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Monday, May 30, 2016

Film Land - 8 Actors Who Should Play James Bond

Edited by Robert Beach 

At the time of writing, Daniel Craig has done everything outwardly possible to indicate his time as James Bond is at an end.  I say this because it’s Hollywood, and things have a tendency to be false from the start, so it’s still remotely possible Craig will have another film outing, just not terribly likely.  

With Craig now done with 007, ending on the spectacularly bad Spectre, the hunt is on for a new James Bond. As is ever the case with the recasting of one of pop culture’s most enduring fixtures, everyone is throwing out ideas. It seems every hat is ending up in the proverbial ring. As someone who writes about geekery and pop culture on the net, here are my top 8 choices for the next James Bond.


An odd choice, then again, the last spot on any list is more or less made for odd choices. Fairly or not, Cavill's entire career at this point has been completely eclipsed by the terribleness of his two most visible features: Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. The thing about those two films, however, is I won't hold their terribleness against Cavill.  

I mean, Batman v. Superman is an atrocious movie, but it’s also able to take good, Oscar-winning actors like Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons and wring their worst performances out of them. While Cavill was a pretty terrible Superman, I’m willing to believe he still could be a great performer in his own right.  It's not like the studio specifically made him Superman because he was a terrible actor. Fellow disgraced Superman Brandon Routh has turned out really great as the Atom on Legends of Tomorrow. 

The main thing I like about the idea of Cavill as Bond is the physicality he would bring to the role. He’s got a unique aesthetic as a physical performer, able to manage a weird blend of both suave and sophisticated while also being muscled to demi-God proportions.  

It’s an odd balancing act to walk, and an act Cavill can surprisingly manage. I liked the cold and brutal affects of Daniel Craig in the role, though I’d be interested in seeing someone who could fit between a detached power and a more elegant air. To be clear, any attempt to make Cavill Bond would need an amazing script and rock solid director as Cavill really doesn’t have the natural charisma the other Bonds have lent on. With his classically handsome looks and body-builder physique, he’d at least bring a new kind of masculinity to the role. 


This may be the boring choice, but there’s a reason Hiddleston is already taking meetings about possibly slipping into the role. Hell, Hiddleston basically already auditioned for the part with his show The Night Manager and proved he could do the spy thing fairly well. If Hiddleston did become our new Bond, I’d hope he wouldn’t end up slotted into the same films as Daniel Craig.  

The Craig films lean pretty heavily on the Bond novels that, for all their charm, are essentially just junky, hardboiled pulp books from the school of airport paperbacks. Granted, they’re the headmaster of that particular school, even though we’re at a point now where most of the stuff that made the Bond novels innovative and daring at the time has been copied and repackaged all over the place. If you like them, that’s fine. As far as I’m concerned, they’re really not worth digging into. 

No, the reason I’d like to see Hiddleston in the role of James Bond ties to James’ much more fascinating role in the pop cultural pantheon as an idealized projection of male sexuality. The Gentleman Spy archetype, as embodiment by James Bond, is one of the fundamental idealized male roles of the latter 20th century, and that is the role I’d like to see Hiddleston enter. 

Hiddleston’s proven himself a compelling inversion of male idealization in the past; the way Hiddleston manages to embody romantic idealization of a man through women in roles like Loki or especially his part in Crimson Peak. Reworking James Bond with Tom Hiddleston as the ideal romantic spy for a female audience would at least be an interesting and innovative take on the genre. 


Mark Strong is definitely one of the older actors on this list, but I still think he could fit the role. Hell, Colin Firth was 54 when he did the Church scene in Kingsman, and that was a better action sequence than literally anything in the entire Bond franchise. I feel like age isn’t a huge deterrent. Strong’s career seems to have slowed in recent years after his out-of-nowhere appearances in 2010. I still have a soft spot for him.  

He’s sort of like Cavill in that he’s a bit of a mercurial talent and often ends up typecast in the villain role, even though he’s not terribly great at it. He’s got an imposing look and an incredibly sinister voice under the right circumstances. For the most part, Strong’s villains just end up generic like Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes or whatever his character was named in Robin Hood or Kick-Ass. 

I much prefer Strong in films like Rock ‘n’ Rollah and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, parts where he’s playing a character friendly enough but can turn deadly at any time. That’s something I’ve really missed from the Bond movies in recent entries: how much Bond seems to always be in kill mode.  

I get that’s part of the idea of the new movies, but it makes him a difficult character to engage with if he always comes off as just a brutal murderer. Bond can survive being the least compelling part of his own story (see anything from the Timothy Dalton era). Making him functionally human again would give the cold killer stuff a lot more of a bite. 


Bet you thought this one was gonna be higher. The truth is I don’t think Elba would be all that great as Bond. I see the appeal. He’s outwardly dignified, and his self-projected image could best be described as “opulent class,” which certainly speaks to the aspects of James Bond as the fantasy of wealth. For me, Elba, just as an actor, is a lot more hit or miss than his relentless fan base would like to admit.  

For every Luther or Pacific Rim, there’s a Prometheus, The Office, or Jungle Book hiding in his filmography.  Those roles make the myth of “Idris Elba is amazing in anything” a lot harder to believe. What’s more, his public image may be of opulence and class, but I’d argue Elba’s greatest strength is gritty, stoic, intensity.

It’s that intensity that made me actually pretty curious as to what Elba would be like as Bond. Much like Cavill, he’d need a firm director at the helm, With the right script, the role could be tailored to fit his strengths. It's not like the Craig Bond lacked for intensity.  

The big reason he’s on here is that after years of people clamoring for him in the role I am genuinely curious to see how anything they produce could try and live up to that build-up. What’s more, it is well past overdue for a James Bond that breaks the white, straight, male set-up. If Elba gets us that, I’d be more willing to forgive the film’s flaws. 


This is probably the nerdiest entry on this list, and I don’t care in the slightest. Nowadays most folks probably know Alexander Siddig from his protracted and pointless cameo on Game of Thrones. Before that, he was on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the best Star Trek show of them all.  

Siddig on DS9 played a lot like the world’s warm up for guys like Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch with a greater degree of optimism and genuine sincerity under his winking self-awareness. He’s easily one of the stand-out performers on the show, and one of his best episodes, ‘Our Man Bashir,’ was an elaborate James Bond pastiche. 

That one episode is the reason Siddig made it onto this list--well, that and just how wasted he was on Game of Thrones--Like I said, it’s a terribly nerdy reason, but the sense of hope and fun that he can bring to the performance and has demonstrably brought to the gentleman spy role is a pretty good argument for his consideration. With all the interest in diversifying the role, it’d be pretty cool to someone like Siddig, who’s a Sudanese-British actor, take up the role. 


If you hadn’t heard, Gillian Anderson has already officially thrown her hat into the James Bond arena on Twitter, which was actually part of the reason I decided to compile this list. Before anything else, yes, Anderson is the first American name on this particular list. I know some folks think James Bond is a role that needs a Britain, but if we can have Brits play Batman and Superman and Americans play Sherlock Holmes, I think the role of James Bond can survive a little cultural exchange. 

So far, this list has been made up of personable stars and mercurial supporting players, and Gillian Anderson would definitely be counted in the latter category. Her decade-long role as Agent Scully on The X-Files has cemented her place in the geekier areas of the pop cultural habitat. It was only recently with Hannibal and the X-Files revival that her career got going again, and modern audiences woke up to the fact she was still very much around and still very much a good actor. 

Anderson tends to exude a flat affect a lot of the time, but she’s demonstrated a much broader and more versatile range. She could fit pretty easily into any Bond approach, whether it be serious and stripped down or a lighter and more fantastical tone. Most of all, I think Anderson’s versatility as an actress could help make 007 seem more like a secret agent than an assassin. So often James’ whole mission boils down to killing some bloke, having Bond need to infiltrate and impersonate his way through a scenario would be welcome new ground for the rebooted franchise. 


Like Mark Strong, I’m aware that Helen Mirren is pretty damn old to be starring in an action movie. And yet, her age didn’t keep her from starring in both of the RED films where she was the most kick-ass part of those whole movies, so I think you could manage at least 2 good Bond films from her. That’d be more than George Lazenby got. 

Incidentally, Mirren’s role in RED 1 & 2 is exactly why I ended up thinking of her for the part of James Bond.  Mirren exudes a class, sophistication, and elegance that speaks to British aristocracy and identity in a way that perfectly embodies Bond’s fantasy of civility. My favorite Bond is Pierce Brosnan, and that all boils down to his dignified upper-class image. There is no current actor that projects that same level of impressive class and dignity as Helen Mirren. 

Mirren’s position as an older woman would also provide the film a natural plateau to the series. reboot series often emphasize hot, young actors and starting fresh, both of which just end up code for “retreading the popular bits with younger faces.” Casting Helen Mirren to replace Craig could be a complete inversion of that all too familiar evolution. It'll give us an older and more experienced Bond looking down over the breadth of her career, and everything she’s done, the good and the bad.  

I’m a sucker for stories about old spies dealing with the fallout of a life in service of the queen and country, so this pitch would have me on board from the start. But I think a lot of other people would be willing to go along with it, especially the popularity of Judy Dench’s M in the Bond franchise. 

When I set out to make this list, I pretty much always knew Randall Park would have the #1 spot, even though he’s a Korean-American TV comedy actor whose biggest film role to date was Kim Jung Un in The Interview. The thing is that no other actor I’ve encountered at this moment in time embodies the core elements that I think truly define James Bond as a unique character.  

As I mentioned, James Bond is many things: an idealization of the masculine identity, a fantasy of opulence and class, a deadly super spy, and an impossibly smooth and suave hero that makes downing a weak martini and blowing away colorful egomaniacs look as charming as possible.  Park is the only actor I can think of who can embody all of these aspects at once. 

He’s an incredible talent capable of projecting an intensely charismatic suaveness as well as imbuing the classic masculine ideals of fatherhood or political power with legitimate personality and identity beyond the trappings of masculinity. Most of all, Park is just really, really funny. And after 4 pretty dark and serious movies, I’d like a touch of levity in James Bond again.  

I mean, the best of the Craig films was inarguably Skyfall and that was also the one most infused with actual humor and cinematic range of tone. I’m not saying Bond needs to be all giggles and ridiculousness, or it needs to go the route of the Marvel films,  all quick quips and universe building. I’d like to see the franchise attempt a new direction rather than keep plugging away at “serious espionage action flick informed by whatever’s popular right now” formula. 

Look, James Bond has been around for over 50 years now; that’s a long time in pop culture. While the Craig films had a lot of great elements, their biggest failing within the franchise is that they were followers rather than leaders. When Bond broke onto the scene in the ‘60s, the franchise became one of the core building blocks on which the blockbuster would be built. It blazed a trail and informed whole genres of cinema. More than anything is the shot in the arm the modern Bond films so desperately need. They need to make James Bond vital, dynamic, and directional of popular culture once more. 
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