“Bond. James Bond.” That line has been repeated no fewer than two dozen times in feature films across six decades. The secret agent 007 from MI6 branch has captivated our imaginations and proven to be the ultimate male fantasy. One might imagine that actors would be chomping at the bit for a chance to play the part.
And to some extent, one might be right.
But not all of the stars who were approached or considered made the final cut, and that’s a shame. So much Bond, so little time. Given recent rumors that Tom Hiddleston (Thor, Kong: Skull Island) could be next in line to take on the role, we’ve decided to take it upon ourselves to cull through a list of the rejects to find 15 Actors Who Almost Played James Bond.
15 Hugh Grant
Let’s see. What qualifications did Hugh Grant have to be considered for James Bond? Well, he was British, and that’s about it. While there may be some truth to the rumors that Eon Productions saw something in him that could be identified as Bond-worthy, what is known from an official standpoint is this: Grant was never seriously considered for the role and never given an offer. It’s not clear whether he even auditioned for it, and that’s probably for the best.
Grant is a funny guy, and he had a pretty impressive run in Hollywood in the late '90s and early '00s. But while Bond has room for his brand of humor, sustaining that across a series of films as important as James Bond would have been a pretty big challenge. The Bond films aren’t usually meant to be as lighthearted as they would have had to be to make Grant seem like a good fit. Even so, it would have been a fun experience to see them try it.
14 Dominic West
An alum of HBO's The Wire — along with another guy on this list — the England-born Dominic West could have been a serious contender for Bond in the post-Brosnan age had he not heard misinformation that Brosnan had reached a deal and would be stepping back into the role. This was 2005. Casino Royale hit in 2006 and starred Daniel Craig, and by then, it was too late.
West’s career after that has been fair to middling. One fun turn was in Punisher: War Zone, the hyper-violent 2008 follow-up to the Tom Jane Punisher. Still, there was nothing in his performance as lead baddie Jigsaw to suggest a good Bond. Other highlights include 300, Centurion and John Carter.
It’s unfortunate that we never got a shot at seeing what he could do, but then, there are so many talented actors and a limited number of movies you can make before the window closes. For West, it’s closed, and we got Daniel Craig out of the deal. Not all bad.
13 Liam Neeson
Neeson was approached for the part of James Bond in 1994 following the departure of Timothy Dalton, who put his stamp on just two Bond films: The Living Daylights and License to Kill. Neeson said, “No thanks, I don’t want to do action films.” Now, that’s all Neeson seems to do. (Taken, anyone?)
Neeson’s turning down of the role likely wasn’t a decision that haunted him. He had a few stinkers in his post-Schindler’s List career, but he always managed to follow them up with a Michael Collins or a Gangs of New York. He would finally soften his anti-action position by 2005, co-starring in Batman Begins, Seraphim Falls, Taken, Clash of the Titans, and The A-Team, to name a few.
A Neeson Bond would have been interesting in the sense that he’s not what you would consider a classically attractive guy. Eon would have probably punched up the violence a bit and gone lighter on the sophistication, but it would have been no less a good time.
12 Jude Law
Jude Law is a tad too small to be an effective James Bond in our estimation, but he did show some menacing chops in Road to Perdition, and for that reason, we won’t go as far as to say that he doesn’t belong in the James Bond franchise. We see him more as having villainous potential, though. Just give the guy a ridiculous deformity like crystal eyeballs or an upside down nose, and you’re off to the races.
In all seriousness, we’re not sure why Jude Law was never seriously considered for the part. His star was rising right around the time that Pierce Brosnan stepped away from the series with films like The Aviator, Alfie, the previously mentioned Road to Perdition, Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Enemy at the Gates. The only thing we can think of is that the competition was just way too impressive and Eon wanted someone more rugged for the part.
11 Clint Eastwood
The fact that Eon wanted Eastwood for the James Bond part seems crazy now, but in 1970, the rugged soon-to-be Dirty Harry was familiar to global audiences for his work in the Sergio Leone Man with No Name westerns. In other words, Europeans would have had no problem with a cigar-chomping, poncho-wearing 007 presuming that’s the path producers would have gone.
Eastwood ended up being the voice of reason, turning down the part because he felt that James Bond was, and always should be, British. Dejected, Eon was not done with the idea of an American Bond, next approaching Burt Reynolds (Stroker Ace!) and Adam West (Batman of the 1960s television series), who raised the same objections, thus placing the part in the hands of Roger Moore. Moore went on to be the most prolific James Bond, doing a total of seven films before calling it a day. (Connery did seven as well, but Never Say Never Again doesn’t count in the final tally since it was produced by another entity.)
10 Mel Gibson
We now know that if Mel Gibson had ever taken the role of James Bond, he would have had it written in every script that Bond must be brutally tortured to the point of getting R-ratings (see Payback, The Passion of the Christ, Braveheart). The guy has a real masochistic streak in him, but he knows how to tell a story, dammit, and for that reason, he would have probably ended up writing and directing each of his Bond films and becoming the best 007 ever.
Oh sure, Eon could have tried to stop him, but we all know that the only thing that can slow down Mel is alcohol and a recording device. He’s a force of nature, and had they cut a deal with him, we could have seen him owning the franchise by the end of it. All kidding aside, Mel Gibson, especially during the time he was being considered (1987), would have been great in the part. It was ultimately Albert R. Broccoli himself who rejected the idea on the grounds of Gibson’s not being British. (This is the same guy who wanted Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds and Adam West 17 years earlier, by the way.)
9 Sam Neill
Neill is an unlikely choice if all you know him as is Dr. Grant in the Jurassic Park movies. The man does a convincing American accent, but he’s actually from New Zealand (born in Ireland) and his spy pedigree was apparent from the moment that he first starred as Reilly, Ace of Spies, a TV miniseries from 1983.
Neill tested well for the James Bond role after Roger Moore walked away from the series. Unfortunately for him, Eon ended up going with Timothy Dalton, who turned out to be one of the least successful Bonds (even though his two movies are better than people give them credit for). From a filmmaking standpoint, it might have been wiser to go with a star like Neill, especially considering that he had worked with director Martin Campbell, who would go on to direct two of the finest Bond movies (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) to date.
8 Henry Cavill
In 2005, public interest in who would replace Pierce Brosnan as the next Bond was at an all-time high, likely because this new media thing was just starting to take off and the news cycle was well on its way to becoming 24/7. Every little bit of info and rumor would turn into a news story. As a result, there were a lot of false reports as to who the powers that be wanted in the role.
You may have heard it said that Henry Cavill was the frontrunner to step in a decade ago, and given that director Martin Campbell had him at the top of the list, that would have been a fair assumption. However, Cavill was only 22 years old at the time, and Bond had always been about a decade-and-a-half (maybe two) older than that. Eon dismissed Campbell’s choice as being too young, so he never really had a shot. Cavill is probably the type of name that you’d want to look at for the next James Bond after the Daniel Craig era, though his ongoing gig as the Man of Steel would likely get in the way of that.
7 Richard Burton
From the beginning of Eon Productions ownership of film rights to the character, they had but one man in mind as 007, and no, it wasn’t Sean Connery. Producers approached Richard Burton in 1959 and again in 1961 and 1968, but he declined the role each time. Considering that by 1968 Bond was a cultural phenomenon -- so Burton was well aware of the money he could make by taking on the role -- it took some real stones to say no. But that’s just what he did. You’ve got to respect that.
As for Burton’s output during that stretch of time, he had Cleopatra, Becket, Ice Palace, The Longest Day, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so the guy's career didn't exactly suffer. And for Eon’s part, Burton likely did them a favor given his turbulent history, bents of alcoholism, and multiple marriages. He was probably a bit too distracted to carry a multimillion dollar franchise of films in the same way that Connery did.
6 Idris Elba
Idris Elba is a bit of a controversial choice, but understandable once you see the man’s work in The Wire. And pretty much everywhere else. Of course, the only reason that Elba is a controversial choice is because of his skin color, which is about the dumbest reason to refuse him a shot. However, it is acknowledged that James Bond as written by Ian Fleming was always a white guy, and Elba is not.
But that’s the beauty of movies. They are products of skilled craftsmen and artists. They create their own worlds with their own sets of rules and must do so in order to compete with the varying forms of media jockeying for audience attention. In that regard, why not go with the best person for the job? Elba is one of the best in the business, and even though he's never been publicly acknowledged as being in the running for the part, we all know his name has been bandied about behind closed doors. Even at age 43, there's still a huge contingency of fans out there who would love to see him try on the tux.
5 Julian McMahon
If Nip/Tuck is your only familiarity with Julian McMahon, then his name on this list may seem surprising. But he’s actually from Australia, which lends itself better to the British accent than it does to the American. It would have been an easier transition for him at least as far as speaking the lines was concerned.
McMahon tried out for the part a decade or so back, and while he was said to be one of the frontrunners, Eon ended up going with Daniel Craig instead. It was probably for the best. Nip/Tuck didn’t end until 2010, so he would have had to divide his time between the demands of episodic television and the highest profile franchise of feature films in the world. The sad thing is that his output since Nip/Tuck finished has been pretty disappointing, save for one fun little shark movie called Bait. Maybe bringing him back into the public eye as a Bond villain would be the way to go from here?
4 Clive Owen
Clive Owen probably wishes that he would have had his big James Bond opportunity back. The year was 2005, and he was a clear frontrunner to take over for Pierce Brosnan. The one sticking point: he wanted gross profit points on the films, and Eon wasn’t about to budge. Daniel Craig ended up with the part instead, and Owen went on to do forgettable flicks like Shoot ‘Em Up, Killer Elite, and The Pink Panther remake (Children of Men notwithstanding).
The sad thing is that of all the actors to play or be considered for James Bond, Owen may just be the candidate who most resembled the star of the Fleming spy novels. Like Brosnan before him, he seemed custom-made for the part, but he couldn’t let go of his desire for cash long enough to score one hit and then renegotiate the contract. Eon understood after the George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton affairs that consistency was key, and that you really needed someone to stay in the part for longer than a film or two to achieve the highest levels of success. Owen would have had a lot more bargaining power after his first Bond film, but he overreached.
3 Susan Hayward
All right, this one sounds utterly ridiculous, but apparently it came closer to coming to fruition than an Idris Elba Bond has thus far, so it’s worth a mention here. Lorenzo Semple Jr. was originally tasked along with a co-writer of developing a believable rendition of the inaugural James Bond novel, Casino Royale, for the big screen. This was pre-Dr. No and pre-Sean Connery, for the record.
Semple was unimpressed with the character and found him to be “boring,” according to a 2012 interview. An actress named Susan Hayward — yes, the Susan Hayward — owed him a favor, and so Semple decided to pitch the film as Jane Bond with Hayward in the lead. Wisely, producers balked at the idea and instead ended up taking on Connery, who went on to make six Eon films and one unofficial Bond called Never Say Never Again.
That said, there’s no reason why, in our modern world, that this idea can’t at least be on the table.
2 Ralph Fiennes
Fiennes tested twice for the James Bond role — once in 1994 and again in 2004. Had he gotten the part, that would have made him 007 during the Pierce Brosnan years, which, in retrospect, would have been a win for moviegoers everywhere. The disappointing quality of Brosnan’s work can only make us wonder if Eon would have gone the same silly route they did on films like The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day (hello, stupid surfing scene).
Fiennes would end up finding a place in the James Bond series as Gareth Mallory (the replacement M) in the far superior-to-anything-Brosnan-ever-did Skyfall, which also just so happens to be the highest grossing Bond film of all time, earning over $1.1 billion worldwide. He also filled that time when he would have been Bond with some pretty awesome flicks like Quiz Show, Strange Days, The English Patient, and Red Dragon. Oh, and he was the Dark Lord of the Harry Potter world for a spell.
1 Michael Caine
It isn't hard to see what James Bond producers saw in Michael Caine around the time that they needed a new actor to fill the legendary spy’s threads. Before he was breaking hearts as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Caine was the perennial tough guy of movies like Get Carter and The Italian Job throughout the 1960s and '70s. Before that, he saw combat action in the Korean War, so not only did he look the part of a badass, he lived it!
At the time, Eon Productions was looking for someone along the lines of Sean Connery — tall, dark, handsome — to keep from disorienting fans of the burgeoning franchise. The fact they would later end up going the Roger Moore route makes their inability to get Caine a bit of a head-scratcher. Then again, some reports throughout Bond history have had Caine actually not wanting the role because he didn’t wish to be typecast in spy movies after having done three Harry Palmer films. Both Caine and Bond landed on their feet, but we're left to wonder what might have been. With Michael Caine as James Bond, we can easily see the grittier tone of the Daniel Craig films arriving about three decades before we actually got it. And that would have been plenty awesome.
So there you have it, readers — the 15 people we believe would have made “perfect” James Bond actors in some form or another. Which of these would you love to see, and which ones are we just plain crazy for considering? Sound off in the comments section!