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To be offered the part of James Bond is, to some, one of the most sought after gigs ever to hit a casting call. Others, past and present, have seen that offer as either a typecasting nightmare or a public relations struggle, thus making it a poison pill... figuratively speaking. Either way, if your name comes up in reference to a role so huge as 007, it tends to make the rounds whether you take it or not.
And out of the history of the men who would be Bond, there are 12 actors who are surprise choices, as well as some prime targets, that all would have brought something different to the role. But in the case of this batch of a dozen candidates, none of them were issued that infamous license to kill.
Right from the beginning of recorded franchise history, there was a surprise candidate on the shortlist to play 007 that would have changed the history of the character forever. Hollywood legend Cary Grant was offered the role as casting for Dr. No was underway, thanks to the fact that he was a personal friend/best man to the producer running the show, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. While their friendship was strong, the British born, but American citizen Grant turned down the role for one important reason that was mentioned in The Guardian’s confirmation of this iconic story: at 58 years old, Cary Grant thought he had aged out of the part. Sean Connery was then cast, and the rest became history.
Dick Van Dyke
When Sean Connery left the role of James Bond for the first time, after 1967’s You Only Live Twice, a lot of candidates were vetted to take over the role, including a young Timothy Dalton. But while Dalton’s youth seemed to be the stumbling block that prevented him from taking the job, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang star Dick Van Dyke didn’t get the leading role in another Ian Fleming adaptation because of his controversial English accent. According to knowledge that came out of an appearance on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, via Yahoo, Van Dyke’s work on that very film was what interested Albert Broccoli in asking him if he’d wanted the role. But that offer quickly passed, as Dick Van Dyke asked him if he’d remembered his accent from Mary Poppins, and the offer was rescinded as quickly as it was made. Though, at the very least, Van Dyke did eventually apologize at the BAFTAs for the whole accent situation.
If there was an American who could have taken the mantle of James Bond and been believable in the process, Clint Eastwood is one of the few who could have done it. During the hunt that eventually delivered George Lazenby into the lead for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Eastwood’s name came up in the proceedings as his lawyer also represented series mastermind Broccoli. Even in the face of an offer that gave him the hottest ticket in town, and, according to The Telegraph, a pretty lucrative pay day, the acting/directing powerhouse couldn’t bring himself to accept because it didn’t feel right. Considering how unforgettable Sean Connery was in the role, even to Clint Eastwood himself in that very moment, one can’t fault him for passing.
Just as Burt Reynolds admitted in his autobiography that Sally Field was the one that got away in his romantic life, the Smokey and The Bandit actor fully admits that he also let his chance to be 007 slip through his fingers as well. Though, via USA Today’s coverage of that book, But Enough About Me, the late actor admitted that he passed up on the role merely because he didn’t think the moviegoing public would believe him as Bond, James Bond. Being offered the role around the time he played detective Dan August on TV, Reynolds turned down the chance to play the lead in Diamonds Are Forever. While this eventually allowed Sean Connery to return a second and final time to the franchise proper, Burt Reynolds felt that in retrospect, he could have done a hell of a job in the position.
This is the closest we’ve ever come to having an American playing the role of James Bond, as The Amityville Horror star James Brolin was pretty much cast as James Bond during a crucial phase in his 1980s history. The actor was screen tested for 1983’s Octopussy, when Roger Moore looked to be exiting the series in favor of new opportunities, and pretty much had the part. However, as Den Of Geek pointed out, the production of a rival Bond remake starring Sean Connery, and the recent financial woes MGM and United Artists ran into, both influenced the studio to win Moore back to his record setting job. So just as Brolin was getting ready to relocate to England full time, it all fell apart, leaving him to move onto one of his most famous roles: Peter McDermott, the general manager of the St. Gregory hotel, on the popular TV series Hotel.
While 1983’s Octopussy brought Roger Moore back to the table for two more James Bond films, 1985’s A View to a Kill would eventually mark the man’s official departure from the role. And around that time in movie history, a young Australian actor by the name of Mel Gibson was making a name for himself by starring in the Mad Max series of films. His work in that trilogy undoubtedly helped MGM come around to offering him the role, just in time for The Living Daylights to get underway, but Gibson was unphased by this potential job offering. Per coverage of an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, via Express, the man who would eventually shift over to films like Lethal Weapon said he rejected the idea because he wasn’t at all interested. Which was better off for the studio, because Albert Broccoli was not convinced he’d be a good fit, and the role eventually opened up for Timothy Dalton to finally claim it.
Getting Timothy Dalton into the role of James Bond wasn’t as easy or certain as you’d think, as not only did he have to wait a while after first turning down starring in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (he felt he was too young for the role at the time), but he also was a part of a pretty wide net cast for The Living Daylights. That net not only included Mel Gibson, but also Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill, who was apparently bullied into screen testing for the film by his agent. At least, that’s what his remarks to The Telegraph said at the time he admitted to it. The screen test footage did eventually see the light of day, but not until after the settlement of a mini-crisis involving that clip not being fully cleared for usage before being included on the initial DVD release of The Living Daylights.
As the legal battle over the James Bond series flared up yet again in the late '80s, the delay between License To Kill and what would have been Timothy Dalton’s third Bond film eventually lead to the actor’s contract expiring without any attempt at renewal. Once the dust had settled and it was time to bring 007 into a post-Cold War world, Goldeneye was the name of the film that would make an actor the lucky spy to update the series. Believe it or not, we almost had actor Ralph Fiennes playing the role, as he admitted in an interview in Seven Magazine, via The Telegraph, that he was approached by the series’ producers. Ultimately, Fiennes wasn’t up to committing to a franchise, and he felt that the people in charge of the series were more stuck on Pierce Brosnan than anyone else. While he wasn’t too attached to Bond, Ralph Fiennes would eventually land a role that he’s still covetous of to this very day, Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise. Still, he is the current M in the Daniel Craig era of films, so you could say that this was fate.
If there’s anything the James Bond series has taught fans, it’s that if you don’t retire from the role, a big rift in history will do the job for you. That’s how Pierce Brosnan ended up vacating the franchise, as once Die Another Day was released, he would eventually find himself replaced, with a new round of recasting up and running. And a lot of names were considered to be James Bond in the run-up to Casino Royale, with Ewan McGregor factoring in pretty chiefly among them. Of course, were it not for his performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars universe, he might not have felt typecast and would have taken the role. Though in more recent times, McGregor has admitted that if he were to ever be considered again, he’d be more inclined to take the part and run.
Another pretty big name in the Casino Royale derby was the incomparable Hugh Jackman, of X-Men and The Greatest Showman fame. As the story he told Variety goes, his agent asked him if he’d want to be considered for the role, which was being recast around the same time that X-Men 2: X-Men United was about to go into production. Not a fan of the stories the James Bond series was running at the time, Jackman passed because he felt something edgier would have been his bag, and having another involved franchise on his plate would have complicated his schedule even more. So before it got too hot, Hugh Jackman politely declined, ironically just as the Bond series was about to reboot itself in that dark and edgy tone he probably would have said yes to.
New Zealand native Karl Urban falls into a boat similar to that of American candidate James Brolin before him, as fate had other ideas when it came to his consideration for the role of James Bond. Only this time, as Urban told Nine.com, it was because of a prior engagement that he didn’t land the role of Casino Royale. While he met with the producers of the series, and things went rather well in that respect, all that was missing was one final screen test to seal the deal. And that deal was definitely not sealed, because Karl Urban’s filming schedule at the time prevented that screen test from happening. But as surprising as Urban’s name is on the short list, there’s one pretty big name that got to the final four, only to see Daniel Craig win out overall.
Still a couple years out from his career boosting role on Showtime’s The Tudors, as well as playing a very Bond-like figure in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a then-22-year-old Henry Cavill was part of the final screen tests that would decide who got to star in Casino Royale back in 2005. Listed among Daniel Craig, Goran Visnjic and Sam Worthington in the BBC’s coverage of the event, Cavill’s rejection story is quite simple when compared to all the others that we’ve covered previously. He simply wasn’t selected in the field that included Craig’s candidacy, which left him open for other opportunities in franchise like the DC Extended Universe and the Mission: Impossible series. Though another lesson that we’ve learned from the Bond franchise is, quite simply, never say never.
Henry Cavill has expressed interest and enthusiasm about potentially becoming James Bond, while cooly rounding off the rumors that continue to dog him as saying he doesn’t know what’s in store for the series after Daniel Craig’s departure. He certainly wouldn’t be the first person to get a second bite at the apple, with the potential to win overall, so we won’t count him out of the race just yet.
For now though, we’ll have Daniel Craig’s supposedly final James Bond film to look forward to, as Bond 25 is currently in production and set for an April 8, 2020 release date.