This 1987 Starlog Magazine (#122) not only interviews Producer Michael Wilson about Timothy Dalton and The Living Daylights, it also contains a "silver anniversary salute" to celebrate the first 25 years of James Bond.
Producer/co-writer Michael Wilson recalls the search for the new James Bond that led Timothy Dalton into anti-terrorist action & adventure.
By Lee Goldberg.
Sean Connery is James Bond. That’s what the advertisements for the 007 adventure You Only Live Twice proclaimed back in 1967. But the statement was wrong. True, to many moviegoers, Sean Connery is the one and only James Bond. But that James Bond is dead. When Roger Moore portrayed James Bond, James Bond became Roger Moore. Alas, now Moore’s 007 is dead, too.
So forget Sean. Forget Roger. Now, Timothy Dalton is James Bond—whether you like it or not.
“When you cast a James Bond, you’re casting a leading actor. They aren’t character actors,” says Michael Wilson, producer and co-writer of The Living Daylights. “What that means is, the actors to a certain extent are playing themselves.”
One-time 007 George Lazenby wasn’t a leading man; he wasn’t even an actor. He was a male model and, hence, his characterization in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t so much a reflection of himself, but a pale reflection of Connery-as-Bond.
When Roger Moore played James Bond, he says he was “encouraged to impersonate myself.” His Bond was different than Connery’s Bond simply because, notes Moore,
“my personality is entirely different than his. I can’t play the cold-blooded killer that Sean can do so well, which is why I play it for laughs.”
When Wilson, who co-wrote and produced the last three 007 films, and veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum (STARLOG #68, 120) wrote The Living Daylights script, they didn’t know who would be James Bond—all they knew was that it wouldn’t be Roger Moore.
“Roger realized it was time for a change,” says Wilson, “time to get off the treadmill.” The producers—namely Wilson’s stepfather, executive producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli—didn’t argue with him. Suspending disbelief is one thing, but it was getting pretty hard for audiences to swallow a 57-year-old 007. Besides, Moore’s pricetag was pretty steep—reportedly more than $3 million a picture.
At first, the producers toyed with a radical reaction against the aged, tongue-in-cheek agent 007 that Moore had come to represent. Wilson and Maibaum crafted a story that would take Bond back to his origins, to his very first adventure as a spy.
“We thought as long as we were changing Bond, why not go for a younger man than we traditionally think of for the
role? Maybe do it as a period piece?” he recalls.
The writers wrote a treatment, and even screen-tested some younger actors, people under 30 years old, whom Wilson prefers not to name.
“It just didn’t work. There’s something about James Bond that makes you believe he wasn’t ever an apprentice,” remarks Wilson. “Part of Bond’s charm is the fact he is an expert, an expert in just about everything.”
So, the writers shelved that treatment (“We still may want to use the story some day,” Wilson claims) and began a new one, which eventually evolved into The Living Daylights. They still didn’t know who would be Bond, but knowing it wasn’t Roger Moore gave them some freedom.
“With Roger, the films were more of a romp. It was fun action/adventure,” says Wilson. Moore admittedly couldn’t play a tough guy convincingly, so the writers had to take that into account. Now, they didn’t. They could get tough.
The producers have paid lip service to “toughening” Bond before, most notably after the outer space silliness of Moonraker, ironically the biggest grossing of the 007 films. And while For Your Eyes Only did bring Bond down to Earth, it was still Roger Moore's Bond.
The last Bond film, A View To A Kill, was a big-budget, critically panned extravaganza that epitomized the Moore tenure as 007. Because it wasn’t well-received, “We did feel, as a reaction to that, we would go this direction,” says Wilson. And now, they weren’t bound by Roger Moore’s selfprofessed limitations.
“Roger brought his own style to the films, and you have to write scenes a certain way to fit that style,” admits Wilson.
The Living Daylights script was completed without an actor in mind, although, “We did know that, depending on whom we got and how the words fit in his mouth, some adjustments would have to be made,” Wilson says. “You’re generally dealing with dialogue changes and the way the scene is played rather than adding or subtracting scenes.”
The producers originally wanted Timothy Dalton, whom they had tested in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then later for For Your Eyes Only, but he was tied up indefinitely on the London Stage with Taming of the Shrew for its run and “it put him out of the running,” according to Wilson.
Scores of actors came in and were screentested acting out scenes (under John Glen’s direction) from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From
Russia with Love. The producers finally narrowed it down to Pierce Brosnan and “one other serious contender,” whom Wilson won’t name. United Artists, which finances the 007 films and distributes them worldwide, was rallying for Pierce Brosnan, a marketable name thanks to his years as TV’s Remington Steele.
“We thought, ‘Well, for someone who is available, he’s OK.’ We could have had a James Bond with Pierce Brosnan,” says Wilson. “We did want him. We would have hired him at that point.”
When NBC changed its mind about cancelling Remington Steele, MTM Enterprises, the production company which makes the show, held Brosnan to a contractual obligation to return.
MTM, however, did offer to delay production so Brosnan could be James Bond before returning to Remington Steele. Naturally, it was in MTM’s favor to do so. The publicity surrounding the Bond film, and the inevitable hoopla that would swirl around Brosnan as the new 007, could only stoke the popularity of Remington Steele. In the end, that possibility nixed the deal.
The 007 producers couldn’t live with Brosnan juggling two major roles. “We didn’t see how he could be two heroes in the audience’s mind,” Wilson observes.
More importantly, they didn’t want to see their big screen Bond as a small screen hero every week. If Brosnan could be seen as a rough equivalent to James Bond every week, for free, on television, it could seriously undercut the popularity and box-office viability of future 007 films.
“When this happened with Pierce, we stopped dead,” says Wilson. Luckily, The Taming of the Shrew closed and Dalton was now available. That was that. Brosnan was out, Dalton was in.
And, as the producers expected, adjustments had to be made in the script. Dalton wanted his character to capture the flavor of Ian Fleming’s literary Bond and be more of a human being than a suave superhero. For one thing, he did something few actors would ever do—he asked for his lines to be cut down.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about giving me a lot of dialogue, I would rather play it quietly,’ ” Wilson reveals. “He believes there’s more menace and strength in a man of few words, a man of action. And for him, it works.
“If you remember in Dr. No, there was a scene where a tarantula crawled up Bond’s arm. We saw him sweating and agonizing and, when it got to the pillow, he smashed
it with a shoe. Then, he ran in the bathroom and threw up.” Wilson says. “Now, that scene works from some actors and for others, it doesn’t.”
It wouldn’t work for Roger Moore. It does for Timothy Dalton. “That sort of human vulnerability has been a part of Bond, but with Roger’s style, it was less prominent,” remarks Wilson. “Roger was a fine Bond, he took us in a different direction than Sean or this fellow will. He created a very successful characterization.”
Dalton knows he’s inheriting a “Roger Moore audience” and is reportedly worried that they may not accept his harder approach. Wilson isn’t concerned. “People are naturally resistant to change. Certainly, the people who love Roger will need a period of adjustment,” he says. “The people who hate Roger Moore, and there are such people, will need a bit of time to get used to it, too. But by the film’s end, they’ll all be completely sold on Timothy Dalton.” Dalton gives the movies a “new lease on life,” according to Richard Maibaum, and Wilson agrees. “Absolutely. This takes us in a whole new direction.”
In many ways. Virtually the entire cast has been changed (though Desmond Llewelyn is still Q, and Walter Gotell is still General Gogol), and a new continuing character has been added—John Rhys-Davies as the head of the KGB. And over a b dozen children of veteran behind-the-scenes personnel—for instance, Broccoli’s children, now producers, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli—are taking on more responsibility with each film.
“We do have what you might say is an apprenticeship style of working,” Wilson says. “Based on the people who have tried to imitate us, it doesn’t seem we’re missing anything by not going ‘outside.’ We will go outside when we feel we need to. I don’t think changing for changing’s sake is good.”
Nor does Wilson entertain any serious notions of doing other film work. Why bother? “We seem to have the tiger by the tail with Bond,” he laughs. “Besides, there just isn’t time.
“We have an audience, and an expectation that every two years we will provide a film,” Michael Wilson says. “By the time we get one out, we start worrying about the next one. And before you know it, two years go
LEE GOLDBERG, STARLOG’s West Coast Correspondent, is a screenwriter whose work includes episodes of Spenser: For Hire. He profiled Richard Maibaum in STARLOG #120.