By LEE GOLDBERG
Meet the new Bond, same as the old Bond—that's the philosophy of the British actor who makes a dynamic debut as the latest 007.
Photo: Although Dalton’s Bond spews fewer witticisms, he will resume some old vices.
The new secret agent is frightened, and he has good reason to be. He nervously lights yet another Benson & Hedges special filter and eyes his dozen adversaries warily.
Their weapons are poised to fire, and his future is on the line.
“Are you ready for the third-degree?” asks one of the steely-eyed interrogators, pointing a pen at him. And Timothy Dalton nods, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Thus begins, on the morning after the gala Royal Premiere of The Living Daylights in London, what promises to be months of grueling interviews with the world press. Dalton faces this daunting task in the same way any secret agent would—reveal as little as possible, and stick to the prepared speech.
Granted, Dalton isn’t exactly trapped alone in some grimy cell in some evil villain’s clutches—he’s luxuriously ensconsed in the plush Dorchester Hotel and protected by a cadre of smiling publicists. But the stakes are still life or death, in the service of Her Majesty.
At risk is Dalton’s career, and the fate of a billion dollar industry so important to Britain that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited the set and hosted the premiere.
Dalton has accepted the coveted Licence To Kill, and as the new James Bond, he can’t just play the role, he as to make it his own. If he succeeds, the 25-year-old series survives
LEE GOLDBERG, STARLOG’s West Coast Correspondent, is a screenwriter whose work includes episodes of Spenser: For Hire. He interviewed Bond producer Michael Wilson in STARLOG #122.
Photo: Toning down on the fantastical, Dalton takes his Licence To Kill or be killed quite seriously.
To make more millions for the moviemakers and the Royal coffers—and he will become an international star able to command a stellar salary and major roles.
If Dalton fails, he may suffer the fate of George Lazenby, who departed the series after his single stint as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and has lanquished in obscurity playing 007 clones ever since (STARLOG #75).
Dalton is well aware of the precarious position he’s in. “If I cock this up,” he says, “it’s going to put a full stop to my career for a year or two.”
Which is why he is reluctantly facing the press. He doesn’t like doing it, especially when they start asking questions about his personal life, but the interviews have to be done. The people have to know the movie is there, and that it’s good.
The big question, and the one he has best armed himself to answer, is whether he can overcome the memories of Sean Connery and Roger Moore and, more importantly, whether he can bring something new to the role.
When Roger Moore became 007, he overcame the unwelcome comparisons to Sean Connery by completely reshaping the role to fit his own light-hearted personality.
Photo: One thing that remains constant in the Bond formula despite the license change is the action.
And Dalton has a similar problem: He can’t play the wise-cracking playboy Moore created. “I knew there was only one approach I could take,” notes Dalton. Dalton knows he is inheriting an audience that thinks Roger Moore and Janies Bond are one and the same. Rather than tackle the issue head-on, Dalton has wisely chosen to side-step it completely by embracing a higher authority—Ian Fleming, the late author of the James Bond novels.
“The only way I can work as an actor is to find out what the man is I’ve got to play. In this instance it’s right there in the Ian Fleming books,” says Dalton, in what has become his tireless refrain to reporters. His Bond is Fleming’s Bond. It’s almost as if he’s invoking Ian Fleming’s name to justify his hard, realistic portrayal to Moore audiences, as if to say, It was Moore who was doing it wrong, not me.
While Roger Moore has said he was “encouraged to impersonate myself,” Dalton says he tried to “capture the original essence and spirit of the books that were the series’ springboard. I don’t think it’s right to just make an abstraction, to just say, ‘How would I play Bond?’ That, to me, is not the correct approach. The last thing I would ever aim to do would be to impersonate myself.”
Actually, the Bond producers feel Dalton must if he is to make the role truly his own. And he probably has. But rather than have his Bond compete with Moore’s Bond, he’s letting Fleming’s Bond take the heat. After all, Fleming is a far stronger, and better-known, personality to take on Moore than Dalton himself.
The James Bond character Dalton found in his pre-production crash course in Fleming literature is “a very real human being, not a superman at all,” he observes. “Fleming was always writing about how anxiety-ridden Bond was, how his guts were wrenching in fear, how frightened he was, how he would take pills or drinks to get him through it. There’s no doubt that Bond has tenacity and resolution, but he’s an ordinary man beset with moral confusions. Bond often thought he had a dirty, nasty job.”
Dalton takes the role seriously, something Roger Moore openly admitted he didn’t. “That’s the only way I could do it, because that’s the way all work should be taken,” says Dalton. That’s good news to fans of Connery’s Bond, but Dalton is careful not to invite comparisons between himself and Connery, nor is he foolhardy enough to criticize Moore and risk the ire of his fans.
“I wouldn’t say anything against Roger Moore whatsoever because, God knows, he made the movies a terrific success,” says Dalton, on the verge of a shrewd discourse that once again downplays Moore’s portrayal and dubs his own as more authentic. “Those films developed, they became rather fantastical films, didn’t they? They became very gimmicky, lighthearted films. Whether that was the writers moving towards Moore or Moore moving to the writers or just a good creative blending of the two,--1 don’t know. But I don’t think that was Ian Fleming.”
And guess what is? Dalton would have us believe that The Living Daylights is pure Fleming, and that Timothy Dalton isn’t a new James Bond, he’s the old James Bond.
It’s a pretty nifty strategy, and best of all, it works. Just when it seemed like the Bond series had finally become tired, The Living Daylights takes the character back to his roots, back to the wild espionage stories and the ruthless spy who takes his job very seriously.
Photo: Feeling betrayed, Kara (Maryam d’Abo) turns Bond (Dalton) over to Necros (Andreas Wisniewski). But it’s safe bet that 007 survives for future sequels.
While Dalton makes it seem as though he single-handedly turned Bond around, he does, under questioning, admit that “the script was pretty well there. But you have to realize the script is a blueprint. There is a story there that has all the potential to be a very good film, but during the course of working, there are some creative alterations.”
The “creative alteration” of dialogue was where Dalton was allowed to reshape Bond so the character fit him—Timothy Dalton, not Ian Fleming. The biggest alteration was the cutting of as much dialogue as possible. “Film is a visual medium,” says Dalton. “If you can cut away anything that’s unnecessary or superfluous, make your point more economically, so much the better. I mean, we cut quite a lot, yes.”
Photo: Denying earlier publicity reports, Dalton insists the Bond’s near monogamy with Kara (Maryam d’Abo) this time out is solely a function of the character and story.
And the first thing to go were the jokes. “I cut most of those flippant lines. They had to go. There’s still real good humor in the movie, but it’s not humor in the flip sense—it comes from the situation and from the believability of it. I think what we did was right, but there are still some terrific one-liners, aren’t there? Some big laughs.” Dalton’s Bond may have cut back on his jokes but he regained his penchant for smoking—a vice abandoned late in the Connery era and resumed only briefly during Moore’s reign. It’s not so much a return to Fleming’s character but a reflection of Dalton’s own pack-a-day habit.
But Bond’s near-monogamy in The Living Daylights is neither a reflection of Fleming’s character nor Dalton’s morals, nor is it a statement about AIDS. “It’s absolute baloney. James Bond is not defending the realm against AIDS,” says Dalton. “It’s nonsense. Bond can’t get involved with women on a mission, it’s too dangerous, he can’t afford it. He has to be quite ruthless.”
The Living Daylights is the culmination of a 15-year courtship between Dalton and the series producers, who first made a pass at him in 1971 when Connery finally left the series after Diamonds Are Forever. Dalton had already won critical acclaim on the London stage in various plays and on the screen in The Lion in Winter, but he wasn’t interested in having the License.
“You couldn’t beat Connery, it would have been pretty damn stupid to try. I had a very good career going in movies as a young man, having done Cromwell, Wuthering Heights and Mary Queen of Scots, and trying to take over from Sean would have been stupid,” he remarks. “But a more objective and practical reason is, I was 24 or 25 years old and Bond can’t be that young.”
He went on to do such films as Sextette, Agatha and Flash Gordon as well as various television and London stage w6rk before he was, once again, wooed by the Bond folks for For Your Eyes Only when Roger Moore was making noises about quitting. But Moore didn’t, and Dalton went on to star in the movie The Doctor and the Devils and the TV mini-series Jane Eyre.
Bond for Glory
After A View To A Kill, both Moore and the producers decided it was time for Moore to quit. Suspending disbelief is one thing, but it was getting pretty hard for audiences to swallow a 57-year-old 007. And it was getting even harder for the producers to swallow Moore’s salary demands, which were now reportedly in the $3 million range.
The producers popped the question to Dalton, who had to turn them down once again—he was tied up doing his own Shakespeare production on the London stage. Pierce Brosnan, TV’s Remington Steele, was eventually signed, but when he couldn’t wiggle out of his TV contract, he was dropped.
“Then, someone had the bright idea of asking if I was out of my play now. So, they called up and I said that yes, we are coming off next week, but I’ve just signed up to go to America and do Brenda Starr” recalls Dalton. “But, since I was only on that for four or five weeks, they said, ‘Fine, we can deal with that.’ They started shooting. When Brenda Starr finished, I left America on a Saturday, got to London on a Sunday, and started work as Bond on a Monday.”
In a scene taken directly from the short story, “The Living Daylights,” Bond (Dalton) awaits the assassin he is assigned to terminate.
Although Dalton doesn’t command a salary in the Connery or Moore range just yet, he does admit, “I’m getting very handsomely paid, but when you’ve been very fortunate to start in a film like Lion in Winter and to work in movies on and off for 20 years, you get very well paid. My salary in this movie represents an increase, a most significant increase, but that reflects the nature of my responsibility in this project and, of course, if it’s a very long schedule, that does add up. But, as a professional, I have a professional price.”
He has two very basic criteria for choosing his projects, and he used those same criteria in weighing whether or not to play Bond—and accept all the responsibility (and press) that comes with it.
“First there’s my artistic criterion—do I like the story, is there something about it that appeals to me? Then, there’s the purely pragmatic one—do I need the money? Life is always a blending of the two.”
Like Brenda Starr, a January release with Brooke Shields. In that, Dalton gets to play “a man who has one eye and lives in the depths of the Amazon jungle, where he drinks the juice of black orchids to avoid going insane,” Dalton explains. “I mean, certainly there’s a curiosity to that. I’ve also always enjoyed working in America very much and here was another nice opportunity to work there.”
One reason he finally decided to do Bond was that the benefits outweighed the downsides. “Anybody has qualms about any job they do,” comments Dalton. “You have to look at things objectively and rationally. What you have to believe is that you can overcome the problems.
“I had never done anything like a Bond movie before. It was the first modern contemporary action role I had ever done. There is also the challenge of pulling off a major international picture, one of the few that offers a leading part to a British actor.
“I was very conscious of the problems of taking on The Living Daylights. There is a weight of responsibility. But if it’s a success, it will increase my commercial viability. It should help my career. Films are business, a ruthless business. If you are successful, you get offered more roles. Already, many more scripts have come through my door. If it increases choice, or if it increases my ability to get some kind of backing for films that would normally not get made, then that’s terrific.”
But whether Dalton, who is signed for four 007 adventures, will get to enjoy that “star” status is still yet to be seen. So, he’s grudgingly traveling around the world, talking to reporters, fending off questions about himself, and espousing his party line.
As his publicists pull him away to yet another pack of quote-hungry reporters, Timothy Dalton snubs out his cigarette and lets a little pride sneak out.
“I hope the audiences get a cracking good piece of entertainment from The Living Daylights,” he says. “It’s a movie that I feel is more believable, more watchable, more interesting, and much more realistic.”
[Source: Starlog Magazine #123, October 1987, P.37-40]