With his suave, debonair mien including the incredulous raised eyebrow, his refined accent and smooth voice, he was a natural choice to portray the world’s most famous British spy after the first actor gave up. Despite a phobia of firearms, fear of heights and disliking getting wet, Sir Roger Moore would go on to appear the most – seven times – as James Bond, which completely overshadowed the rest of his long acting career.
In fact, it is hard to think of any cinematic portrayal of Moore outside a 007 film.
Be it fleeing assassins in an autorickshaw amid tumult of an Indian street, skiing away from pursuers through an icy mountain, fighting off a gigantic, steel-toothed man in the Egyptian desert or outer space, telling the priest in a confessional “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned” only for the disguised Q to retort: “That’s putting it mildly, 007”, or cuddling up a Russian spy under the eyes of two sets of shocked high officials, everyone would have their favourite Moore as Bond moment.
But Moore, who was both appreciated and attacked for his approach to the role, was not in much awe of it.
“To me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous, so outrageous. I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet, everybody knows he’s a spy. Every bartender in the world offers him martinis that are shaken, not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognised everywhere he goes’ It’s outrageous. So you have to treat the humour outrageously as well. My personality is entirely different than previous Bonds. I’m not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs,” he once said.
And while detractors said he didn’t look “tough”, he was no weakling, once beating up Lee Marvin while they were filming “Shout at the Devil” (1976). Marvin, a legendary hell-raiser, later admitted that Moore was “built like granite” and that “nobody will ever underestimate him again”.
But there was more to Moore. After giving up playing the secret agent who defeats evil masterminds, he tried to help children around the world as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador (succeeding his friend Audrey Hepburn in the role).
The only son of London policeman George Alfred Moore and the Calcutta-born Lillian, Moore was born on October 14, 1927. Called for national service in 1946, he served in Germany and rose to the rank of Captain, which his time reportedly also included a stint in military intelligence.
He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1945 but left after a couple of terms to become a paid actor. His first onscreen appearance was an extra in the Claude Rains-Vivien Leigh starrer “Caesar and Cleopatra” (1945).
Moving to the US in 1953, he only got bit roles in films throughout the 1950s but found a little more visibility on TV movies and serials. In fact, it was these that brought him to greater public visibility, as the titular hero in an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” (1958-59), but especially as Simon Templar in the long-running TV series “The Saint” (1962-69).
It was as this wisecracking, Robin Hood-type criminal with a golden heart, dubbed the ‘Saint’ due to his initials, that Moore developed the mannerisms that would serve him well as James Bond.
When Sean Connery refused to do any more Bond films after “You Only Live Twice” (1967), Moore was on the short-list to succeed him, but Australian George Lazenby became the second Bond – though only in “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969). After Connery, who was coaxed back for “Diamonds are Forever” (1971) left for good, Moore succeeded him – though at 45, he was the oldest Bond actor.
“Live and Let Die” (1973), “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974), “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), “Moonraker” (1979), “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), “Octopussy” (1983) have all been deemed classic Bond films though Moore’s firearm phobia made for repeated takes, his dislike of getting wet took a toss given all these had scenes near water or the sea and involved motor-boat chases and he used a double for running scenes.
Getting conscious of his age, which meant his leading ladies were “younger than my daughter”, he bowed out with “A View to a Kill” (1985), which was his least-liked.
And while he has other acclaimed films, like “Wild Geese” (1978), “Escape to Athena” (1979) or “The Sea Wolves” (1980), it is Bond that Moore will be remembered for. But he was unfazed.
“I didn’t regret any of it. … I see the blogs where people write that I was too light and I was too old. I would love to be remembered as one of the greatest Lears or Hamlets. But, as that’s not going to happen, I’m quite happy I did Bond,” he said.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )
By Vikas Datta