15 Actors Who Could’ve Played James Bond

Peter King, Fox Photos/Getty Images
Peter King, Fox Photos/Getty Images

James Bond is one of the most coveted roles an actor can ever hope to land, and it’s been that way for decades. Six different men have played the role in a series of 24 films produced over nearly six decades, which means many, many more actors either tried to get the part and failed, or got the part but didn’t want it. In honor of Global James Bond Day, here are just a few Bond candidates you might not have seen coming.

1. CARY GRANT

Cary Grant
Getty Images

At first brush, Cary Grant seems like a natural choice for Bond, and he had both Bond creator Ian Fleming’s favor and a close friendship with producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli on his side. Grant was already in his late 50s by the time Dr. No began its journey to the screen, though, and would only commit to a single film. Hoping for a star who would sign a three-picture deal, the production moved on.

2. REX HARRISON

Best known for films like My Fair Lady and Doctor Dolittle, Harrison might not exactly be super-spy material, but he was among the many actors considered when Eon Productions began casting Dr. No. In the end, despite his debonair side, it was decided Harrison didn’t have the action chops for the role.

3. DAVID NIVEN


Fox Photos/Getty Images

David Niven certainly had Bond’s charming, tuxedo-clad side down, and was a favorite casting choice of Ian Fleming. The role ultimately went to Sean Connery, but Niven did get a revenge of sorts, playing a retired version of Bond in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale, loosely based on Fleming’s novel.

4. PATRICK MCGOOHAN

When casting on Dr. No began, Patrick McGoohan—perhaps best known today for the TV series The Prisoner—was starring in the series Danger Man (Secret Agent in the U.S.), and was asked to consider the Bond role. But McGoohan, a devout Catholic, turned it down.

“It has an insidious and powerful influence on children," McGoohan told the Express. "Would you like your son to grow up like James Bond? Since I hold these views strongly as an individual and parent I didn’t see how I could contribute to the very things to which I objected.”

5. RICHARD BURTON

Richard Burton
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Another favorite of Fleming’s, Richard Burton was just beginning his legendary film career when he was approached about the role. Disagreements over salary and his belief that the Bond concept might not have stood up on film got in the way, though, and he ultimately passed.

6. DICK VAN DYKE

Yes, it sounds weird, but when Sean Connery departed the Bond role after making You Only Live Twice (he would later return for a massive salary to make Diamonds Are Forever), Dick Van Dyke was among the actors considered to replace him. According to Van Dyke, he was asked to consider the part by Broccoli, but when he reminded the producer of his famously bad English accent from Mary Poppins, Broccoli replied: "Oh, that's right—forget it!"

7. TERENCE STAMP

Terence Stamp
George Freston, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Terence Stamp was one of the hottest young actors of the 1960s, so it was only natural the producers wanted him to consider playing Bond when Connery left after five films. When Stamp pitched his idea for how to introduce a new Bond to producer Harry Saltzman, though, it was quickly rejected.

“[Saltzman] took me out for dinner at the White Elephant in Curzon Street," Stamp told the Evening Standard. "He said, ‘We’re looking for the new 007. You’re really fit and really English.’

“I was very shocked but I thought it was great. ‘The fact is,’ I said, ‘Sean has made the role his own. The public will have trouble accepting anyone else. But in one of the books it starts with him disguised as a Japanese warrior. If we could do that one, I could start the movie in complete Japanese make-up. By the time it came off they are used to me a little bit. I would love to do it like that.’ He wasn’t impressed.”

8. PETER PURVES

In the mid-1960s, Peter Purves was a TV actor best known for his role as Steven Taylor on the then-relatively new sci-fi series Doctor Who, which he’d recently departed when he auditioned for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Needless to say he didn’t get the part, and was then dumped by his agent. His string of bad luck ended when he landed a presenter job on the long-running BBC children’s program Blue Peter in 1967, where he stayed for more than a decade.

9. MICHAEL GAMBON

Michael Gambon
Steve Finn, Getty Images

Michael Gambon, best known to modern audiences as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise, was one of many actors considered when producers were looking to cast Diamonds Are Forever (the film Connery eventually returned for). Gambon argued to Broccoli that he wasn’t nearly fit enough for the role.

"I said, I can't play James Bond, because I'm bald, I've got a double chin and I've got girl's t*ts," Gambon recalled. "So he said, 'Well, so has Sean Connery, so we put a wig on him, and we put two big leather bags full of ice on his chest before the take. And then a man comes in just before the action and takes the bags off and then Connery has a beautiful flat chest and he has false teeth and all that.'

"He said, 'you could well do it.' But he didn't offer it to me!"

10. BURT REYNOLDS

No American has ever starred in the Bond series, but a few came close, and Burt Reynolds was one of them after George Lazenby departed the series following On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Though he was offered the part, Reynolds said no, believing an American could never play the spy.

“I think I could have done it well,” the late actor later said. “In my stupidity, I said, ‘An American can’t play James Bond, it has to be an Englishman—Bond, James Bond. Nah, I can’t do it.’ Oops. Yeah, I could have done it.”

11. JAMES BROLIN

When Roger Moore decided he was done with Bond after For Your Eyes Only in 1981, producers again went after an American actor. After a great screen test, James Brolin essentially got the part, but when Warner Bros. announced their own Bond film—the Connery-starring Never Say Never Again—to compete with the upcoming Octopussy in 1983, the producers got nervous, and convinced Moore to return.

12. CLINT EASTWOOD

Clint Eastwood was yet another American star considered when Lazenby left the series. Then best known for his TV work and his Spaghetti westerns with director Sergio Leone, Eastwood just didn’t feel right taking the character over from another actor.

“I was offered pretty good money to do James Bond if I would take on the role," Eastwood said. "But to me, well, that was somebody else’s gig. That’s Sean’s deal. It didn’t feel right for me to be doing it.”

13. SAM NEILL

When Moore finally retired from the Bond role for good, Sam Neill was a front-runner to replace him, alongside future Bonds Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton. Neill’s screen test impressed longtime Bond director John Glen, but Broccoli wasn’t so sure. With Brosnan forced back into another season of Remington Steele, the role ultimately went to Dalton.

14. LIAM NEESON

When the time came to revitalize the Bond franchise in the ‘90s, Liam Neeson was offered the role. He turned it down for a very simple reason: Love.

“My wife-to-be [the late actress Natasha Richardson] said, 'If you play James Bond we’re not getting married.' And I had to take that on board because I did want to marry her.”

15. EWAN MCGREGOR


Larry Busacca, Getty Images

When it came time to recast Bond following Pierce Brosnan’s tenure, dozens of actors were considered, and Ewan McGregor was among the serious contenders. In the end, he turned it down because he was afraid the job would take over his career.

"With Star Wars, we did a three-month shoot and a couple of weeks of pick-ups so it wasn't an enormous involvement," McGregor said. "But with Bond, I suppose it's a much longer shoot and there's a massive amount of publicity. I would worry about not being able to do any other work."

An earlier version of this article ran in 2017.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now

A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. Making a Murderer (2015-)

One of the major true crime phenomenons of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling. Three years after the docuseries became a surprise hit for Netflix, it returned for a second season in 2018.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. The Staircase (2004-2018)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife, Kathleen, had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was The StaircaseJean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. And Netflix's addition of new episodes in 2018 led to a resurgence in interest in this mind-boggling case (with armchair detectives even positing that an owl was the real killer).

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Flint Town (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. The Jinx (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. The first was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO Now and Hulu

5. Wild Wild Country (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Wormwood (2017)

Documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Five Came Back (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. The Devil Next Door (2019)

In 1980s Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was living a quiet life as a grandfather and auto worker. Suddenly, he was being extradited to Israel over accusations he was once notorious Nazi concentration camp monster Ivan the Terrible. As Demjanjuk mounts a defense, the trial captivates a country—but was he really the monster? This riveting series will have you guessing until the very end.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Ugly Delicious (2018-)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. Evil Genius (2018)

At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck detonated as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight. The bizarre incident was just the beginning of Evil Genius, which documents the peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade.

Where to watch it: Netflix

11. The Confession Tapes (2019)

A spare room. One or two detectives. A weary suspect. That's the set-up for this series that lets archival footage of police interrogations tell its own arresting stories.

Where to watch it: Netflix

12. Our Planet (2019)

Be amazed at the sensational vistas and eclectic wildlife with this beautifully-photographed trek through some of nature's most astounding sights—and the environmental perils that affect them. David Attenborough narrates.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. The Innocent Man (2018)

After two brutal murders in 1980s Oklahoma, four men are convicted of the crimes. All of them maintain their innocence, causing observers to question whether they were guilty or themselves victims of police coercion. This drama is based on John Grisham's 2006 book of the same name; Grisham executive produces.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. Last Chance U (2016-)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. Later seasons switch focus to a team out of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. Vice (2013-)

The series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens. The first six seasons are available on HBO, with a seventh airing on Showtime in 2020.

Where to watch it: HBO Go

17. Chef's Table (2015-)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. There's no shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. The Toys That Made Us (2017-)

Who knew the origin of classic toy lines could be so dramatic? This series puts the spotlight on the creative friction that led to some of the most iconic playthings of the 20th century, from Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Where to watch it: Netflix

19. The Eighties (2016)

CNN's series highlighting the pop culture of the neon-colored decade boasts familiar talking heads like Tom Hanks and enough nostalgia to keep you afloat for weeks. The network's The Seventies and The Nineties are also available.

Where to watch it: Netflix

20. Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)

This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER