Bond, James Bond PT 7: George Lazenby

20 Apr

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“Lazenby’s singular portrayal of the iconic Bond character, and his lack of standing as a favourite in the series, has resulted in his name being used as a metaphor for forgettable, non-iconic acting efforts in other entertainment franchises.”

 

George Robert Lazenby , born 5 September 1939, is an Australian actor and former model, best known for portraying James Bond in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Sadly Lazenby had to follow Bond Icon Sean Connery, he dryly refers to this experience as being, “Pope Paul II to Connery’s Pope Paul I.” Although the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was not bad overall, Lazenby had big shoes to fill.

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As a young man became a used car salesman and eventually moved to Park Lane, Australia to sell new cars. It was here he was spotted by a talent scout who persuaded Lazenby to become a model. He was best remember for a commercial for Big Fry Chocolate.

In 1968, after Sean Connery quit the role of James Bond, producer Albert R. Broccoli first met Lazenby when getting their hair cut at the same barber. He later saw him in the Big Fry commercial and felt he could be a possible Bond, calling him in for a screen test.

Lazenby dressed for the part by sporting several sartorial Bond elements such as a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit (ordered, but uncollected, by Connery). Broccoli offered him an audition. The position was consolidated when Lazenby accidentally punched a professional wrestler, who was acting as stunt coordinator, in the face, impressing Broccoli with his ability to display aggression. Lazenby won the role based on a screen-test fight scene, the strength of his interviews, fight skills and audition footage. Director Peter R. Hunt later claimed:

We wanted someone who oozed sexual assurance, and we think this fellow has that. Just wait til the women see him on screen … I am not saying he is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star. Didn’t they find Gary Cooper when he was an electrician?

During the production of the film, Lazenby’s voice was dubbed over with George Baker’s in scenes in which Bond impersonated Sir Hilary Bray (Baker’s character), something not traditionally done with a leading actor whose original language is English. According to an interview, Lazenby experienced difficulties on the set stemming from director Hunt’s refusal to speak directly with him, and Hunt’s brusqueness in asking Lazenby’s friends to clear the set before filming.

In November 1969, prior to the release of the film, Lazenby announced that he no longer wished to play the role of James Bond due to his conflict with the film’s producers, about whom he said, “They made me feel like I was mindless. They disregarded everything I suggested simply because I hadn’t been in the film business like them for about a thousand years.”

His co-star Diana Rigg was among many who commented on this decision:

The role made Sean Connery a millionaire. It made Sean Connery … I truly don’t know what’s happening in George’s mind so I can only speak of my reaction. I think it’s a pretty foolish move. I think if he can bear to do an apprenticeship, which everybody in this business has to do – has to do – then he should do it quietly and with humility. Everybody has to do it. There are few instant successes in the film business. And the instant successes one usually associates with somebody who is willing to learn anyway.

Lazenby grew a beard and long hair. “Bond is a brute,” he announced. “I’ve already put him behind me. I will never play him again. Peace – that’s the message now.”

He later elaborated:

Fantasy doesn’t interest me. Reality does. Anyone who’s in touch with the kids knows what’s happening, knows the mood. Watch pop music and learn what’s going to happen. Most filmmakers don’t watch and aren’t in touch. People aren’t going to films because filmmakers are putting out films people don’t want to see. As for the so-called “Tomorrow movies” they are only tomorrow movies with yesterday directors … Actors aren’t all that important. Directors are. I’m terribly impressed with Dennis Hopper. I’d like to work for him. I also like Arthur Penn, John Schlesinger and Peter Yates … What I’m going to do is look for a great director first, a good screenplay second. Meanwhile, no more Bond. I make better money doing commercials.

At the time of the release of OHMSS, Lazenby’s performance received mixed reviews. Some felt that, while he was physically convincing, some of his costumes were inappropriate (“too loud” according to some) and that he delivered his lines poorly. Others, however, have developed differing views in the decades since the film. In the 1998 book The Essential James Bond, Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrell write: “Although OHMSS was routinely dismissed by critics who cited Lazenby as a brave but disappointing successor to Connery, the intervening years have been notably kinder to both the film and its star. Indeed, due in no small part to Peter Hunt’s inspired direction, OHMSS generally ranks among the top films with fans. Likewise, Lazenby has emerged as a very popular contributor to the series and has enjoyed large enthusiastic audiences during his appearances at Bond related events. In summary, OHMSS is a brilliant thriller in its own right and justifiably ranks amongst the best Bond films ever made”.

In Roger Moore’s commentary for a 2007 DVD release of The Man with the Golden Gun, he referenced George Lazenby as follows : “I have a great deal of e-mail contact with George Lazenby; he’s sort of on the joke circuit … that we simply send jokes to each other. OHMSS – very well made film – Peter Hunt – excellent, excellent, excellent fight stuff, excellent snow effects … but I think the end result for George was that it was one of the better Bonds”.

Although Lazenby had been offered a contract for seven movies, his agent, Ronan O’Rahilly, convinced him that the secret agent would be archaic in the liberated 1970s, and as a result he left the series after the release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.  After this role Lazenby began to study drama at Durham University’s College of the Venerable Bede.

Lazenby has portrayed James Bond several times over the years in numerous parodies and unofficial 007 roles, most notably the 1983 television movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and an episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, entitled “Diamonds Aren’t Forever”. In 2012 Lazenby made a guest appearance on the Canadian sketch comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, spoofing the 007 series in a skit called Help, I’ve Skyfallen and I Can’t Get Up.

Although Eon Productions attempted on several occasions to cast Americans as Bond (most notably signing John Gavin for Diamonds Are Forever before the services of Sean Connery were obtained. Lazenby remains the only actor from outside the British Isles to portray Bond in a Bond feature film.

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