With casting rumours hotting up on Bond 23, MI6 looks back to 2003 and the media frenzy surrounding the purported Aishwarya Rai Bond 21 casting...

Bond Girl Casting Rumours

16th June 2011

Amongst fans, Aishwarya Rai is infamous thanks to her tenuous connection to the James Bond film franchise and her "almost" casting in the early 2000s. In April 2003 news broke that the former Miss World and the Mangalore-born filmstar was in contention for a role in James Bond 21.

Dedicated fans of the franchise may recall, that at the time, it was expected successful 1990s 007 actor, Pierce Brosnan would return for a fifth outing as the British super-spy. With "Die Another Day" still screening around the world, Rai's name was dropped into the mix for the lead Bond girl amid an otherwise blank sheet of possibilities. Little did we know... this would be one of the rumours that would simply not go away.

It all began with claims by Rai's PA that Eon Productions' agent in London was approaching the Indian star - who to date had not made big impression on Hollywood, but had enjoyed success in a raft of Indian films - asking about her availability for James Bond 21.

The AFP carried the purported quote from Rai's people: "It is still premature. But the agency guys are in town and have shown interest in discussing the role with Aishwarya."

According to the media the agency that had approached Rai's people on behalf of Eon was to be kept confidential. As far as many of the world's media outlets were concern, Aishwarya Rai was set to be the first Indian Bond girl in the series' 41-year history.

A mere 10 days later, Rai's name was being touted in association with James Bond 21 once more. This time, it was claimed that the press had their hands on details of a secret meeting in Bollywood, with another casting agent for Eon Productions. The name of the agency was Imagio Entertainments and they spoke to the world's media, explaining that Rai was the only Indian under consideration, but that others were in the running for a role. The news appealed to many, as Eon had ("Die Another Day" aside) a penchant for casting non-English, would-be Hollywoodites with successful careers in their homelands. Aishwarya Rai seemed to fit the profile.

Despite a denial from Imagio Entertainments, the tabloids began to speculate about other Indian stars that might be under contention, names dropped included: former Miss world Priyanka Chopra, former Miss Universe Lara Dutta and young star Preity Zinta.

The agency told the press: "Aishwarya is an extremely talented woman and we are in daily contact with her regarding the project after our meeting with her before she was discharged from the Hinduja Hospital" (Rai was injured on the set of her film "Khaki" shortly before talks were due to begin).

 

Hari Singh, Rai's Indian-based agent spoke out at the same time: "Everything has to be kept confidential at the moment, but of course it's exciting for her." Singh also 'confirmed' that Rai would be available during the time period Bond producers needed her, should other things fall into place.

With all this theorising, and with the Indian agents lapping up the attention, Eon Productions spoke out on 15th April 2003 after more than 10 days of tabloid speculation and quotes from various parties claiming to represent the model and actress.

Eon Productions gave a statement to the Times of India with the intent of debunking and cutting the rumours off at the source. "These are rumours. We have not approached Aishwarya... we have no script, no casting agent, not even a date for the film", said Catherine McCormack of Eon Productions back in 2003.

The production company's representative did not rule out the possibility of casting an Indian, or working with the tallent agency: "We have never asked them to do any work for us. When we get a script, well get a casting agent and they will start to look around."

Most were content with this explanation - with Bond's media "buying-power" it would not have been the first time that 007's name was used in conduction with a promo for an actress or agency. In the mean time, stories of a Jinx spin-off hit the news wires to very mixed reaction, dividing followers of the film franchise, and almost a year passed before Rai returned to the spotlight.

Come 6th January 2004, the Times of India were running rumours of Rai's involvement in the pre-production of Bond 21... again! This time, it was said, there was a caveat on her signing on to be an infamous Bond girl. The Times claimed Rai was insisting on a body-double for any sex scene she may be required to shoot. The paper carried 'quotes' from the actress herself, noting that her conservative upbringing left the model uncomfortable with the kinds of requirements the inevitable 12+ film would include. She was also noted to have met incumbent 007 star Pierce Brosnan at a party: "Pierce kept looking at me and the next thing was the casting agent for the film got in touch and asked if I would like to be a Bond girl." Along with Rai's name, the tabloids touted two other Indian stars: Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta.

Two days later the rumours were again denied, this time by her US agents. "This is absolutely untrue," was the response. "The entire James Bond situation is nothing more than a rumour. Ash is not the next Bond girl...There is no James Bond script in hand." Not only was the casting opportunity denied, the story about the chance meet with Brosnan was also dismissed.

On 23rd January 2004, despite denials from Eon Productions nine months prior, despite the US agent making a categoric statement against the coverage, the Bollywood star herself spoke out. Rai went on record with the Times of India: "Once we're past the discussion stage and something is finalized, I may be able to shed some light."

The Hindustan Times also carried an interview with the now famous, almost-Bond girl: "I did meet the people who wanted to cast me in the Bond film, so I put them to my agents. They told me that if they used an Asian character they would come to me. They were scripting the role at the time. Since then, I have not been contacted."

The ridiculous spate of rumours, convoluted messages from many sources was lapped up by the tabloids, not just in India, but internationally. Bond 21, which ultimately became "Casino Royale" starring a new 007, Daniel Craig (the sixth man to play the spy to date), had its share of false starts. Casting for the Bond girl, Ian Fleming's famous Vesper Lynd, was not an overnight process. In fact, Eva Green, who won the role of the doomed lover, was not cast until after principal photography commenced on "Casino Royale".


Above: The new 007 star, Daniel Craig, and his two Bond 21 girls, - Eva Green and Caterina Murino.

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