the trailer that wouldn’t be hitting theater screens for another month or so. Needless to say, I was pretty blown away by the fact that Bond was back . . . big time!
Between takes, I interviewed director Martin Campbell, director of photography Phil Méheux, leading lady Izabella Scorupco, and various behind-the- scenes personnel about the film and Bond’s place in the modern world of the mid-’90s. Through it all, I was no doubt smiling like a kid in Q’s workshop.
Over the course of my few days on the set in England, I managed to travel quite a bit of the globe with the new Mr. Bond. We began in Cuba, at the brim of a secret satellite dish that the film’s villain intended to use to destroy society. From there it was about a five-minute walk to Saint Petersburg, Russia, where the bad guys were fleeing in a car, with Bond chasing them in a state- of-the-art tank(!).
Which is about where I left 007—after watching Bond zoom through Russia, I had to catch a cab to Heathrow Airport for my return flight to the United States. But as a parting shot, if you will, through the side window of the cab I was treated to the sight of an explosion in their version of Saint Petersburg, and one thought instantly flashed through my mind: I had survived my tour of James Bond’s world. Shaken, perhaps, but not stirred (sorry).
No surprise here, but my passion for Bond would continue through the four Pierce Brosnan films, and then the Daniel Craig efforts, that actor, despite early misgivings, proving himself to be a really close second to Connery. My interviews with various people involved with the films, both from the past and in the present, continued, and I even developed a fun rapport with Michael Wilson, stemming from a comment I made to him on GoldenEye regarding the fact it felt like it was going to be pretty radically different from what had come before.
“It’s not like the bad guy has a scar,” I said, to which he replied, “Well, he does have a scar.” “Okay, but it’s not like there’s a countdown to destruction at the end,” resulting in a sigh and him noting, “There is a countdown.” At that point, he let out a chuckle and said to no one in particular, “I’m trying to tell this guy how different the movie is, and it’s not working out so well.” That joke continued over the next couple of films. en, when Skyfall was opening, I was doing a phone interview with him and said, “C’mon, Michael. Make me a happy man. Tell me I’ve got my gun barrel back at the beginning of the film.” “Ed,” he said, “you’re not going to be a happy man,” which led to him telling me why there was no gun barrel sequence. I’m still not happy about it.
Last year my love for James Bond led to my cowriting the oral history book Nobody Does It Better with Mark A. Altman, which was an amazing experience, and, fueled by our mutual lifelong passion for 007, it was the definition of a labor of love. As I’m now in my sixth decade of life, there’s something comforting in knowing that the James Bond films are close to doing the same. Our journey together will continue.