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Timothy Dalton reflects on his experience as James Bond

09-May-2014 • Bond News

AV Club scored a long interview with former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton to cover his career so far. Primarily to promote his new series "Penny Dreadful", the interview covered a number of his other films, some rather obscure, and of course his two outings as 007. Click here for the complete interview.

AVC: The story from several sources has been that you were actually pitched the role of James Bond many years before you eventually accepted it.

TD: I was. After Sean Connery left.

AVC: And you just didn’t feel you were up to it?

TD: Oh, it just seemed like a ridiculous notion! I mean, I was very flattered that someone should even think that I should, but I don’t know, I was in my early 20s, I think, and… hey, look, on an intelligent level, it just seemed idiotic to take over from Sean Connery. I mean, if I was perfect for it, if I thought I’d be brilliant in it, if I’d loved the idea of taking over, I would’ve still said “no.” It is idiotic to take over from Sean Connery at the time when those movies were… I can remember as a kid going to see them. Not a child, but I was a teenager. I mean, you can’t take over for Sean Connery in that series at its height! After Dr. No, after From Russia With Love, after Goldfinger… I don’t know how many more he did, but to me, those were always the three great ones. You don’t take over. So of course I said no.

So now the corollary of that statement is to ask, “Then why did you say yes later?” [Laughs.] Well, because it was later, you know? There’d been Connery, there’d been [George] Lazenby, there’d been Roger Moore. I think now everybody was now used to the idea that this series was gonna last. No one was trying to cheaply exploit the success, which is a path that’s doomed to failure. This was a series where the producers were honestly trying to make each one better than the one before, a series that the producers took pride in and wanted to maintain. And interestingly enough, I’m sure that’s because it was still controlled by a family, the Broccolis. And [Harry] Saltzman with him in the first place, but then Saltzman went. If it would’ve been a studio, it might’ve been an entirely different trajectory for the film series, but because it was Mr. Broccoli and his family… You know, it was their life. They took pride in it and were trying to make good. So that’s a plus. And now that three people had already played it and I was lots older—I must’ve been 10, 12, 15 years older—I thought it was worth a shot. [Laughs.]

AVC: When you came in, you did so with a profound desire to hew as close to the original Ian Fleming version of the character as possible.

TD: Well, I came in under certain circumstances. The prevailing wisdom at the time—which I would say I shared—was that the series, whilst very entertaining, had become rather spoof-like. It was one-liners and raised eyebrows and it had become, let’s say, too lighthearted. And the producer, Mr. Broccoli, felt that, and he wanted to try and bring it back to something more like its original roots with those Sean Connery films. I had loved them all, and I had loved the books. But I think ultimately for anything to be successful, an audience must empathize. They must also get involved, but they must be given enough to suspend disbelief so that they’re truly able to become involved with the story. That’s not to say that there can’t be any comedy. There should always be comedy. Comedy is a great thing.

So that was the loose framework that we sort of embarked on, but then you find that nobody else wants to change it all! [Laughs.] The studio doesn’t want to change it, the people that work on it don’t want to change it… Everyone’s happy with what they know. And everyone intellectually says, “Well, yes, we should, it was getting a bit stale, it was getting a bit this, that, and the other,” but nobody actually wants to. So it wasn’t as easy as one would hope. I mean, now they have. I think now, with Daniel [Craig], they have. But that was, what, almost 20 years later that they actually embarked on something more believable?

AVC: So how do you look back on The Living Daylights and License To Kill, then?

TD: Well, it’s… it’s strange, and I should be careful what I say, because, of course, everyone is interested in Bond. It’s almost like a bracket or a bubble in one’s life. Everybody treats the idea of a Bond film different to anything else. I mean, journalists come knowing the story they want to write, whereas on a normal piece of work we’re all discovering what to write about. We’re discovering what we’re acting. It’s part of the creative process. But in a Bond movie? No. People know what they want to write about. And they know, really, what they want. Everyone’s got an opinion, from the top of the studio down to the guy in the street. But you’re sort of… outside.

No one, no matter how well someone can communicate, can tell you—and I certainly can’t really communicate accurately—what it is like to be the actor playing James Bond. The only actors who can are the other actors who’ve played the part. It’s kind of astonishing, really. You are in kind of a bubble. It’s real, it’s valuable, it’s exciting, and it can give great pleasure. And yet it’s somehow unreal. No, forget the “unreal” bit. But it’s somehow outside the normal course of what we all share in.

AVC: But what an experience.

TD: What an experience, indeed. A fantastic experience.

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