George Lazenby‘s story is one of the oddest in Hollywood history, as I learned when I sat down, during the recent TCM Classic Film Festival, with the man who played James Bond in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — and then walked away from a $1 million offer to star in six more installments.
As Lazenby, now 75, explains with surprising candor, he was a car mechanic in Australia who pursued a girl to England, whereupon he stumbled into a career as a top model and then, through information procured during a threesome, a casting session for the role of the coolest man in the world, 007.
The part had come open when Sean Connery, who inhabited it in the franchise’s first five installments, decided to give it up. Against all odds, Lazenby, who had never previously appeared before a film camera, landed the gig. Against all odds, he did a very respectable job of acting. And then, against all odds, on the advice of a man who was acting as an agent, he gave it all up.
During this rather hilarious conversation, Lazenby discusses, among other things:
- The aforementioned journey, up to and including the sexual encounter that led him to Bond franchise producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.
- The efforts that he made to prepare for that meeting, including obtaining a Rolex, a specially cut suit and a haircut from the same barber who cut Connery’s and Broccoli’s hair (“I wanted to be James Bond. What man doesn’t?”… “I stood there with my Rolex showing…. I said, ‘I heard you’re looking for James Bond.’ “).
- Coming clean to Peter Hunt, the editor on the previous Bond films who was assuming the directing helm on the sixth (“I said, ‘Peter, I’ve never acted in my life….’ He starts rolling on the floor laughing. He said, ‘You’ve fooled two of the most ruthless men I’ve met in my life! They made me come back from Switzerland to see you! Stick to your story and I’ll make you the next James Bond!’ “).
- The things that he had to do, over the course of four months, to prove that he deserved the part (“They set me up [with a prostitute] to see if I was gay or not”; he shot a screen test with a Russian wrestler, who he accidentally knocked out, at which point Saltzman “just stepped over him, grabbed my arm, took me over to the wall and said, ‘We’re going with you.’ “).
- The misunderstanding with Hunt that led the first-time director to refuse to engage with the first-time actor throughout the entire shoot (“He never spoke to me ’til the end of the movie — even at the end of the movie he wouldn’t speak to me.”).
- The “perks” of playing the part (He slept with just about every girl who worked on the film — except for costar Diana Rigg, who had told him, “You and I can have something together if you don’t mess with the other girls,” and then caught him doing just that.).
- Why he walked away from the part (“It was hippie time. I would go into a restaurant and people would say, ‘Uh, waiter!’ Because I’m in a suit and everyone’s in bell-bottoms, flower shirts, long hair. And then my manager, or a guy who adopted me to be a manager, Ronan O’Rahilly…. I listened to him. He said, ‘James Bond’s over. Easy Rider, Bruce Lee, they were the people who were in…Clint Eastwood.’ “).
- What happened to him after he refused to sign on for additional Bond films and he was “blackballed” (“I was broke. I had no money…. I gave up the Western world.”).
- How he came to know Bruce Lee, who intended to revive Lazenby’s career, during the final three days of the action star’s life (“Bruce said I’ve got a little bit of a headache…. The good guys die first.”).
- His opinions about the all-time best Bond movie (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and best Bond (Connery — “We were copying him.”).
- Whether or not he would ever consider returning to the franchise, perhaps as a Bond villain (“I did get some talk about that at one time.”).
- What his life is like today (“Bonding with your family is where it’s at!”).