Over the long holiday weekend here in Montréal, I spent a minimal amount of time on the internet perusing this and that, unsurprisingly reserving a modicum of energy for Bond. A fairy well known online publication opted to share a cheekily written article that listed the James Bonds based on their acting abilities. While one could discern that the author’s tongue was, to an extent, planted in his or her cheek, parts of the article did genuinely argue why so-and-so actor was superior to so-and-so actor and thus deserved a superior ranking.
Most of what follows must be pre-faced by the admission that I care very little for lists. I’ve written some back in the day when I thought them interesting, but for a few years already have only contributed when whatever online film review outlet I contribute to has asked me to share a collection of “favourite films of the past year”. Other than that, I simply don’t engage in the activity of producing rakings of things I like. I like what I like, some of which I like a bit more than others, but I still like what I like a bit less. Get it? I’m using this space to share this nugget of personal truth because I don’t live under a rock: bloggers and web content providers love rankings. Few things earn as many visits to a website or blog than a title that says a certain “thing” will be ranked. Don’t mistake me, sharing a list of favourites or least favourites can spark interesting conversation. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea. I sometimes get invited to a film review podcast where one of the segments is to rank scenes or films based on a given theme. Of course I participate because I know the hosts and we enjoy talking movies and it encourages conversation. But these arguments erupt over ‘what should be ranked lower’ or is ‘ranked too high!’…I simply cannot get invested in that.
Compounding the issue is that reality that I ham a big 007 fan. It comes as no surprise that once someone begins to enumerate reasons, be it in written or spoken form, why a certain actor that donned the famous tux is not as good as the other fella, I bristle just a bit. I love James Bond through and through and find it rather trying to compare one actor to another in negative light. Comparing strengths, comparing the tone they brought to the part, comparing the physicality, those are analyses that I enjoy partaking in, and yes the more negative approach will have to occasionally be flirted with, but a list in which I state that actor A was better than actor B is not something I believe I can bring myself to do. Much like the hosts of the James Bond Radio podcast, I have a strong affinity for every actor that has stepped into 007’s shoes. They are not the same, some brought quite different qualities to the role (the jump from Moore in AVTAK to Dalton in TLD is startling).
They each brought a bit of themselves to the part. When playing Bond, certain things cannot be tempered with. He needs a level of sophistication, he needs to be a quick thinker, he needs a degree of suaveness, he needs to show off physical prowess, he needs to be highly educated and knowledgeable of the world, etc. Despite that those aspects and others are essential to the character of Bond, they can be played at in different ways, hence the actor’s privilege in injecting their personal strengths into the role. Bond doesn’t have to played in exactly the same fashion every time, and that’s in large part what has made him such a special cinematic creation, the character’s malleability. Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig have all most certainly played 007, yet each did so in their idiosyncratic ways.
For the longest time I avoided answering the question as to which Bond is my favourite. I couldn’t think of an answer because I love them all so much. Luckily, and perhaps bizarrely given that most of my friends know about my fandom, I actually haven’t been asked that question very often. Nevertheless, I always stumbled my way through answers that essentially boiled down to “I’m not sure.” But I recently discovered my answer, one that not only speaks to my appreciation of what every actor has gifted the franchise with but one that I genuinely, truthfully feel in my heart. If you don’t like it, too bad. If you don’t believe me, don’t waste your time here and bark up another tree elsewhere.
My favourite James Bond actor is the one that played the part in the most recent film I watched.
I revisited TLD a few days ago in light of its 30th anniversary so I was on a bit of a Dalton kick for a day or two (the following morning I ordered my coffee at the café through gritted teeth). When I watched MR last month for a special live Twitter event to commemorate Sir Roger’s passing, I tried to squeeze out as many cheesy one liners I could at work for a couple of days. When I watch a Craig you better be sure I feel energized to work out a bit more (I have in fact started working out but Craig’s physicality is definitely extra inspiration), Connery makes me feel more confident in myself (minus the slapping of women’s faces and bums), Lazenby kind of makes me feel more in tune with my emotions and Brosnan has me walking like the coolest cucumber in the room (and maybe just a wee bit cocky?). Sometimes I re-watch their individual films and see something different in the performance from what I just wrote about and that new angle will inspire me. Lazenby actually makes me feel a bit like Craig because he was so athletically gifted. It’s not always the same thing. And that’s exactly the point: every actor played his James Bond, but each was still, unquestionably, the James Bond.
I believe it was Cubby Broccoli who was quoted as saying that the role is bigger than the actor playing it. How could he be wrong? The franchise has lasted 6 decades and counting with 6 different actors and counting. If only one actor could truly handle the role, the franchise would have died long ago because audiences would not have responded in kind.