Finding Bond | The Invincible Spy
A great character always survives its author. Perhaps that’s because the author can be written down. The events of their lives can be accurately recorded and a factual start and end can be used like bookends to prop their existence. You can’t bring them back from the dead or change what they do, is what we’re saying. If the story is altered it becomes fiction and the author disappears. On the other hand, the heroes they create can be immortal. Sometimes they can even become the quintessential trophy of an entire culture. These characters are malleable because they are imaginary, yet often we will use them as a kind of whetstone to sharpen our self-perception and hone our own existence. Unlike their authors, they can cross centuries, form archetypes and reappear in different cultures, like Blackadder, stumbling through history with his turnip-loving dogsbody.
Recently there was such an author who was survived by his character. He began life (the author) as an idle student who, by his own admission, ‘wasn’t terribly good at [his] books’. He turned instead to athletics and then went to Sandhurst, after which he joined the Royal Navy and journeyed around the world. During his service this young man came to understand what the life of a spy might be like and, generally, how the intelligence machine works. Then, years later, when he was on the edge of getting married – faced with the somewhat double-edged prospect of leaving the bachelor’s life behind – he devised a way of preserving the persona that he was quite reluctant to lose. He decided to write a character that would never settle down – someone who was so caught up in his duty to queen and country that he would never slow or tire. The vicarious adventures of this restless character, which was a mixture of commanders and secret service agents that the author remembered, became the sole focus of his career thereafter. For six weeks to two months of every year he would travel to his second home in Jamaica and throw himself into the heady narrative of each new thriller. He wrote fast and characterised his hero, and the adversaries he beat, with meticulous detail. Of course his fiction was exaggerated and yet at the same time he always strove towards verisimilitude, as is evidenced by the outrageous torture scenes that, in several instances, sparked critical vitriol.
This author’s name was Ian Fleming and his thrillers birthed one of the most famous characters of the last century – an inexorable English spy known the world over as, simply, “Bond, James Bond”.
In the past few months a pre-emptive search has started for the next potential Bond. But who is Bond? And how has he changed since he first sprang from Fleming’s pen, all those years ago? This week Watchtag have put on the proverbial deerstalker and carried out a search of our own. We’ve blown the dust off Dr No, followed Bond around the world and into space and watched him seduce more models than Dicaprio at a Victoria Secret convention. All in the name of work, we might add, namely the quest to uncover those smooth characteristics that define the man of mystery.
So, after one hell of a start to the week, we’ve come to the conclusion that the secret of Bond lies in Fleming’s motive for writing him. Bond is the man who never settles down, a professional vagabond with a license to be everything that most men dream of being, especially after they’re married. He is the suppressed alter-ego that feels entirely at ease. You know the one, right? He appears on those rare occasions when you slip into a suit more stylish than you’re used to, or arrive at a crowded bar and miraculously catch the tender’s attention.
Since Bond is something of a masculine fantasy, fulfilling a definite purpose, there are certain rules regarding his appearance. He has to be handsome, in the conventional sense, and also unfailingly debonair. This much has been proven by Bond’s various big screen incarnations, whether it was Moore the supreme gentleman, Connery with his purring Scottish brogue or Dalton the dark and brooding cad. It’s also essential that Bond have the grand air of a champion who rules the escapist world of espionage. He should stand as a living testimony to the idea that ‘manners maketh man’. Therefore he should never seem out of place, like in Octopussy, when Bond first appears on a crowded wharf in Udaipur, India, wearing an impeccable white designer suit. In that moment he greets the blistering heat with a cool languor – one that is unbetrayed by a single bead of sweat. His every utterance affirms the fact he is an Eton-educated former Naval Commander, who has since soared in the Secret Service. Rarely will he express any vagaries of emotion, nor is he ever likely to be surprised or caught off-kilter. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bond is brave. He manfully dares to live at the extremities of life – who could forget the opening of Goldeneye, when, after a six-year legal hiatus, Pierce Brosnan (his stunt double) leapt from the Contra Dam in Switzerland and announced Bond’s fearless return?
After deciding who Bond is to us we thought we’d list our five favourite choices for the actor who should play him next. But, since we’re in the watch game and Bond is to watches what Keira Knightley is to beauty cream, we also thought we’d add a little twist. The only brand that’s mentioned in the novel was Rolex and we all remember the Rolex Submariner with the leather strap that first appeared in Dr. No. Then there was the shapely Seiko of the trendy Moore days. Followed by the slimmer design of the Omega, which has been the Bond brand since Goldeneye in 1995. With this in mind, we’ve paired each actor with the piece we thought best suited their version of Bond. Let us know if you’d rank them differently or if we’ve missed anyone you think would be perfect for the gig.
Benedict Cumberbatch: Bond The Chameleon
This is one that we haven’t heard mentioned yet. Granted Cumberbatch doesn’t have Bond’s typical broad-shouldered frame, nor does he convey the rugged egomania of a serial womaniser. What he does bring to the table, though, is a versatility that would befit a chameleonic range of identities. Imagine an actor that could meander through Moore’s charm, bringing the curious humour of Connery, whilst also keeping a reserve of Craig’s furious physicality. You’d be right to doubt that one man could tie all that together. But remember that this is the actor who gave Khan those dark moments of hissing sibilance and savagery in Star Trek. The same actor who imbued Sherlock Holmes with a subtle trace of androgyny, as well as that less subtle flair of fast talking hyper-intelligence. Then, when it came to Cumberbatch having to sell that driving devotion to both queen and country, picture his booming Major in War Horse, rousing the cavalry.
We admit he’s not the most obvious candidate, but we couldn’t help thinking that he’d offer a unique nuance in Bond’s on-going characterisation.
‘I’ve always wanted to play a spy… you are never what you seem.’ – Benedict Cumberbatch
Tom Hiddleston: Bond The Wordsmith
Undoubtedly another dark horse in the bid to embody Bond, Hiddleston surely has the look: the black flowing hair, expressive blue eyes and defined, slightly aquiline features. The question is, though, could he bring the required physicality?
Well, Hiddleston certainly wouldn’t be another Craig that’s for sure. We couldn’t see him swaggering out of the ocean, flexing his muscles like the masculine version of Ursula Andress. However we know that he can convey a unique malevolence and strength, as we’ve seen with Loki from ‘Thor’ and ‘The Avengers’ films. Perhaps that means he could give Bond a darker, more callous edge, befitting a man in his brutal line of work, although we’re not quite sure we like the idea of Bond becoming any more sombre. Alternatively he could add a spark of humour, becoming the eloquent Bond who revels in those delicious ripostes that stun villains and woo women. On many occasions Hiddleston has brought Shakespeare to life and his charming talent with words is abundantly clear. We also like to think of him portraying a Bond with a stylish appetite for the finer things in life – Bond the linguist, perhaps, with that worldly charm Hiddleston used for his role as one of America’s finest writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’.
‘The dream is to keep surprising yourself.’ – Tom Hiddleston
Michael Fassbender: Bond The Avenger
There aren’t many actors who could bring that raw intensity Fassbender used to portray Magneto – the buried agony that drove him towards wanton chaos. You could almost see those memories of a holocaust held in his still, yet vengeful eyes. There are even fewer actors who could plunge so convincingly into the dark psychology of that plantation owner in ‘Twelve Years A Slave’. That isn’t even to mention the quiet, maniacal figure he cut when he played Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’. He might sound like someone far too intense to manage the mingled levity and brutality that is essential to modern Bond. However Fassbender also has a laconic skill with words and yet at the same time he is able to enter captivating monologues with flourishes of quick-fire intelligence. There’s no denying he could also achieve the required physicality and that his powerful register would command attention. In addition he would join Connery in redefining Bond as British, lending Bond a lyrical Irish accent, which would be great, if only to keep the English from claiming the character as their own.
‘I want to keep myself guessing… so that I don’t get too comfortable.’ – Michael Fassbender
Idris Elba: Bond The Bold
No matter where you’ve seen Idris Elba – whether it was as Stringer Bell, the American drug kingpin, or as the Norse God Heimdallr – we’re sure you’ll agree that he’s a veritable force of nature. His deep, resounding voice and towering physical and emotional presence would surely convey the grit that keeps Bond standing guard at the gates of his nation. Elba also possesses a faultless confidence and cultivates the air of a suave and softly spoken gent. However some critics have already predicted that he wouldn’t look ‘right’ with a gin martini and Walther PPK in hand. Anthony Horowitz, the author currently writing the next Bond novel, ‘Trigger Mortis’, on behalf of the Fleming Estate, said that Elba was ‘too rough to play the part’ and elaborated by adding that he was ‘a bit too ‘street’’ –
Whatever that means, and one would be forgiven for finding prejudicial connotations, it does draw attention to the fact that Elba would upset a certain wonky apple-cart. Just imagine the same bold actor who gave Mandela such tenacity – a black man with parents from Ghana and Sierra Leone – bringing his power and charisma to the white-washed, strictly English Bond that some individuals are so desperately clinging onto.
‘…creativity all comes from the same source.’ – Idris Elba
Tom Hardy: Bond The Brawler
In terms of physicality, as well as the ability to inhabit a character that is at once both sensitive and ferocious, there are no actors working today like Tom Hardy. In ‘Warrior’ he became a man on a warpath – someone who had been thrown to the limits of what a human can endure. As Bane he gave an acting masterclass using nothing but his eyes, a twisted, gasmask-choked register and the sheer immensity of his physique. However, in our opinion, it was his first major turn as the infamous British prisoner Charles Bronson that revealed an actor capable of absorbing their character. It was almost as if he’d imbibed Bronson though an intravenous injection. So if Hardy then subdued that rage – saving it for those emotional, broken armour moments that made Craig so memorable – and used the surface calm and cool of his more light-hearted flicks, like ‘This Means War’, we think he would beautifully evince Bond’s unusual depth. Not only would Hardy continue Craig’s efforts to open Bond up – leaving the wholesome old charmer for those nostalgia Connery/Moore movie days – he’d also keep hold of the verisimilitude that has allowed Bond to evolve and leave such CGI-debacles as ‘Die Another Die’ behind. And that’s why we’ve chosen Hardy as our favourite frontrunner to become the next James Bond.
‘Style, I think, is panache. Who are you? What did you do today?’ – Tom Hardy
So there you have it – we’d back Tom Hardy to fill Craig’s sizeable shoes as the next James Bond. Rumours abound that Daniel Craig will slide his martini glass to one side after the next film’s release. If the rumours are true then Craig will certainly be remembered for the physicality and conviction he brought to the role. In our opinion he’s made Bond tough and authentic. In fact the Bond films we see now are really more Bourne than Bond. Suffice it to say that Roger Moore’s hokey judo is a thing of the past – something for your dad to remise mournfully over – whereas the Bond of the younger generation can be seen falling, taking shots and surviving the life of a less invincible spy.