Social media exploded on Monday with wild conjecture about the next James Bond. When my Twitter timeline flooded, I knew that one of two things had happened. Either Daniel Craig had made another statement suggesting he’d cannibalize himself than play Bond again or an online rag had posted more clickbait about a high profile actor who called his stockbroker and inquired about the fiscal utility of high yield bonds. (Is “fiscal utility” a thing? Because it certainly sounds important.)
The Next James Bond: A #Bond_age_ Special Report
The fuel for the most recent bonfire was a comment from Tom Hiddleston to the Sunday Times where he said playing Bond would be an “extraordinary opportunity” if “it ever came knocking.” The question arose in reference to a Time Magazine poll about which actors readers would like to see as James Bond. There were more than 100 candidates on the list. Tom Hiddleston was one of them. Angelina Jolie appeared on the same list and, well… she has a few barriers to entry. Like having been born in Los Angeles to American parents. (You thought I was going to talk about the ovary situation, didn’t you?) Online publications jumped on the Hiddleston comments claiming the actor was asking – nay, begging – to play Bond, like a short, impish schoolboy in the back row of the classroom trying to get his teacher’s attention to go potty.
The Interwebs have been ready to boil over ever since the Guardian ran the big, bold headline: “Daniel Craig: I’d rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again.” Social media latched onto this headline without investigating further, and thus the notion that Craig was absolutely positively done with Bond became etched in Internet stone.
In case you missed the greater context of the conversation, the interview in question appeared in Time Out! Magazine (not exactly the New York Times). Craig had responded to questions about the physical toll of the Spectre production. He made the glib wrist-slitting remark and followed it up with the caveat that he’d think about coming back to the role in a year once he’s had time to rest and recuperate. He cited the rigors of his physical conditioning and mentioned that now he was damn sure “going to get his kit off!” Craigers just needed to go on a bender and gather his thoughts. Just like any of us after a long workweek. Only his long workweek was a long work year.
Also, it should be noted that the actor is notorious for hyperbolic wordplay with the press. I have witnessed this firsthand at the press junket for Road to Perdition. Craig, then largely an unknown, gave a wildly entertaining interview that had very little to do with the movie itself. Daniel Craig loves a good reaction. In Internet speak, he appears to take specific glee in feeding the trolls.
So here we go again. Once again up to our chins in the “Next Bond Debate.” And while I’m loath to speculate with any certainty about Eon Productions’ next choice for 007, it’s still fun to play the guessing game. More important than isolating the one actor destined to play James Bond is dispelling some of the more ridiculous rumors about fan favorites who are surely next in line for James Bond.
Based on my Twitter conversations of late, people are violently passionate about their respective Next Bond choices, but many of these loudly espoused opinions range from merely unlikely to bloody well impossible based on the needs and goals of the series. Hell, based on the betting odds, it’s clear that nobody’s actually looking at historic trends to inform their choices. The press certainly doesn’t care about reality. Reality doesn’t sell clicks. Ridiculous rumors about well-known actors sell clicks. Since I’m apparently a realist that doesn’t care about clickbait (sorry, Action-A-Go-Go) let’s look at the actual facts instead of preposterous Internet headlines. Speaking of facts, I heard that Daniel Radcliffe thinks tuxedos are “neato” – which surely means he’s got this Bond gig locked up. (Nudge nudge wink wink.)
Even though I do currently believe that Daniel Craig will be back for one more Bond movie (call it a hunch), for the sake of this conversation, we’ll have to assume that Craig has retired to the Old Bonds’ Home and that we’re in the thick of choosing the next 007. How can we ever weed through all the candidates? Why with a few carefully chosen facts and observations of course.
Plain Observation #1:
James Bond will almost certainly be a UK-born Caucasian male.
The one exception to this rule was the Australian George Lazenby, who made Bond producers almost immediately regret their decision to cast the playboy Aussie.
The race issue has been a hot topic of late, to say the very least. However, the character of James Bond was born out of the shadow of global British imperialism. If you doubt how influential the fall of the British empire was in Ian Fleming’s creation, read The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond by Simon Winder. The book occasionally strays into Winder’s slightly radical politics but does a masterful job of dissecting the cultural ideologies that formed James Bond like a Frankenstein monster of Britain’s id and delusional global potency.
As a representation of this disappeared and now delusional global empire, Ian Fleming’s James Bond must absolutely be a cocksure white male. With only a few exceptions, the movies, however, have long dispensed with Ian Fleming. Movie Bond can be any color as long as he looks good in a tuxedo and can skillfully handle entendre and a PPK. But will we see a Bond of color this time around? It seems unlikely, no matter how much you or I think Idris Elba would have made a great James Bond.
Plain Fact #1:
The average age of a Bond actor while filming their first film: 37.3
George Lazenby was the youngest Bond at 29. Roger Moore the oldest at 44. Brosnan, Dalton and Moore were all over 40 during their first Bond (41, 42 and 44 respectively). But what else can we learn from these numbers?
These three actors all had something else in common: they were all previously earmarked to play James Bond. Roger Moore had been considered for the role of James Bond from the inception of the franchise. Both Dalton and Moore were formerly offered the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Moore was still under TV contract for The Saint, and Dalton recused himself because he felt he was too young at the time. Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli tried to hire Pierce Brosnan for The Living Daylights in 1986 before returning to Timothy Dalton. NBC exercised Brosnan’s contract option to renew Remington Steele for a shoddy final season in order to capitalize on the expectation that Brosnan had already been anointed as the next James Bond.
Dalton would have been 23 in OHMSS. Brosnan would have been 33 in The Living Daylights. Since there’s no Bond already waiting in the wings, we can assume that Bond producers will again skew younger than 40.
It’s not that Eon has anything against old folks, it’s that modern Bond movies require significant, physically demanding stuntwork. Movies have changed since Roger Moore played Bond into the twilight of his 50’s. Back then Bond needed an acrobatic eyebrow and a way with words. Nothing a good stuntman couldn’t fix. In today’s game, 44-year old Daniel Craig complained about the toll on his body back during the Skyfall shoot. So if you’re pushing the job on an actor already over 40, he’s going to have a very short Bond life, something that won’t sit well with producers because of our next fact.
Plain Fact #2:
First Bond movies don’t make nearly as much money. Neither do seconds.
It’s expensive to sell a new Bond to movie audiences. New Bonds require more marketing and despite the duly established franchise, new Bonds earn less money at the box office. Audiences eye every turnover with suspicion. Bond actors don’t reach their box office potential until their third or fourth outings, no matter the quality of the offerings. Financially, the people looking to wallpaper their houses with James Bond dollars want their Bond actors to stick around in order for their cash to reach maturity. Having a Bond stick around for at least 4 movies means maximum fiscal utility. (Did you like how I brought “fiscal utility” back for an encore?)
Highest grossing pictures for each Bond actor (with more than 3 Bond films):
Sean Connery: Thunderball (Connery’s 4th)
Roger Moore: Moonraker (Moore’s 4th)
Pierce Brosnan: Die Another Day (Brosnan’s 4th)
Daniel Craig: Skyfall (Craig’s 3rd)
Two of the series’ most maligned entries became that actor’s highest grossing Bond pictures – and these rankings factor in the minor year-to-year bumps for inflation. A movie’s gross seems to have very little to do with anything other than comfort and expectation. Audiences take time to accept new actors in the role. One can make individual arguments regarding the specific reasons that each film succeeded. But the consistency, no matter the rationale for each film’s success, suggests more than just coincidence.
If you’re still scoffing, let’s also take a look at it from another angle.
I took the average of all the global box office from the 1st movies from each Bond, from the 2nd movies from each Bond, etc. And the numbers fell in a very predictable pattern. (Numbers adjusted for inflation.)
Average of the 1st movies from each Bond: $170,884,667
Average of the 2nd movies from each Bond: $168,729,400
Average of the 3rd movies from each Bond: $326,249,000
Average of the 4th movies from each Bond: $333,589,750
We have to assume that Bond producers are also aware of the money to be made in longevity.
Plain Observation #2:
Many actors will not want to devote their prime years in service to a franchise that does not reward objective acting talent.
Bond is a stiff in a suit without a distinct personality. Nevertheless, Bond would still be a career-defining role. No matter what else you did, you’d always be remembered first as James Bond. Would Tom Hardy want to sacrifice his prime acting years to play a monkey in a tuxedo? Even though Craig’s remarks about slitting his wrists were largely in jest, there’s truth to the notion that playing Bond is physically and mentally grueling. Realizing a boyhood dream of being 007 comes with a significant downside. Barbara Broccoli has commented that actors need some convincing to take the role.
Daniel Craig trains and diets for three months before filming then subjects himself to grueling shooting schedules and endless stuntwork. He required knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered during the filming of Spectre and reportedly tore a muscle in a Skyfall stunt. After filming, of course, Bond actors then begin the global, grinding press tours that last for months. Connery quit because he lost his once private life to 24/7 intrusion. A Japanese reporter crawled underneath a stall to ask him a question during the filming of You Only Live Twice. Being Bond is not a 9-to-5 gig. Every actor would embrace the on-screen life of Bond, but the off-screen life of Bond is an entirely different matter.
So Who’s Next Then?
With those facts and observations in mind, let’s scroll through the so-called leading candidates for the job and see who survives the cut. Facts are damning, ladies and gentlemen. First assume that with a change in actors, Bond 25 likely wouldn’t be released in theaters until at least November of 2018. We’ll need to add two or three years to any actor’s current age. We’ll keep anyone that would be 40 or under at the time of filming.
Oddsmaker’s Favorites / Current Age
When I went looking for a list of current odds, I found the above website. There are hundreds of names all with some manner of betting lines attached. I don’t wager on sports beyond my NCAA Basketball bracket so this kind of information caused some sort of overload. The ways in which people find to toss money down the toilet astounds me. Sepp Blatter has a betting line. So does Anne Hathaway. Does that mean someone actually placed these bets? The mind reels.
Tom Hardy: 38
Idris Elba: 43
Damian Lewis: 45
Henry Cavill: 32
Tom Hiddleston: 35
Michael Fassbender: 38
Dan Stevens: 33
Orlando Bloom 39
Erase Idris Elba, Damian Lewis and, heh, Orlando Bloom from your wishlists. Please stop taking up Twitter crusades in their favor or writing inflammatory articles online to get your click quota. You’re wasting your mental energies and our time. Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender would both be 40 or over during filming, which also makes them unlikely (but not impossible) candidates. Hardy has reportedly locked himself into a series of Mad Max sequels that would render him awfully pre-occupied to tackle Bond as well. Fassbender meanwhile has shown he’s not afraid of franchises by starring in X-Men films and Prometheus and the coming sequel. That leaves Cavill, Hiddleston, and Stevens as the other 40 or under options from these crowd favorites.
Cavill is currently enduring his stint as Superman and has played spy games in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as Napoleon Solo. He fits the mold, but would he be willing to float through his career as a brand? I loved him in U.N.C.L.E. and hope Guy Ritchie finds a way to bring the cast back for another go. He’d be a step back toward a lighter Brosnan-style Bond and I’m not sure Eon’s quite ready to abandon the grim and gritty dour Bond angle entirely. Hiddleston and Stevens qualify because they’re solid actors and they’re British. Neither excites me as James Bond, however. I’d honestly rather see Hiddleston get a crack at a Bond villain because they get the juicier roles. I know the ladies love their Hiddleston, but compared to Daniel Craig’s “hard” presence, Hiddleston just seems like Al Borland to Craig’s Tim “The Toolman” Taylor. Highly capable but sensitive and with a far higher emotional IQ. (Does that analogy even work? I say it holds water. Argue in the comments.)
If forced to pick one name from this list, I’d take Fassbender. Last I checked Vegas had him at roughly 7:1. A decent payout. He has the look, the swagger and the confidence, but would Eon get those necessary 3-4 movies out of him?
There’s no perfect fit among the favorites. Let’s dig a little deeper and consider some lesser-known actors that haven’t yet registered on most people’s radar.
Some Sleepier Picks
When Daniel Craig was first announced as Bond on October 14th, 2005, the news was met with confusion and a few pitchforks. Angry fans called him “James Blond” and spewed wild anti-Craig hyperbole on the Internet. Hearing “Daniel Craig is the new James Bond” came as a shock to most as he was barely known for his supporting roles in Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Sam Mendes Road to Perdition. He was also the first Bond chosen that hadn’t been pre-anointed since Lazenby in 1968. Since the next Bond will also from a similar realm of anonymity, here are a few names that might be worth a look.
The prime-aged Irish actor will be recognized most readily stateside for his work in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, but it’s been his work on the UK TV productions And Then There Were None and Poldark that have him in the Bond conversation. Good luck finding a picture of the man clean-shaven and with a conservative cut of hair, but with a little imagination, there’s a James Bond underneath the mop and stubble.
Friend makes the list because he looks like a more rugged, sinister Orlando Bloom. And if Orlando’s Bond enough to make the list of betting favorites, then naturally Friend should make the list as well. Like Damian Lewis, he’s also a Homeland actor and when fans finally realize that Lewis ages himself out of the Bond conversation they’ll turn to the nearest English bloke of appropriate age.
The biggest knock against Jack is his age (but I’d argue he looks older than his years). If Craig stays on for Bond 25, that’s not an issue. The second biggest knock against Jack is his height. He’s only 5’ 8” but keep in mind that Craig’s only 5’ 10”. Good directors make the 5’ 7” Tom Cruise look like an imposing force. O’Connell’s got the look and an already buzz-worthy career. He made his acting debut on UK TV in Skins, and high profile roles in movies such as Unbroken and Jodie Foster’s upcoming Money Monster should give him a nice push in the 007 polls. O’Connell probably makes sense only if Craig suits up one more time.
See above regarding age. Judging by the demand for Idris Elba to be James Bond, there’s an opportunity for Bond to break the racial barrier. Other names that have popped up in the debate are David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both of which seem to have been entered into the conversation with no consideration of anything other than they’re both UK-born actors under 50. John Boyega reminds me of a young Denzel Washington. The Star Wars: The Force Awakens actor boasts a similar swagger that could carry him into the running. The notion of British Denzel as James Bond sounds pretty exciting, no? He’s got that other movie series to tend to first and that might prevent this notion from gaining traction. Timing probably eliminates him from this conversation, but like Jack O’Connell maybe not the next next Bond conversation.
Nicholas Hoult might have a better chance of becoming the next Bond than his Mad Max co-star Tom Hardy. He’d be 28 or 29 during the filming of Bond 25. His steely blue eyes are a recognizable commodity from Warm Bodies and the X-Men films and he looks dashing in a suit. What’s working against him is that he’s the baby-faced 12-year old from About A Boy. Those preconceptions are going to be a hard sell despite his recent growth into scruffy manhood. He just may never look weathered enough to be a haunted but dashing sociopath.
Evans makes the list because of his career trajectory. The Welsh actor is best known for regurgitated Hollywood nonsense like Dracula Untold and The Immortals, but his career has been trending north of late having just filmed the anticipated adaptation of the best-seller The Girl on the Train as well a live-action Beauty and the Beast directed by Bill Condon. Evans doesn’t scream James Bond to me, but he checks off plenty of boxes like age, physical prowess and a potential desire to boost his inconsistent career.
So We Know Nothing?
Next to nothing. I told you some facts earlier, remember? And more to the point, nobody really knows anything. Maybe not even Daniel Craig or Barbara Broccoli, the two crucial figures in deciding what happens next. All of this may go right out the window when Babs changes tact and surprises us all once again by going off-script. Will Eon want to course correct back to a Bond with more humor? Will they stay with dark and brooding? Since they “rebooted” Bond with a 37-year-old Daniel Craig, will the next Bond actor skew older to maintain some semblance of age-related continuity? Let’s blow the whole thing up and cast Emily Blunt and beat Mission: Impossible to the buzzworthy gender-crossing hire before they tab Rebecca Ferguson to take over for Tom Cruise! Only Babs knows what Babs wants.
What I’m saying is that we might as well be forecasting the weather for 2018. The only certainty is that the James Bond franchise is a slave to trends in popular culture. He’s a slave to the culture he’s created and the cinematic trends of the hour. And what of Spectre’s legacy? How will Eon react to the perceived financial success and creative failure of this latest Bond film? The search for the next Bond intrigues us like a real live soap opera; it causes impassioned pleas about the nature and requirements for the character but it’s all a bit of puffery. There’s no one type of Bond. Connery remains a series favorite, but in a recent poll (that I can’t actually find now – fuck yeah, journalistic responsibility!) of which Bond looked the “Bondest,” Pierce Brosnan came out on top. Timothy Dalton was second.
The only thing that really matters is that the actor chosen wants to be James Bond. That he wants to fully inhabit the character and give life to the absurdities and ticks collected over five decades of moviemaking. After all, James Bond is just a good-looking, clean-shaven guy in a bespoke suit, and all this scrutiny and conjecture won’t matter in the end. Eon will choose someone and most everyone will disagree with that choice and voice their negative opinions as often and as loudly as possible. But that’s just it. James Bond resonates and causes us to care deeply about irrelevance like the designer of his cabana shorts, the make and model of his car and the way he parts his hair. Therefore, of course, we can’t help get fired up about the actor that will play Bond. It’s the most important detail of all.