It is still way too early to be speculating as to who will replace Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond. The actor may have said he’d rather slash his wrists than make another Bond film, and would only do so for monetary gain, but by all accounts he still has a film left on his contract and the film’s producers will not be ready to release him until the work is done.
Still, that hasn’t stopped rumors spreading far and wide regarding his successor. After all, it’s one of the most iconic and coveted roles in cinema: a chance to be part of history in one of the most successful franchises of all time, garnering worldwide fame and limitless career opportunities in the process. As the concept of the A-list loses its power in an age of expanded universes and franchise tent-poles, the name above the title means less to a movie’s multi-million dollar box office hopes than the bankability of the product itself. Marvel has plenty of opportunities for even established stars like Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett to get the blockbuster clout, but leading role opportunities of that magnitude are harder to come by.
The newest name tossed into the fold of possible Bond replacement is Irish actor Michael Fassbender. William Hill currently have him at the best odds for the role, with Coral placing him alongside Happy Valley star James Norton as the hottest ticket. While other names have come and gone, from Tom Hiddleston to Aiden Turner to perennial fan favourite Idris Elba, the Fassbender rumor is the one that makes the most sense, both from a character and commercial standpoint.
Fassbender is an extremely talented actor. After a series of television roles, including HBO's Band of Brothers, he rose to prominence from his film debut 300 to his critically acclaimed starring role as IRA activist Bobby Sands in Hunger. That role led to a regular collaboration with director Steve McQueen in Shame and 12 Years a Slave, the latter of which garnered him his first Oscar nomination. From Jane Eyre to Inglourious Basterds to Frank to Steve Jobs, he’s exhibited incredible range across a variety of challenging, complex roles. Sinister charm is his calling card: the charismatic predator in Fish Tank; the enigmatic passion of Mr Rochester; even the tortured scheming of Macbeth. In many ways, Bond would be a natural step forward for Fassbender.
On top of his evident talent and skill in indie dramas, Fassbender is an increasingly rare example of a star seeking both critical and commercial clout - not just the awards vehicles but the action man projects. He’s arguably best known to general audiences for his role as a young Magneto in the X Men movies, which gave him moments to shine amidst crowded ensembles, and he has demonstrated a clear hunger for more roles in this vein that put him front and centre. Assassin’s Creed wasn’t just an opportunity for Fassbender to be a leading man: It was a potential springboard to headlining his own franchise (on top of starring, he is also listed as a producer). Unfortunately, that film flopped critically and, while it made money, it didn’t garner the stratospheric commercial heights it needed to in order to justify a full blown franchise. Even with an established property as popular as the Assassin’s Creed video game series, there wasn’t enough enthusiasm amongst audiences to launch a host of sequels.
For an actor like Fassbender, Bond is the way to go. Why try to launch your own series when there’s a guaranteed money-maker with your name on it? It also helps that while he is a star, he’s not an instantly recognizable face to the general public, which would make it easier for viewers to drop previous baggage and accept him wholeheartedly as Bond, as well as alleviate fears of the actor overshadowing the character.
Fassbender is, of course, not the only actor on the bookies’ lists for the role. William Hill's list, below Fassbender, includes everyone from Tom Hardy to Damian Lewis to David Oyelowo. They'll even give you half decent odds on Daniel Radcliffe and Russell Crowe if you fancy a flutter. It's a varied list of talents, but it's mostly defined by a few characteristics: overwhelming whiteness and poshness, bar some notable exceptions.
The image of Bond as a debonair upper class gentleman of good breeding and a specific brand of Britishness is one that the series has punctured now and then throughout its 50+ year history. Yet it's one audiences seem unwilling to let go of, hence the number of actors on the list who are privately educated. Fassbender is a contrast from that norm – he’s Irish-German, a Catholic schoolboy who dropped out of drama school and briefly worked as a postman. Yet he’s also still definitively of that mold - handsome, charming and of a classical style of leading man. After four films of Daniel Craig’s rugged gruffness, a Fassbender Bond would feel like a natural extension of the narrative.
On top of speculating about Bond himself, there’s much discussion to be had about the kind of Bond the films want to use post-Craig, whose era has been defined by its relative seriousness and dedication to the underlying darkness of the character. With the franchise’s producers already joking about the difficulties of imagining suitably scary Bond villains in the age of Trump, it would make sense to take the series back to a lighter, more escapist era. Fassbender may be best known for his dramatic chops but he’s also a gifted comedic performer, as evidenced by all who saw the criminally underrated Frank, wherein he spends most of the film wearing a giant papier mâché head. That’s not to say that he needs to turn Bond into a Carry On parody of itself, but Fassbender is certainly capable of bringing some levity and sharp wit to the character that many accused Craig of lacking.
Interestingly enough, Fassbender himself joked about being cast as Bond last year in an interview with GQ, when the odds of him getting the part were significantly lower, and said he thought a younger actor would benefit more in the role. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time an actor’s tried to throw off the scent of a major casting. Regardless, a new Bond casting may be months or even years away, but given what we know about the role, the actor and the franchise, this new stream of rumours rings a little truer now than it did only a few months ago. While a casting may be months, or even years, away, the possibility of a Fassbender-Bond partnership proves enticing enough to keep fans guessing. Time will tell whether it’s a gamble either party wants to take.