Now that Pierce Brosnan has bolted from the James Bond franchise one flick sooner than expected, filmdom’s most famous name is without a face. Of course, the most bankable Bond nearly bailed once before, only to return for the last 007 flick, “Die Another Day” — which became the franchise’s biggest moneymaker. So he may yet live twice.
Or he may never say never again. Word is that EON, the production company behind Bond, wants to compete for the youthful “Spider-Man” demographic as well as push Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne off its turf, which means shying away from the traditional image of Bond as a suave older man to one of, for lack of a better term, spy candy.
So what’s the requirement for updating yet still embodying Ian Fleming's sophisticated secret agent? For starters, he’s got to wear a tux well, no matter how badly EON wants to dumb him down and tart him up. He’s got to be convincingly wired — just ask Q, technology has moved beyond the old hidden-ejection-seat-in-the-Aston-Martin trick. And finally, indubitably, he’s got to be able to charm the pants off the ladies, literally.
Naturally, there’s a stable of young (and some not-so-young) actors who’ve been clamoring to replace Brosnan. Here’s a look at those mentioned, and their readiness for the job.
Spy Game: Look beyond the hype and the high-profile girlfriends, the well-rounded Ledger has quietly earned his props in the comedy, action and drama genres — not a bad combination for a Bond wannabe. Still, the athletic young Aussie still has too much of the untamed Outback in him as well as a questionable accent. Just can’t see him trading in his didgeridoo for a Walther PPK.
Verdict: Do you expect me to talk?
Last Seen:“The Order”
Last Seen: “Troy”
Spy Game: A fine, classically trained actor, the boyish Bloom was so wonderfully cast as the ethereal Legolas in “The Lord of the Rings” and the dashing but naïve Will Turner in “Pirates of the Caribbean” — but manly man James Bond? Maybe if Bond was younger. And a virgin. And attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Verdict: Dr. No
Spy Game: Although he’s on the short list, the eclectic Law has said that he might not be ready to make that commitment. “I enjoy the opportunity of playing a variety of roles,” he told the Chicago Tribune last year. “Sometimes playing something as established as Bond can lead you to a place where that’s what you always are considered as.”
Verdict: Never Say Never Again
Last Seen: “Love Actually”
Spy Game: Excelling at light comedy, Grant’s style is reminiscent of Roger Moore’s lighthearted take on the deadly world of international espionage. The problem with Grant is that his foppish persona precedes and defines him, and Bond is too much of an icon to allow him to be eclipsed by the actor who plays him. He may be comfortable at a diplomat’s sophisticated soiree, but can you imagine this guy in a fight?
Last Seen: “Timeline”
Spy Game: Butler’s a versatile Scottish actor who’s no stranger to bravery: During a break in the filming of “Mrs. Brown,” Butler’s debut movie, he responded to a cry for help and jumped into a Scottish river to save a boy from drowning. He may have hurt his chances by supposedly proclaiming himself to be the next Bond way back in 2001, the last time Brosnan threatened to quit.
Verdict: You Don’t Live Twice
Spy Game: Although he began his career in edgy indie films, McGregor’s turn as Obi-Wan Kenobi proves that he has no aversion to tackling icons. He also has no aversion to dropping trou — he’s done the full monty no less than four times — which sometimes overshadows his consistently interesting, if uneven, performances. Still, he’s charismatic and would no doubt take Bond in unexpected directions.
Last Seen: “King Arthur”
Spy Game: Best known as basic cable’s swashbuckling “Horatio Hornblower,” Gruffudd’s got the good looks to go along with the derring-do but, like Orlando Bloom, needs to see the world a bit more before he can settle in as the wizened Bond.
Verdict: Try Another Day
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Last Seen: “Love Actually”
Spy Game: One of England’s most well-respected actors, Firth hasn’t gotten his props in the States. Classy, subtle and intelligent, he certainly appears as if he could kill a man without spilling his martini and soiling his tux. But his restrained, thoughtful approach probably won’t jibe with the direction that the series seems to be headed.
Verdict: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Spy Game: Owen’s past work projects a tough-guy persona with just the hint of vulnerability. He’s more thuggish than debonair, but his steely gaze is unwavering and alive with a boxer’s calculation. Forget about the comedy; his would be a bad-ass Bond, a throwback to Sean Connery’s gritty, anti-heroic Cold War assassin, who killed mercilessly and celebrated afterward with a preening vixen or three just begging to be debased.
Verdict: Shaken, not stirred.
Last Seen: “Troy”
Spy Game: Bana has previously denied rumors he was under consideration but he’s emerged as a serious dark-horse candidate, at least among internet cinephiles. Like fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman, Bana was an unknown tapped to play a beloved superhero in “The Incredible Hulk” and though the movie was a huge disappointment, he came away relatively unscathed. A former comedian and bartender, he’s a fresh face with a physical, nimble presence, though he’s been labeled as a difficult, er, demanding actor.
Verdict: License to Kill
Spy Game: To his advantage, Jackman’s already faced the enormous pressures of carrying a franchise, portraying an icon and satisfying skeptical fans with his universally praised turn as Wolverine, “The X-Men’s” troubled anti-hero. He’s got the meanest scowl this side of Clint Eastwood and a smile mischievous enough to set hearts aflutter. He’s done straight action, campy action, comedy and romance. Hell, he’s even high-kicked his way to a Tony Award. 007 could use the flexibility.
Verdict: The name’s Bond, James Bond.
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