While much can be said for the gadgets, cars, and women, there would be no James Bond without the man himself, and there would be no film series without the actors that have portrayed him over the years.
Now, it’s easy to get caught up in the debate about who the best Bond was. That’s not what this post is about. I’ll tell you right off the bat; my personal favorite Bond was Pierce Brosnan. Does that mean I think he was the best? Nope. He’s just my favorite.
This post is simply here to take a look at the various traits of each of the actors and their interpretations of the character. And so, without further ado, let’s take a look at James Bond through the years.
Sean Connery is the father of the cinematic Bond. Because he was the first to play the character, his Bond is the one by which all other actors’ portrayals have been (and will be) measured.
Connery, a Scotsman born in 1930, was a relatively new actor when he starred as James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No. He didn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film and wasn’t really used in the marketing for the movie. The same was true for the second film, From Russia with Love (1963).
By his fifth appearance in You Only Live Twice (1967), perspective had shifted quite a bit, and Connery was perceived as the real James Bond. Marketing reflected this sentiment stating that “Sean Connery IS James Bond.”
While Connery didn’t really look like Ian Fleming’s description of Bond, he had an allure that was all his own. Dashing, debonaire, and certainly quite deadly, Connery’s Bond was a blunt instrument that lit fires wherever he went. He was abusive of women and physically dominating. His portrayal of Bond was slightly cheeky, and he liked to play around quite a bit. He wasn’t terribly professional, but he did his job well.
Connery’s Bond liked to get his hands dirty, and if there’s one thing he’s known for, it’s his physicality. This Bond would prefer to use his fists over his Walther PPK whenever possible, even when it wasn’t the smartest course of action.
George Lazenby will forever be known as the man who replaced Sean Connery. Much controversy surrounded his arrival and even more controversy surrounded his departure from the role. Nevertheless, he played the part, and I, for one, am thankful for that.
Lazenby, an Australian car salesman, had no acting experience prior to becoming Bond. While his performance was good, his ability to work with the director and his costars was suspect. He didn’t fully understand the rigors of filmmaking, and responded poorly to various methods employed by those working around him.
Despite this, Lazenby did a fine job as Bond. While he didn’t have the opportunity to carve his own interpretation of the character, his work in the franchise will be remembered for having been a part of one of the finest Bond films of the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
Lazenby’s Bond is a bit more believable as a spy. He’s physically more intimidating than Connery, and he moves with a bit more sophistication as well. He’s not as suave as his predecessor, and in many cases he’s somewhat stiff, but that probably comes from not being comfortable in the role.
Roger Moore is almost as synonymous with James Bond as Sean Connery is. Moore, who was born in London in 1927, is a classic Englishman, having served as a captain in the Royal Army Service Corps.
Moore’s portrayal of Bond differed drastically from both Connery’s and Lazenby’s. His Bond was much more sophisticated and charming, and rather than manipulate women (as Connery’s Bond so often did), Moore’s Bond lured them.
His Bond was far more professional than Connery’s, preferring to keep his distance from the work. Whereas Connery’s Bond often brawled, Moore’s Bond would prefer to snipe.
He was always quick to add humor to any situation, and if there’s one thing Moore’s Bond is known for, it’s his quick-witted sense of humor and consistent addition of one-liners to relieve the tension in any situation.
Unfortunately for both Moore and EON Productions, Moore spent far too many years playing James Bond. His character evolved from believable spy in Live and Let Die (1973) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) to comic book hero in Moonraker (1979) and Octopussy (1983). He had aged so much over his tenure that his plausibility as Bond was stretched to the point of being laughable. And yet he was so inexorably tied to the role that finding a worthy replacement proved more difficult a task than anyone was ready for.
Because of how comical Moore’s Bond had become, the studio went in a decidedly different direction for the next Bond feature. They aimed for a darker, more adult-oriented film that was less gadget-obsessed and sex-crazed and focused almost exclusively on good storytelling. They turned to Timothy Dalton.
Dalton, a Welsh Shakespearean actor born in 1946, took Bond in a much darker direction than Connery and certainly Moore ever had. The Living Daylights (1987) didn’t play to his strengths as an actor as the film was written with Pierce Brosnan in mind for Bond. (Brosnan was originally considered for the part before a clause in his contract with the television show Remington Steele made him unable to play Bond for the film.) Licence to Kill (1989) did, and it will always be known as one of the darkest, most serious Bond films of the series.
Dalton’s Bond is a weapon. He’s clearly uninterested in all the sex and games that Connery’s Bond and Moore’s Bond were. He uses every fighting technique at his disposal: whatever gets the job done quickest. He’s much more professional than any of his predecessors and, while more willing to use his equipment than Connery was, wasn’t afraid to get his hands a little bloody.
Dalton had indeed read Fleming’s novels and clearly wanted to shape his interpretation of Bond after the version found in the books, creating a darker, more serious, and more lethal character than audiences had ever seen before.
While Dalton was ready to star in his third Bond film, legal disputes held the franchise in limbo for several years, during which time he decided to walk away from the role.
Dalton had originally signed a three-film contract, but was given the freedom to break his contract when a third film—which should have been released in 1991, two years after Licence to Kill—was still nonexistent in 1994.
After a long period without a new Bond film, during which Timothy Dalton departed from the series, Bond returned with a fresh new look. The man for the job was none other than the original successor to Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan.
Brosnan, an Irish actor born in 1953, played a much more understated Bond than previous incarnations of the character. His Bond evolved similarly to Moore’s however, going from believable spy to centerpiece of a comic book.
In some ways, Brosnan’s Bond reflects Moore’s. He’s a bit more playful than Dalton’s Bond and enjoys indulging in the sophisticated side of his life. However, he channels a bit of all of his predecessors in other ways—he’s cold, calculating, and detached like Dalton’s Bond; physically brutal like Connery’s Bond; and suave, charming, and dashing like Moore’s Bond.
Brosnan was a victim of his scripts, however. He had one huge success in GoldenEye (1995), a mediocre outing in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), a decent jaunt in The World Is Not Enough (1999), and a massive flop in Die Another Day (2002). Unfortunately he’s the only Bond actor who never had the opportunity to act in a Bond movie based on an Ian Fleming novel.
Brosnan signed on to do four Bond films, fulfilling his contract in 2002.
After the extreme camp in Die Another Day, the studio decided to take the franchise in a new direction yet again. Much like Timothy Dalton’s films, this new set of films would be darker and grittier than the previous set. For this new tone, they turned to Daniel Craig.
Craig was born in 1968 in Chester, Cheshire, England. He took on the role amidst a lot of controversy. Many critics of his casting stated that he was too short, too blond, not attractive enough, etc. However, all of those criticisms were laid to rest when his first Bond film, Casino Royale (2006), was released.
Craig’s Bond hearkens back to the physicality of Sean Connery’s Bond. He’s grittier, more brutal, and tougher than any of his predecessors. Like Dalton’s Bond, Craig’s Bond carries a disdain for the suave sophistication that he seems required to bear. He’s more of a brawler than any of his predecessors and will likely be known for creating a much more physically intimidating version of Bond.
When he was cast for Casino Royale, Craig signed on for three films. Upon the release of his third Bond film, Skyfall (2012), Craig signed a contract for two more films, bringing his total Bond film count to five—one more than Brosnan, one fewer than Connery, and two fewer than Moore.