Full disclosure: I never had a whole lot of interest in James Bond, the guy or his films. Until recently, I only saw one during its initial run and that was only because I was a science-fiction geek kid and … well, it was Moonraker.
But I am interested in careers — in what actors, in this case, the trio of long-run Bonds — do with their clout once their character’s worldwide popularity opens doors for them. In other words, what were these Bond guys up to during their Bond periods when they weren’t playing Bond?
For Sean Connery, prime Bond downtime meant working with Alfred Hitchcock (Marnie), headlining largely forgotten historical dramas (The Molly Maguires) and lightweight rom-coms (A Fine Madness), a caper flick (The Anderson Tapes) and The Hill, Woman of Straw, The Red Tent and Shalako — films I honestly had never heard of and would bet most of you haven’t heard of, either.
While his best work would come once he put Bond on hiatus, Connery was clearly trying lots of things — as one should do, IMO, when a certain level of career control has been achieved.
Roger Moore’s mid-Bond career was a bit different.
While there were a few comedic exceptions (The Cannonball Run, The Curse of the Pink Panther), Moore’s in-and-around-Bond-movies oeuvre leaned heavily on action flicks — and not very good ones — where he was often packaged with a gang of once A-listers.
In The Sea Wolves, for instance, he travelled in the company of David Niven and Gregory Peck. True to Bond form, Moore plays an occasionally tuxedoed smoothie who beds the movie’s only female character. (Spoiler: She turns out to be a German spy.) The primary plot involves his efforts to recruit a group of “thin on top and thick around the middle” former military men to complete one of those based-on-a-true-story impossible missions.
Also set during WWII but with Moore at least starting on the other side, Escape to Athena has him playing a POW camp leader upstaged by a cornucopia of characters, including fast-talking Elliott Gould, Sonny Bono, Telly Savalas and Richard Roundtree. Greek scenery and a killer motorcycle chase don’t make up for its odd mix of military comedy and action-adventure. Think Hogan’s Heroes fused with The Guns of Navarone.
Then there’s the Moore-in-Africa trilogy: Gold (Moore plus Ray Milland mining in South Africa), Shout at the Devil (Lee Marvin ropes Moore into poaching ivory in Zanzibar) and The Wild Geese (Moore with Richard Burton and Richard Harris tracking down a deposed African leader).
Some details on that last one. In Geese, we meet trenchcoated Moore at a party that features loud disco music, group love and swanky furniture. He’s Shawn Fynn, and he was misled into delivering a stash of heroin. But he’s too good for that. He tells his employers the story of a 19-year-old girl who overdosed, stating, “You boys are pushing bad stuff” and then demands the two baddies eat the heroin. “Now eat. Now do it. Do it!,” all while the generic disco music plays.
It gets crazier from there. The gathering of a pre-Expendables team of expendables is by the book, but the rescue itself involves a lot of white people shooting a lot of Black people — this in spite of the script’s attempt to rationalize that it’s about racial harmony and Joan Armatrading’s earnest but awful theme song.
Much better is ffolkes (aka North Sea Hijack or Assault Force). Here, Moore is deliberately playing against his Bond persona as a guy as likely to subscribe to Cat Fancy as he is to Soldier of Fortune. He’s a counter-terrorist consultant called into action when an evil Anthony Perkins hijacks an oil platform. In spite of some clunky direction and editing, the film remains fun, giving Moore one of the juiciest roles of his career — and no love scenes.
Between his two Bond outings, Timothy Dalton had time to go dramatic in Hawks and would-be dashing in Brenda Starr, something he’d have much better luck (and material) with in the post-Licence to Kill in The Rocketeer.
His successor, Pierce Brosnan, didn’t take much downtime between Bonds, taking roles large, small and unseen.
He launched his own production company and played a supporting role in The Nephew, earned critical kudos in The Tailor of Panama, held his own in the shadow of Rene Russo in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and collected a paycheck for the genre-come-lately Dante’s Peak.
Brosnan also got mangled by Martians in Mars Attacks!, didn’t have much luck in the lost-at-sea Robinson Crusoe and, as the second male lead, didn’t even get his name above the title on the poster for The Mirror Has Two Faces. The anglo-goes-native Grey Owl didn’t earn a U.S. theatrical release, and only a few more screens shared the Irish courtroom drama Evelyn. He also gave voice to King Arthur in Quest for Camelot and cameo-ed as himself in an episode of The Simpsons. It adds up to a steady stream of “why-not?” parts that continued — and still do — after his Bond days were done. (As of this writing, Brosnan has five films listed in pre-production.)
As for Daniel Craig, his post-Casino Royale offerings — The Golden Compass and Flashback of a Fool — were, respectively, a disappointment and a disappearance. Defiance and Cowboys & Aliens didn’t fare much better. Beyond-Bond stardom didn’t really kick in until 2011’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but then it was pretty much back to 007 until Logan Lucky and Knives Out. He did take time out for a Broadway run, something his Bond brothers never tried. His limited run opposite Hugh Jackman in the drama A Steady Rain was an expected hit. Now he’s scheduled to return to the stage opposite Ruth Negga in Macbeth in April 2022.
Who’s next in line as 007 has yet to be determined. Most people are waiting with bated breath. As for me, it’s what that person does between Bond adventures that gets me shaken and stirred.