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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

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Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

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You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

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Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

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Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

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Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

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Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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How It's a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life is sacred in the holiday movie pantheon. It's not as quotable as A Christmas Story (1983) or as lyrical as 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the story of George Bailey has a universal message behind it that endures more than 70 years later. Though the movie is the quintessential Christmas tale today, when it was first released in 1946, audiences and critics were lukewarm toward the picture, resulting in a box office disappointment that killed Capra's nascent production company, Liberty Films. In a strange twist, decades after it was first released, an unlikely clerical screw-up managed to turn It's a Wonderful Life into the Christmastime staple we know today.

In the 1930s, Capra became a magnet for Academy Awards, directing movies like the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After Pearl Harbor, Capra knew he could contribute something to the war effort, so he took a post in Washington overseeing the development of U.S. propaganda films for the government—most notably the award-winning Why We Fight series of documentaries.

Upon returning from Washington in 1945, Capra—along with other wartime directors William Wyler and George Stevens—helped finance Liberty Films, an independent production company poised to give filmmakers the one thing they all dreamed of: freedom. The company's first film would be an adaption of a short story titled "The Greatest Gift," which would also appear in Good Housekeeping under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born," and would be adapted for the screen as It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of the few movies Capra also received a screenwriting credit for, and with a proposed budget of $2 million, it was a huge gamble for Liberty.

Something akin to a nightmare

In the book Five Came Back, writer Mark Harris describes It's a Wonderful Life's production process as something akin to a nightmare. Script rewrites, a bloated shooting schedule, and an ever-changing crew cost the studio nearly all of the original $2 million budget—well before filming was even wrapped. The spending became such a concern for Capra's partners at Liberty that George Stevens remarked, "Why the hell couldn't it be springtime?" when he saw how much it cost the production to produce fake snow for shots. Capra bet Liberty's future on audiences looking for some comforting nostalgia after the war, but he was about to see firsthand just how much the world had changed since he came back.

The original plan was to release It's a Wonderful Life in January 1947, after the Oscar deadlines, but when RKO—the film's distributor—needed a movie to release in time for Christmas, Capra's project was the easy solution. It opened just weeks after William Wyler's major studio film The Best Years of Our Lives, a hard-hitting drama about a U.S. soldier coming home after the war to pick up his life again. The two films couldn't be any more different, and the reviews reflected that.

Even at nearly three hours long, The Best Years of Our Lives was an absolute hit with critics and at the box office, recouping its budget multiple times over. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. Wyler beat Capra in every way: reviews, box office, and awards. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while It's a Wonderful Life received only a lone technical award—ironically for the fake snow Stevens loathed.

Liberty Films had borrowed more than $1.5 million to make the film, and with such a disappointing box office return, the production company was soon sold off to Paramount. Capra only directed five feature films afterwards, none of which ever reached the heights of his pre-war work. As unlikely as it seems today, It's a Wonderful Life was seen as a flat disappointment destined for anonymity—until a clerical error changed its fate.

A Wonderful free-for-all

In 1974, the movie entered the public domain after the film's copyright holder simply forgot to file for a renewal. This meant that TV stations everywhere could play It's a Wonderful Life all day and all night and not have to pay a cent for it. Networks aren't necessarily shy about exploiting free Christmas content, and the film's reemergence on television gave Capra's story new life. While a post-World War II crowd may have rejected the movie's sentiment, subsequent generations seem to revel in the opportunity to visit the nostalgic whimsy of it all.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra once told The Wall Street Journal about the film's revival. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud ... but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Legalities rewrote the history of It's a Wonderful Life yet again in 1993. The Supreme Court's previous ruling in Stewart v. Abend established a precedent that allowed the film's original copyright owner—Republic Pictures—to regain its ownership of the movie. The ruling claimed that since Republic owned the copyright on the original short story which the movie was based on, and the score for the film, they, in essence, still owned the movie. So what was once a near barrage of networks airing It's a Wonderful Life has since been pared down to just one: NBC.

The network paid for exclusive rights to air the movie, which is why you'll only see It's a Wonderful Life on TV once or twice during the holidays. But the movie's modern appeal exists because of that scarcity. The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe. It turns out Capra always knew what audiences wanted, he just needed to wait for the right clerical error to prove it.

This story has been updated for 2020.