MI6 uncovers a rare Timothy Dalton interview in 1988 from the set of "Licence To Kill" in Key West, Florida...

Timothy Dalton in Key West
28th April 2011

Timothy Dalton licensed to fill Bond role - September 1st, 1988 (Key West, Florida, USA)
Days on a movie set are notoriously disappointing. First-timers whine that nothing ever seems to happen, and they're right, because filmmaking follows the ancient formula for combat: hours of almost unbelievable tedium punctuated by a few moments of stark terror.

The set of the latest James Bond adventure, "License Revoked," however, was almost always entertaining. In a Bond film, the set-ups take longer than usual because of all the special effects, but the payoffs are worth it. Besides, here one the Southernmost Location (Key West, Florida), where filming ended last week, you could watch as Timothy Dalton continued work on the reclamation of James Bond, move hero.

Dalton essentially is dragging the character of 007 back from the very brink of Bozohood, where Roger Moore had driven him. Dalton won't knock Roger Moore, but you can tell he agrees with the rest of us: 007 had become a Toon, and it was time to redefine him. Even the plot of the latest adventure - Bond on the trail of a vicious South American drug lord - is calculated to ground the series less in fancy than in "reality".

First, though, the Brits and the bubbas. There was some grousing along Key West's Trueman Avenue one day, when the boys from City Electric turned off the power for an early morning parachute drop and still didn't have it back on that afternoon - by which time the real jumpers were long gone, and Bond and his CIA sidekick, Felix Leiter, were in harnesses hanging from cranes, faking the jump.

But for the most part, relations between the locals and the largely British crew were cordial. A few lucky bubbas rented out their boats and served as shuttle drivers when the production was on the water out in the Gulf. Others - not so lucky, considering the pace of filmmaking - were cast as extras, from members of a wedding to altar boys.

Out on the water, on a patch of the Gulf that crew members insisted was called Snipe Cove, a marine research vessel had been converted to... a marine research vehicle. Renamed the WaveKrest, the oversize tub served as both prop and as headquarters for filming when the action was at sea.

Dalton, from his seat on the boat deck, tested the air tentatively and smiled a rueful smile. Like the extras back on Truman Avenue, he was waiting, waiting. Dalton, who has done Shakespeare and O'Neill and 007, doesn't mind the wait at all. It pays nicely, sitting. Particularly nicely this time, because this isn't the Shakespeare of the O'Neill. It's the 007, Dalton's second.

Dalton has a reputation for being "'difficult." On the set, many people seem quite terrified of him, even though they all call him Timothy behind his back. Reputation notwithstanding, Dalton has a big smile on this waiting day, and he is easy and can be. The only time he tightens up is when asked about the stunts and how many he does. Dalton is concerned with the illusion of Bond, and illusion he wants to preserve.

He has spent the morning watching faceless men in diving suits do many things he wouldn't do, and he will spend the next day faking a parachute drop, but he does not want to take the chance that something he will say will break the spell of Bond the superhero. "I have utmost respect for our professional stunt team," is all he'll say about the subject for the record. "But I don't jump from planes, no."

The surprise, perhaps, is how much this intense, ambitious actor cares for the job of Bond, which has seemed for so long such a goofy enterprise. Dalton, along with Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, has been pushing for more topical scripts and a more dramatic, more believable Bond. He's getting both.

"If you're going for something current, you have to go with what is perceived as a universal threat - and the drug mobs certainly are," he said. "we hope that the story will be more interesting than the locations -and that's not always been true. It's still an escapist fantasy movie, of course. Even the early Bonds had a wonderful sense of reality - what was wonderful about them was that you very easily suspended you disbelief."

"Your opportunities for depth and for developing a character depend on what the story allows you, of course. But I went to the books - not the films, even the early ones - I went to Ian Fleming's books for the character of Bond. It happens that the early films captured the spirit of Fleming's Bond best. That Bond is capable of behaving in an objective way, as a professional, but he can respond with revulsion to the terrible things that happen. Remember, Sean Connery would have a nasty moment, and he'd throw up."

Dalton has thus scaled down James Bond - taken the leering caricature away, restoring some vulnerability to the character - even as he has made him younger, tougher. He's very conscious of Bond as a hero, however odd the company he's in..

"Man should be able to identify himself with his heroes," he said. "a hero has to be the same as you, but capable of being able to pull something special out when he needs to. When Rambo started, he was in one sense a victim - so you could relate to him as a hero. The first 'Rambo' was actually a good movie. And Rocky was an underdog, put upon by the forces of society. Of course, the Bond films have become an institution, a ritual. But I'd like to capture that extra audience, beyond the usual Bond crowd, because it's a good film."

Dalton resists the temptation to compare himself to Roger Moore, who took 007 to a 44 waist, but it's clear that Dalton intended to remake James Bond from the ground up. "Roger Moore was absolutely right for those films," he said. "I couldn't have done what he did. How do you handle flying a rocket plane that comes out of the backside of a horse?"

How indeed. It was widely observed, on the other hand, that with "The Living Daylights" Dalton had begun to handle Bond's infamous libido more delicately - that, in keeping with the new morality of the Age of AIDS, 007 had suddenly become monogamous. Dalton begs to disagree. "Total bull!" he exclaimed. "That hasn't been in anybody's mind."

"The irony here, because they've gone on for more than 25 years, is that there's this fantasy about the 'Bond girls.' The films have always been publicists' exercises. You see pictures of swimming pools surrounded by bathing beauties, but you never see those women in the movie. It's something that journalists seize upon. There's a fantasy about the Bonds that exists outside the movies. In fact, there's always been a single leading lady. There's always been the damsel in distress, whom he helps and who then winds up helping him."

Sean Connery aside, is there really room for a serious actor doing serious business in these movies? Dalton, who takes them very seriously indeed - he does not like to be photographed out of character, and is very aware of lenses pointed his way - seems to believe there is.

"I went into this with my eyes wide open, having turned it down twice before," he said. "And actually, I'm very happy with the side effects. To do a Eugene O'Neill play in the West End and to attract so many people who came out saying, 'This is real life!' - that's a wonderful benefit."

Key West was another. "It's paradise, isn't it?" Dalton said, waving an arm at the blue horizon. "Paradise". He changed to scuba gear for the next scene, a diving sequence. Even as he stood on the stern of the WaveKrest, waiting for instructions, it started to rain.

Recent Articles - Licence To Kill
  • 0135: Debrief Licence To Kill
  • Vamping With Clapton
  • The Plot Thickens
  • The Lost Session
  • 0115: Licence To Tweak
  • Ultimate Bond
  • Frank McRae (1944-2021)