James Brolin Was Insanely Close To Becoming James Bond, Until A Last Second Change

The legacy of the James Bond movies has quite a few intriguing stories about close casting calls for its main role. Yet the most interesting stories are those of actors, like Pierce Brosnan, who are practically cast in the role, only for a circumstance to put the kibosh on the whole thing at the last minute. Acting legend James Brolin has such a story, as he was pretty much cast as James Bond for Octopussy, but lost the role at the last minute to Roger Moore.

James Brolin smiling up close in his Octopussy screen test.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

How And Why James Brolin Got The Role In Octopussy

During our interview on behalf of Brolin’s role in Lightyear, we got to talk about the moment in Bond history where he almost became the first American 007. He certainly wasn’t the only Yank to be considered for the role, as the history of actors who almost played James Bond also included the likes of Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. 

However, the story that James Brolin told is reminiscent of the one that saw Pierce Brosnan losing out on The Living Daylights at the goal line. Starting his tale with the circumstances that saw him auditioning for the part in the first place, Brolin told CinemaBlend about that time Roger Moore almost called it quits two movies earlier than he eventually did:

They were interested - Roger Moore said that it was it, he wasn’t doing any more Bonds. And so they were combing who’s good, and as you know, they made a few oddball choices in the past. Guys that did one picture, and then disappeared. So anyway, I go shopping and I get all dressed up like maybe James Bond might look at a party, and I fly over to meet [Albert] “Cubby” Broccoli, and he takes me along. We get along great, right from the get go. We had a discussion about the dialect, and I said, ‘Well, you know, like a New York stage actress, you know how they’re a little haughty?’ I said, ‘We’ll just be sort of [Midatlantic] with that. We won’t nail it down.’ And he said ‘That sounds good.’

As the story goes, Roger Moore’s era of James Bond could have ended after 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, as that was the extent of his initial 007 contract. However, Moore would keep the games interesting by committing on a movie by movie basis throughout the rest of his tenure. 1983 was a particularly fruitful time to do that, as there as another offer on the table for Sir Roger to entertain.

It just so happened that this offer was also on Sean Connery’s table, and one conversation between the two Commander Bonds would define a huge year in James Bond history. Who would have thought Never Say Never Again would actually be important to the fate of EON Productions’ main line 007 franchise.

Roger Moore sitting in a mini jet in Octopussy and Sean Connery sitting in a tuxedo in Never Say Never Again, pictured side by side.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM / Warner Bros )

The Octopussy Conversation That Brought Roger Moore Back As 007

Sitting on the fence about whether he really wanted to leave after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore and Sean Connery discussed their common job offer. As producer Jack Schwartzman was working with Kevin McClory on one of his several attempts to remake Thunderball, the position of the competing James Bond needed someone commanding to step into the role.

Who better to ask than two potentially outgoing 007s to play the other fella? However, Sir Roger’s decision was dependent on that of Sir Sean. As he told The Today Show (via YouTube) while promoting Octopussy’s 1983 release, Moore let the first Bond do the driving: 

Of course, Jack Schwartzman came to me and asked me if I wanted to do that, or did I want to do this. So, yes, of course, that gave me a certain amount of leverage. I said to Sean, ‘Which one do you want to do?’ and he didn’t want to do the one with Cubby, so I’m here and he’s there.

While Roger Moore was debating whether or not he’d take the role of James Bond in the competing adventure from the non-EON canon of 007, James Brolin was hard at work. Landing the audition to become the potential fourth actor in the role, he would eventually film two screen tests to prove himself 00-worthy of the job. 

Just like Sam Neill’s reluctant Bond screen test, Brolin filmed a version of the introduction between Bond and Tatiana Romanova in 1963’s From Russia With Love. In fact, he had a slight advantage when it came to Octopussy, as he tested with Maud Adams, who had been cast as the titular smuggler. The chemistry, and surprisingly the accent, work out rather well in that segment of footage. 

However, the real indication that the eventual star of the TV series Hotel was a pretty serious candidate is this stunt test that Brolin filmed. You can watch that test for yourself below, which is also pretty impressive for this era of 007 history.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Sean Connery chose to make Never Say Never Again, turning 1983 into a Bond vs Bond showdown that would see Octopussy released mere months before the unofficial 007 entry. Which meant that Roger Moore would trigger this conclusion of James Brolin’s James Bond story:

I did two tests, which are online. I worked out with the stunt guys, I picked my flat, I went home to grab my stuff. And Roger Moore said, ‘Well, I think I’ll do one more.’ The end of story. … But, you know … [in] this business, you better know that’s how it’s gonna be your whole life, and just roll with it, you know?

There doesn’t seem to be any ill-will on James Brolin’s end when it comes to his James Bond experience. For a brief moment, we almost saw an American cast in the role of Ian Fleming’s literary superspy; and based on the footage that’s out there, it wouldn’t have been a terrible move. It’s yet another “what if?” that makes the 007 franchise history one of the richest experiences to research in the world of cinema. 

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of James Bond, and await further updates on who the seventh actor in the role will be, there’s plenty of ways to celebrate. Most notably, all but one of the official EON Productions James Bond films is currently streaming for Amazon Prime subscribers. Meanwhile, James Brolin fans can hear him play the evil Zurg in Disney/Pixar's Lightyear, which is currently in theaters. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.