The Golden Globes ceremony is usually rather less formal than the other big-hitters of awards season, aided by its free-flowing champagne and clubby feel, and the 2019 edition delivered its fair share of audience participation and viral moments amid the upsets inside the envelopes. One definite winner of the social media game was Idris Elba, who couldn’t resist stirring the #Idris4Bond pot by posting a photo of Daniel Craig giving him a dose of bemused stink-eye at The Favourite table with an “Awks” caption.
It’s clearly a couple of blokes having fun with a rumour that refuses to die, made all the better by Best Supporting Actress nominee Rachel Weisz ignoring her husband’s shenanigans to get her drink on in the background. True to form, though, the next day’s entertainment press, especially the British tabloids, were full of stories claiming the picture both confirms Elba as the next Bond and also rules him out, inevitably firing up another round of speculation about who’s going to take up the Bond mantle once Craig is done.
The usual suspects are being bandied about, frequently with a corroborating quote along the lines of “I’d love to do it, it’s an iconic role, I’d certainly be interested if I was asked” which isn’t even a confirmation that they’ve been asked in the first place. The most recent case of this line of reasoning is Golden Globes 2019 Best Actor Rami Malek, asked last week during press for the final season of Mr. Robot about the rumour he was in contention to play the villain of Bond 25 and answering “That’d be an actor’s dream…Who knows what will happen with that? I’m keeping tight-lipped.”
This is almost a scripted line now, and it’s not surprising that an actor should leave the door open to taking a role in any of the iconic franchises: you never know when that opportunity might come knocking, and, as we’ve seen with the steady stream of noncommittal answers from directors who didn’t get the gig, nobody has anything to lose by allowing their name to be associated with a part as big as James Bond.
There’s never been any shortage of high-profile names who were attached to the role but walked away, even before the franchise got started. Early contenders for the role in 1962’s Dr. No included Richard Burton, who didn’t believe in the Bond concept and wanted more money than was on offer; Cary Grant, who thought he was too old; and James Mason, who didn’t want to sign a three-picture contract. Patrick McGoohan thought there was too much sex, while Rod Taylor later regretted his lack of foresight in passing up a role he thought beneath him. This pair’s rejection of the very idea of Bond cleared the way clear for Sean Connery to become what is still many fans’ definitive depiction.
Replacing Connery was its own set of problems, with both Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton passing on 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service because they didn’t want to be the guy who replaced him, even though they had no problem with the role itself. Their time would come, but not before George Lazenby’s departure after his one-kilted entry sent Cubby Broccoli in pursuit of Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds and Adam West, all of whom thought Bond had to be British, resulting in the well-remunerated one-off return of Connery in 1972 for Diamonds Are Forever. It wasn’t until 1994 that EON Productions would be jilted again, when Liam Neeson chose marriage to Natasha Richardson over appearing in GoldenEye as James Bond.
None of these guys were giving interviews about the process at the time, though, and it’s not as if there’s anyone running around right now saying they wouldn’t play Bond if asked: even Idris Elba’s most direct statements on the matter are as open to interpretation as his tableside tweet. Besides the fame it brings, today the Bond franchise is a juggernaut with enormous marketing opportunities, sponsorships, watches, suits, cars and a percentage of a potentially billion-dollar box office attached: it’s alleged that Daniel Craig is looking at a $50m payday for Bond 25 when all is said and done. Only a fool stands up in front of the world’s press and say “No, I don’t want any of that business.”
We’re still a couple of months from the start of the Bond 25 shoot (expect a press conference around then at which we’ll learn such trifling details as what the thing’s actually called) but it’s already clear the identity of the next Bond is going to hang over the movie all the way through its production and release. Which feels like a shame born of the double-edged sword that is the certain knowledge this is Craig’s last turn at bat, the movie that should be his victory lap at least partially overshadowed by the search for his successor. Watching that play out over the next year is going to be bittersweet, but as it does, don’t expect anyone to say they don’t want to be James Bond.