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
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
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
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 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, 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
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.