Despite all the mystery, intrigue and espionage, there are a few things we know about James Bond. He has an appetite for martinis. He has an appetite for women. He has a license to kill. And he has a license to kill careers.
Opening next Friday: "Spectre," starring, once again, Daniel Craig as 007 with direction by Sam Mendes (who also directed 2012's "Skyfall"). "Spectre" picks up a year and a half after "Skyfall" and involves a cryptic message from 007's past that sends him on a mission to uncover the truth about the sinister titular organization.
It is either the 23rd, 24th or 25th feature film based on Ian Fleming's 1950-'60s spy novels, depending on whether one includes the 1967 parody "Casino Royale" and/or 1983's "Never Say Never Again," which was a remake of "Thunderball." It is also the fourth to star Craig, who has been quoted as saying that one more Bond movie might give him license to kill himself.
"I'd rather break this glass and slash my wrists," he told TimeOut last month, when asked if he'd do another turn as 007. Craig backpedaled just a bit when he said if he did do another, it would just be for the money. To which longtime Bond watchers probably responded with a chuckle. Why else would someone play James Bond? The Shakespearean dialogue?
Well, it's certainly a high-profile gig, although once an actor takes it on, it's not so easy to shake off. And the efforts to do so often seem futile and frustrating. Nevertheless, the role of Bond remains a coveted one: Actors Idris Elba and David Oyelowo seem to be going head to head to become the screen's first black James Bond (Oyelowo will be the first black Bond, albeit on audio book) so Craig probably doesn't have to worry too much about his wrists ("Look, I don't give a [expletive]. Good luck to them," Craig said when asked if he cared who played the next Bond.)
But one can understand an actor's concern: Where do you go after the Aston Martin drops you at the curb?
There are some who will argue, still, that the best James Bond was the first -- Sean Connery. And it was arguably Connery who had the healthiest career -- not just post-007, but throughout the Bond years, when he was making "Marnie" for Alfred Hitchcock, and "The Anderson Tapes," "Zardoz," "The Wind and the Lion," "The Man Who Would Be King," "Robin and Marian," "Murder on the Orient Express" and "A Bridge Too Far." Four years after his last Bond movie, he won an Oscar for "The Untouchables."
Roger Moore, on the other hand, may have stayed on her majesty's secret service a tad too long. (Regarding "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," its James Bond, George Lazenby, rejected all things Bond before the movie had even been released. "Bond is a brute," he said in 1969, in a fit of apparent hippie-era delirium. "I've already put him behind me. I will never play him again." And he has seldom been heard from since.)
Moore, whose seventh and last 007 movie was "A View to a Kill" (1985), has made only a handful of films since, and one of them was "Spice World."
But Moore was 58 by the time he abandoned Bond (or vice versa); Connery was only 41 at the time of "Never Say Never Again." Craig, at 47, may be looking at the respective examples of his predecessors.
And they include, lest we forget, Timothy Dalton, who starred in just two Bond movies before leaving the field at age 45 -- "The Living Daylights" (1987), based on a Fleming short story, and "License to Kill" (1989), the first Bond title not taken from a Fleming work. (They had to run out eventually since Fleming died in 1964.) While Dalton's was a fairly humor-free Bond, he parlayed his 007 persona, which he's never shaken, into a few lighthearted parts for TV. He also voiced Mr. Pricklepants in "Toy Story 3."
Which brings one to Pierce Brosnan, who appeared in just four Bond films and worked with some of the better directors to have ever tackled the franchise (including Lee Tamahori, Roger Spottiswoode and Michael Apted). Since separating himself from Bond after 2002's "Die Another Day," Brosnan has made one truly great movie -- Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer," in which he played a character much like Tony Blair -- and several which have flirted with greatness, such as "The Matador," in which he played a dissolute hit man, a role obviously intended to play off his Bond credentials.
But Brosnan, who was 49 when he made his presumably final Bond, hasn't quite seemed to find his footing. "The November Man" (2014), not a great movie, was another action thriller in which his casting was obviously intended to reference 007 -- Brosnan played a rogue CIA agent, betrayed by his supposed allies, much the way James Bond always seems to be.
Daniel Craig avoids typecasting in these non-Bond roles
The longevity and legacy of James Bond the Cultural Institution is such that getting out from under the shadow of Secret Agent 007 can be a formidable task for an actor. Once you play him, it seems, you live him. A key to avoiding typecasting is not limiting yourself to one role, which most of the Bonds have done -- including Daniel Craig, who made the following in, around and before his turn as Bond.
Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998) Not always the first film mentioned in any Craig biography but a wonderful, wrenching movie about British painter Francis Bacon and his relationship with George Dyer (Craig), the "rough trade" whom Bacon met when the younger man was breaking into the artist's apartment and who became his longtime lover.
Munich (2005) Craig is "Steve," the South African driver for Eric Bana's team of Jewish assassins out to avenge the Munich Olympics massacre, in Steven Spielberg's taut, fraught and largely underappreciated drama. There is so much acting talent in "Munich" that major European stars are used virtually as extras.
Infamous (2006) The "other" Truman Capote/"In Cold Blood" movie (it was released a year after "Capote") featured Craig as Perry Smith, one of the two killers at the heart of Capote's great "nonfiction novel," and the one whose relationship with the writer was enormously influential on what turned out to be the author's last completed book.
Defiance (2008) A Holocaust wish-fulfillment movie starring Craig and Liev Schreiber as Jewish brothers in Belarus. They organize resistance against the Nazis during World War II, building a village in the forest to protect 1,000 other Jews. It's a tense, historically based drama in which both Craig and Schreiber are sincere and ferocious.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) In David Fincher's remake of the 2009 Swedish adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel, Craig stars as Mikael Blomkvist, the railroaded publisher of Millennium magazine being investigated by tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander, with whom he then joins forces to investigate a 50-year-old murder. Rooney Mara more or less steals the movie as Salander, but Craig is solid, and both are rumored to be returning to their roles next year in part II, "The Girl Who Played With Fire."