As the release date for SPECTRE nears and rumors swirl that Daniel Craig may soon be leaving the role of James Bond, it’s time to pause and remember all the actors that almost played 007.
The Sony hacks last year revealed that Idris Elba was more than a fan-favorite to take over from Craig. Then-Sony chief Amy Pascal actually wanted him for the role. Other rumors suggest Superman himself, Henry Cavill (who auditioned for the role when Casino Royale was made), could take over from Craig.
Second place may always be first loser in the acting world, but there were plenty of actors who could have done James Bond justice. Eon Productions is notoriously tight-lipped about who actually auditions for the role, but some cunning research and sleuthing has given us a glimpse into MI6.
Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig are the reigning champs, but here is our list of the 10 Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond.
Each of these actors was actually considered for the role in some official capacity, so Clive Owen, who was constantly touted for the role after his tuxedo-donning turn in Croupier, but was never actually offered or considered for the role by Eon (as far as we know), doesn't make the cut.
10 Rex Harrison
The rain in Spain may stay mainly in the plain, but for Rex Harrison, he almost made it rain at MI6. The My Fair Lady actor and preeminent English gentleman was once considered to shelve his Pygmalion-esque teaching and turn his Eliza Doolittles into dirty minxes.
Harrison was once in contention for the title role of James Bond in Dr. No, but the producers never fully said yes to the idea because they felt Connery was more physically apt to handle the stunts. Perhaps Cubby Broccoli couldn’t erase the memory of Harrison’s musical rendition of “A Hymn to Him,” where Henry Higgins asks, “why can’t a woman be more like a man?” James Bond would never ask such a question, but there’s no denying Harrison could have played a terrific 007. He had an innate sense of class and could wear a dinner jacket with the best.
9 Oliver Reed
In Ian Fleming’s novels, James Bond was a hardened and caustic man who drank, smoke and womanized with little sense of compunction. Oliver Reed fit the literary description of Bond to a T, with one of the most legendary off-screen personas in British thespian history. The actor was known for partying hard, and bringing that persona to a series of "tough-guy" roles in movies like Ken Russell's The Devils, The Three Musketeers, or even Oliver!.
Bringing a pugilist’s face, a husky voice and boundless bravado to the role, Oliver Reed would have likely taken 007 in the Daniel Craig direction far ahead of schedule. He was considered for the part during development of 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the first Bond film to be produced after Sean Connery's departure. Ultimately, the producers were worried that Reed’s real-life antics and bacchanalian lifestyle would demand a PR overhaul, using the valuable cash and time that Eon Productions sorely lacked. They ultimately went with the safer choice of George Lazenby, though his short lived stint as the man with the golden gun makes one wonder how Oliver Reed would have fared instead.
8 Henry Cavill
Now known to the world as Clark Kent and Superman, Henry Cavill was moments away from becoming James Bond in 2005. Only 22 years old at the time, casting Cavill as a young 007 would have completely changed the direction of the series. While he lost out to Daniel Craig, who has gone on to have a mightily successful run of four Bond flicks, Cavill got a taste of franchise glory by making a strong impression with Casino Royale director Martin Campbell and the Eon producers.
Cavill’s good looks and suave mannerisms made him a finalist, but ultimately, the powers at be weren't ready for such a young Bond, especially in contrast to the aging Pierce Brosnan seen in Die Another Day. While it would be difficult to imagine the same actor simultaneously playing both Superman and James Bond, Cavill has expressed interest in auditioning for the super spy once more after Daniel Craig hangs up the Walther PPK.
7 Dick Van Dyke
It’s difficult to imagine the gangly goofball of The Dick van Dyke Show take out baddies, deliver one liners and bed exotic women. But thanks to his performance in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (also written by Ian Fleming), van Dyke got on Eon’s radar and landed a meeting with Cubby Broccoli to talk about potentially replacing Sean Connery in the role.
As the story goes, the Bond producers were fairly serious about casting van Dyke in the title role, but when reminded of his atrocious Cockney accent in Mary Poppins, Broccoli snapped out his daydream and released Dick van Dyke back into the casting pond. It would have been a stretch to bring an American actor into an iconic English role, but just because we know Dick as a fun-loving, vulnerable man doesn’t mean there isn't a killer lying latent inside him.
6 Ralph Fiennes
Having become ‘M’ in the last minutes of Skyfall (replacing Dame Judi Dench), Fiennes has deservedly made his way into the Bond universe. At one point, however, he was in contention for the title role, bringing his signature austere acting style to a role that intrinsically demands it. Fiennes would have been more of the Timothy Dalton-type, though perhaps even more focused and powerful in his portrayal.
After the Dalton train ran its course, Fiennes met with Cubby Broccoli to discuss playing Bond (having recently completed his star turn as Nazi killer Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List), but reflects that he didn’t feel ready to commit to the role that ultimately went to Pierce Brosnan. Everything worked out, though, as Ralph Fiennes got to shoot The English Patient while Brosnan filmed Goldeneye. Only one of them got the Oscar nomination.
5 Michael Gambon
George Lazenby’s notorious failure in the role of James Bond forced Cubby Broccoli to scramble in finding his replacement. After the Australian actor bowed out, Michael Gambon, seldom considered a lady’s man, was called into meet with the Bond producers. Upon arriving, he asked Cubby why he was there, referencing his pudgy frame, his lack of hair and signature crooked British teeth.
Broccoli explained that Connery suffered from all the same shortcomings, and that a wig, fake teeth and various treatments made him presentable as 007. Gambon, the man who is now most famous as Professor Dumbledore could have also been the foremost expert on all things spy-related, but in the end, Connery returned for one more outing in Diamonds are Forever.
4 Sam Neill
Sam Neill didn’t need to play James Bond to be successful, but it would have guaranteed his recognition as an international star. Eon Productions typically has their Bond finalists screen-test the From Russia With Love bedroom scene, and Sam Neill made quite the impression with his own rendition of it.
While many people in the production were pulling for Neill to win the role, Cubby Broccoli ultimately chose Timothy Dalton as the successor to Roger Moore. When interviewed about the audition process almost 30 years later, Neil admitted that he never had much interest in the role and simply auditioned as a favor for his agent. He successfully avoided being type cast as an action-seeking spy, which he claims was his biggest fear for auditioning in the first place. Neill went on to star in The Hunt for Red October (with former Bond Sean Connery) and Jurassic Park.
3 James Brolin
How close did an American get to playing Bond? No Yanks got any nearer than James Brolin. The producers felt he managed to capture the debonair nature of 007, aided by his upper-crust background and “mid-Atlantic” sound. What he lacked in British accents he made up for in stature and confidence, as evidenced in his From Russia With Love screen test, which he performed for the production of Octopussy in 1983.
Looking back on his run at the role, Brolin remembers the physical demand of his action-scene test, where he had to execute a highly-choreographed hotel fight, replete with telephone wire strangling and cabinet smashing. Brolin did well with it, but Moore ended up returning to the franchise for two more outings.
2 Dominic West
Dominic West may be closely associated with his role as Baltimore police officer "McNulty," but he actually hails from England. As a young actor, with only a few film credits to his name, West auditioned for the role during development of Casino Royale, but eventually lost to Daniel Craig.
Judging by his performances in The Wire, 300 and The Affair, West would likely have put a Dalton-esque spin on James Bond, relying more on a raw and masculine confidence rather than the more egotistical qualities some actors have imbued in 007. West is only 45 years old now, so he could conceivably throw his hat back into the ring (but the odds are on Idris Elba, his co-star from The Wire).
1 James Purefoy
Our last candidate was a two-time factor in the James Bond casting world. When Timothy Dalton bowed out, James Purefoy competed against Pierce Brosnan for the role and lost in the final rounds, but he still left an impression.
After Pierce finished Die Another Day, the producers called Purefoy back for a second shot and a chance at redemption. Purefoy came close once again, but was out-shown by Daniel Craig, who bagged the job. As the perpetual groomsman but not the groom, Purefoy struggled with the type-casting of “almost James Bond” for years, but thanks to some excellent turns on Rome and The Following and a handful of films, he has become a successful entity in his own right.
Which actor do you wish had become James Bond? Let us know in the comments below!