Timothy Dalton reflects on his experience as James Bond
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 didnât 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 donât know, I was in my early 20s, I think, andâ¦ 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 Iâd be brilliant in it, if Iâd loved the idea of taking over, I wouldâve still said âno.â It is idiotic to take over from Sean Connery at the time when those movies wereâ¦ I can remember as a kid going to see them. Not a child, but I was a teenager. I mean, you canât take over for Sean Connery in that series at its height! After Dr. No, after From Russia With Love, after Goldfingerâ¦ I donât know how many more he did, but to me, those were always the three great ones. You donât take over. So of course I said no.
So now the corollary of that statement is to ask, âThen why did you say yes later?â [Laughs.] Well, because it was later, you know? Thereâd been Connery, thereâd been [George] Lazenby, thereâd 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 thatâs 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, Iâm sure thatâs 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 wouldâve been a studio, it mightâve been an entirely different trajectory for the film series, but because it was Mr. Broccoli and his familyâ¦ You know, it was their life. They took pride in it and were trying to make good. So thatâs a plus. And now that three people had already played it and I was lots olderâI mustâve been 10, 12, 15 years olderâI 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 timeâwhich I would say I sharedâwas that the series, whilst very entertaining, had become rather spoof-like. It was one-liners and raised eyebrows and it had become, letâs 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 theyâre truly able to become involved with the story. Thatâs not to say that there canât 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 doesnât want to change it, the people that work on it donât want to change itâ¦ Everyoneâs happy with what they know. And everyone intellectually says, âWell, yes, we should, it was getting a bit stale, it was getting a bit this, that, and the other,â but nobody actually wants to. So it wasnât 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, itâsâ¦ itâs strange, and I should be careful what I say, because, of course, everyone is interested in Bond. Itâs almost like a bracket or a bubble in oneâs 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 weâre all discovering what to write about. Weâre discovering what weâre acting. Itâs 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. Everyoneâs got an opinion, from the top of the studio down to the guy in the street. But youâre sort ofâ¦ outside.
No one, no matter how well someone can communicate, can tell youâand I certainly canât really communicate accuratelyâwhat it is like to be the actor playing James Bond. The only actors who can are the other actors whoâve played the part. Itâs kind of astonishing, really. You are in kind of a bubble. Itâs real, itâs valuable, itâs exciting, and it can give great pleasure. And yet itâs somehow unreal. No, forget the âunrealâ bit. But itâs 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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