Every actor to play secret agent James Bond has brought their own individual style to the role, but no one gave 007 more charming cheek than Sir Roger Moore.
Moore was the third performer to assume 007’s license to kill – following in the footsteps of originator Sean Connery and one-shot star George Lazenby – and also the one who served the longest in the role, appearing in seven official films over the course of a dozen years between 1973 and 1985. And while Connery is generally viewed as the definitive Bond, Moore amassed his own legions of fans by playing Bond with a more debonair detachment, all the while delivering gallows-humor quips and double entendre dialogue. “He’s lovely,” says the current James Bond, Daniel Craig. “I’m a huge fan of his.”
“[Roger] brought enormous charisma and charm and the self‑deprecatory humor, says Barbara Broccoli, the daughter of original Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and one of the current caretakers of the franchise. “It's so much a signature of who he is. I think he's very underrated as an actor. He was always great in Bond, but he's a little bit too self-deprecatory about himself and his abilities because he has such a style. I know he's not very comfortable with that idea, that he's good, but he really is very special. And certainly, his Bond was very much of his time and very enduring. We meet so many people who just love the panache and the style and the ease with which he played the character – but it was difficult. It's not easy to pull off, and I think he was a fabulous Bond.”
A vivid and witty raconteur, Moore has assembled some of his favorite memories, anecdotes and observations about his place in the pantheon of the Bond phenomenon for the lavishly illustrated memoir "Bond On Bond: Reflections On 50 Years of James Bond Movies," and after being tracked down staying under a very Bondian secret alias in posh New York hotel room, the 85-year-old actor looked back on his place in the elite fraternity of actors who’ve assumed the mantle of novelist Ian Fleming’s super spy.
Are you enjoying the 50-year celebration?
Well, it's been very interesting, of course, since we tied in with bringing out the new book. The book just happily coincides with the fiftieth anniversary. Which is what the publishers thought would be auspicious timing. Not planned at all. [Chuckles] And the fact is that there is a lot of interest in Bond, and continues to be. And the new film, I think, guarantees another 50 years of Bond and the Bond franchise. It's quite an extraordinary piece of work, beautifully directed by Sam Mendes.
What do you think has kept Bond, unlike any other film franchise, still vital and still vibrant for audiences?
I think because it's become an old friend with audiences. You know, we're going back to the beginning of the '60s, so grandfathers take their grandsons to see it. Originally it was fathers went to see it, then they took their sons. And now those fathers take their sons. And it sticks to the formula, basically: that good will beat evil eventually. It's White Knight galloping against the forces of evil. There are always beautiful Bond ladies, interesting gadgets, cars and all that sort of thing that men like. And that women have grown to like them, too, I think – they may be going just to please their husbands, but I think now that they can see Daniel Craig in his brief, brief shorts so it's even more attractive to them.
What did you enjoy about playing James Bond?
The fun of it was that I was working with friends. All the crews were virtually the same crews most of the time, and working with the same crews, you didn't have to go through that awkward thing of finding sort of things in common, to do, to talk about. I had the same makeup people, the same hair people, the same costumers. It was like an old family. And working with Cubby [Broccoli] was a joy and a delight, and rather because he was a caring producer. He would do almost anything for the crews – even cooking! He took great care of them when they were on foreign locations.
If, for example, there were casinos, as there are in quite a number of places around the world, he would not let the crews take their full salaries, just to guarantee that when they got home they would have something left. And then I watched him go around in the casinos where we'd be on location and he takes...He used to take a pile of chips around with him and he would put them down in front of the crew to enjoy. And we also had a running backgammon game that went on through every film. It was just fun to do with fun directors and a generally wonderful, friendly atmosphere.
From reading both of your books, it seems like you took that very high level of fame and recognition factor in stride. Was it that easy to be that famous in the heyday of your stint as Bond?
I sort of never had one of those moments in my career where ‘This is make or break.’ I just happily went on and went from one thing to the other. Gradually became more and more famous or whatever you like to call it. And since I had 21 years working with UNICEF, that celebrity, whatever it is that you get, that's proved useful in opening doors around the world when you want to get to see people of some importance. It helps a great deal. I think because, first of all, they're curious as to why some cockamamie actor thinks he can talk on the subject of children's problems.
Did you ever have an opportunity to chat with the other actors who've played Bond?
Is there sort of like a James Bond club? Do we all get together? No. [Laughs] I used to see quite a bit of Sean when he was in Europe and in California. But now he's in the Bahamas full time so I don't get to see him. Timothy Dalton, I saw on and off from time to time when we happened to be in the same town. No, we don't sit and discuss our experiences. [Laughs] Although I must say, when Sean was making the Bond film which actually was not a Bond – because 'Never Say Never Again' wasn't a Broccoli/Saltzman film, it was a rehash of ‘Thunderball’ – we'd catch one another at dinner sometimes and discuss how they were trying to kill us that day. We’d always say that the producers were out to kill you. To get the insurance money, you see.
You played Bond with a light touch. Are you kind of pleased that that's your particular stamp on the character?
Well, it was deliberate. Maybe it's because I do most things in the same way. I found it very hard to believe that I would be accepted as a secret agent in the real world because every barman that seemed to know the particular the drink Martini shaken, not stirred – so I don't think that's a genuine spy.
What is your actual drink of choice?
Anything I can get my lips around! No, I'm mainly a wine drinker. White wines because my wife gets migraines if she has red wine, so I have to sacrifice my desire for some reds. But I’m drinking invariably Sancerre or a Pinot Grigio. If you're sending me a bottle, I love Jack Daniels.
You admired “Skyfall.” What do you like about what Daniel Craig’s done with his stint as Bond?
Oh, I think that he has brought a complete reality to this character who's a killer and also vulnerable. I think he's the greatest asset that the Bond franchise has ever had and I think it's guaranteed another 50 years of the franchise going on.
In a near-Bond experience, did you have as much fun playing a delusional man who believes he’s Roger Moore in 'The Cannonball Run' as it looked like you were having?
Oh it was great fun! When they asked me if I would do it, I said, 'Well, I can't take the piss out of Bond.' I don't do that. But I'll take the piss out of Roger Moore. And so I thought the idea would be to send myself up. The name was Goldfarb, Seymour Goldfarb. And I also asked for Molly Picon – I said she should be my mother, and they went out and did it. They got her.
Given that you are indelibly associated with the character, what's it like for you when you see how people react to encountering Roger Moore/James Bond?
I don't think I think about it, but for example, when my older son was at the age when they think their father's the biggest, strongest man in the world, I took him to lunch at a restaurant in West End of London and he said, 'Dad, could you beat up anybody in this room?' I looked around the room and they were all fairly old and I said 'Yes, I suppose I could.' He said, 'What about if James Bond came in?' I said, 'But Geoffrey, you know, I'm going to be James Bond.' He says, 'Yeah, but I mean the REAL one – Sean Connery.' So it's that sort of family. It keeps your feet on the ground.