"Bond, James Bond." Only six actors have had the honor of uttering that famous line, and George Lazenby is one of them. But he's even more famous for being the one-shot Bond, the man who brashly slipped on the 007 tuxedo after Sean Connery called it quits. After impressing audiences with his performance in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Lazenby decided not to return to the role that changed his world, and now he explains why to ETonline in an exclusive interview.
"My manager was telling me that James Bond was over," says Lazenby, now 73, at a special screening of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS), presented by Glendale Arts & Prospect House Entertainment in celebration of 50 years of the Bond franchise. "It was the hippie era, and Easy Rider was the No. 1 movie, so I was listening to him and thinking he was right. 'It was Sean Connery's gig, get out while you can' -- so I never signed a contract."
A former male model -- or "clothes peg" as he puts it -- Lazenby adds, "I didn't want to be an actor in the first place," but reflecting on an early James Bond movie he went to, he reveals just why the role appealed to him: "I was more than a fan; I was envious of [Connery]. I had a date one time -- going in I had a 90-percent chance of getting lucky; I think I had about a 21 percent coming out. I thought, 'Jesus, if I ever get a chance to be that guy, I'm going to be him.' And then it came along."
Landing the coveted role of a lifetime among hundreds who auditioned wasn't easy for Lazenby, but a serendipitous combination of good fortune and Aussie bravado allowed him to saunter in to the 007 casting offices and bluff his way through to get the attention of the producers and OHMSS director Peter Hunt.
"I lied my way in there, saying I'd done movies in Czechoslovakia and China and Russia and places I didn't think they could check on," says Lazenby with a glint in his eye. "I never thought I'd get the role; I really didn't want to be an actor, but I liked the idea of lots of money and lots of girls and the lifestyle [that] James Bond would get me."
At one point Lazenby felt he was in way over his head and confessed to Hunt that he wasn't even an actor: "I leveled with him, and he just stared at me for a minute and he just started belly laughing," recalls Lazenby. "He said, 'You say you can't act?! You fooled the two most ruthless [producers] I ever met in my life!' And he said, 'Stick to your story, I'll make you the next James Bond.'"
Despite being offered a king's ransom to follow up OHMSS, Lazenby made the critical mistake of following his agent's awful advice and had trouble landing roles in mainstream movies for years. Connery came back for one last outing as James Bond in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, then famously said "never again" to the role – but as Bond fans know, he returned for yet one more 007 adventure in 1983 (in the cleverly titled Never Say Never Again). He was succeeded by Roger Moore, who holds the record for the most Bond films with seven, then Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig.
"[Craig] is obviously a good actor, and he plays the role to suit [today's] audience," says Lazenby. "It's much tougher and harder than we were in the sixties. We had heart and soul. Even though you were a killer, you could still shed a tear over someone dying."