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Sam Neill Auditioned For James Bond With ‘Extreme Reluctance,’ And Tells Us Why He Felt That Way

Sam Neill in Jurassic World: Dominion
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Landing the chance to audition for the lead of the James Bond movies is something that most actors would kill for. That isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to the story of Jurassic World: Dominion star Sam Neill, one of several big actors who were almost 007. Famously auditioning for the role in the run up to The Living Daylights, the actor admits he only did it out of “extreme reluctance.” Neill not only has quite the story behind how it all happened, but his reasons behind those feelings are quite understandable.

Talking with Sam Neill during his rounds of press for the latest Jurassic World entry was a joy and an honor in and of itself. However, this was a moment where two of my fandoms met at a crossroads, as I’m also a James Bond fan. As such, I asked how Neill even got his audition, and how he felt filming the standard From Russia with Love scene that’s used to test pretty much all modern 007 candidates.

I couldn’t have imagined the actual answer, told to CinemaBlend by Sam Neill himself. In his trademark storyteller’s pacing and tone, here’s how the actor described his James Bond audition experience.

I did that with extreme reluctance. I think that was the last thing I allowed my then agent to bully me into. Because I said to her, ‘Listen, I do not want to be James Bond. And I particularly don’t want to be that James Bond that everybody says, ‘Look, there’s James Bond in the corner of the restaurant. He’s the one I don’t like.’ So I turn up to Pinewood, I do this audition, the entire thing was mortifying, and luckily I never heard from them again.

Recalling some of the roles that Neill has played over the years, from the kindly but firm Dr. Alan Grant to the slowly maddened Dr. Weir in Event Horizon, it’s hard to see him being bullied into anything. Yet that seems to be the case when talking about his Living Daylights screen test, which presumably came after Pierce Brosnan’s unfortunate close call with being cast in that role shortly before production started. In all fairness, none of us wants to be that James Bond, so this reticence is absolutely justified. 

A little bit of history sees why Sam Neill would be considered for the role of 007 in The Living Daylights. The search for a new Bond after 1985’s A View to a Kill closed the Roger Moore era of James Bond saw the New Zealand talent positioned quite well for this role. Having the espionage miniseries Reilly: Ace of Spies under his belt certainly helped Neill’s chances in the running. That project was coincidentally directed by Goldeneye and Casino Royale’s Martin Campbell, another one of those interesting path crossings that make the cinematic history of James Bond so rich to research. 

So what did Sam Neill’s James Bond screen test look like? Thankfully, this is one of the rare instances where you can see for yourself what might have been:

The source of Sam Neill’s screen tests was the 2000 documentary Inside The Living Daylights, a DVD extra lost to time and contractual limbo. So naturally, you’re able to find it on the internet until a proper home video release is secured yet again. Also included in that special feature are remarks from James Bond series producer Michael G. Wilson, who recalled the following feelings about Neill’s potential casting:

All of us were impressed with Sam Neill, and very much wanted to use him. He'd been very successful as Reilly: Ace of Spies. Like a lot of things in life, it was a close race.

Naturally, the decision making vote came from none other than Wilson’s step-father, and previous James Bond overlord, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. He was a fan of Timothy Dalton for the role, and after vetoing Pierce Brosnan’s potential juggling of both Remington Steele and James Bond for The Living Daylights, the field was open. Sam Neill was the first actor to test for the role, but he didn’t make the cut. Which, in the actor’s own opinion shared below, was a blessing in his eyes:

Whereas Pierce [Brosnan], who’s a friend of mine, really really wanted to be James Bond; and I’m so pleased he got the gig. … Pierce really wanted the gig, and he was really good at it. He was terrific. I didn’t want the gig, and I would have been any good. So all’s well that ends well.

In movie history, everything seems to have fallen into its right place. Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan landed the role of 007 on their second go-round, and Sam Neill got to play Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park not to long down the road. It may be another “what if” scenario that’s tempting to envision, but since the man himself wasn’t so hot on the prospect, not much was lost.

To think, if Neill had landed the role in The Living Daylights, his tenure as Bond might have extended far enough that it may have cost him that role in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster. Though considering how Sam Neill sees Dr. Alan Grant as a character, mixed with how he didn’t want to be James Bond, this could just be another prime example of Chaos Theory at work.

All of this has led to the gigantic debut of Jurassic World: Dominion, which is currently stomping into theaters as we speak. That’s just part of the upcoming movies that will be invading multiplexes soon, which happens to include Pierce Brosnan’s upcoming role in Black Adam. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime subscribers can watch The Living Daylights, and pretty much any 007 film up to and including Skyfall, as at the time of this writing the first 23 installments are available for streaming.

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