Five years ago, James Norton became a Gentleman’s Journal cover star. And, during his soul-seeking, self-reflecting interview in our magazine, the English actor said something surprising: “I would love to play a Bond villain”. It was a bizarre, ambitious aspiration for Norton even then — but even more so today; the actor has now spent over half a decade in the top three of the ‘Next Bond’ odds field.
But what do these odds even mean? According to Sam Heughan, another actor consistently tipped for the role, such speculations hold little water. “I think the odds are a bit of a fallacy,” he told Gentleman’s Journal during an interview last year. “I mean, I’m obviously such a huge fan of the Bond movies. I actually just rewatched the most recent one again, No Time To Die. I mean, it would be an incredible job, wouldn’t it?”
"It would be an incredible job, wouldn’t it?”
It’s an opinion shared with many of Heughan’s young British actors. With [No Time To Die spoilers ahead] EON Productions having finally killed off 007 in the last film, and Daniel Craig officially hanging up his Walther PPK, producers are currently searching for the right person to slip into the tux. And Bond remains one of the most coveted mainstream film roles in Britain, possibly even the world (although producers tend to stick to the British Isles when it comes to casting Ian Fleming’s super-spy).
Which brings us to the big question: Who will follow in the stylish footsteps of Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig, and become the next official actor to play Bond? Forget speculation for a moment, because we’ve trawled through the CVs of previous 007s, assessed the current frontrunners and have discerned just how EON’s Bond-picking machine ticks to tell you — almost definitively — who they’ve got in that iconic gun barrel’s sights.
Where do Bonds come from?
Not all Bonds are born equal — and it’s been that way since the beginning. After Cary Grant was originally cast in Dr. No, he refused to sign for more than one film, and producers decided to go in a different direction. The next candidate, Richard Johnson, was known for playing military men (much like Bond) for MGM, and the option after that, Patrick McGoohan, played a spy named John Drake in the television series Danger Man.
It’s an approach the EON have taken many times; selecting an actor with previous form in Bond-ish roles. When Roger Moore took over, he’d already played suave Simon Templar in The Saint and British Army officer-turned-globe-trotting playboy Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders! Even Pierce Brosnan had starred as the titular Remington Steele in the international political intrigue drama.
Of course, EON finally plumped for Sean Connery — who embodies the other ‘type’ of Bond. Where Brosnan and Moore were ready-cast slick spies, Connery was rough-and-ready. The Dr. No director was convinced Connery could play the role, and decided to knock the edges off this rough Scottish diamond by introducing the actor to his tailor, his hairdresser and the high life of restaurants and casinos in London.
This approach — of moulding an unrefined actor into the role of Bond — is the more common route of Bond casting. George Lazenby, who played the role once in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was known to be a bit of a brawler — he infamously floored a stunt coordinator on set.
But, after taking the Australian (Lazenby is the furthest-flung actor to embody the role) to Connery’s barber at The Dorchester, giving him one of Connery’s uncollected Savile Row suits and a Rolex Submariner, he too was well on his way to becoming Bond. The same can be said for Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig; tougher specimens than Brosnan and Moore, but successfully shoehorned into tailor-made suits and taught the suave ways of 007.
How old are Bonds when they take up the role?
Daniel Craig was 53 when No Time To Die was released, making him the second oldest actor to play the super-spy in an EON production — Moore was 58 when he announced his retirement in 1985. But age is clearly a consideration in the casting process. Bonds can’t be too young (both Henry Cavill and Sam Heughan lost out to Craig in 2005 because they were in their early twenties at the time) but nor can they be too old and not complete the average actor’s run of 4.2 films.
So how old were the previous incarnations of 007 when they began their tenures? Connery was 32, Lazenby was 29, Moore was 44, Dalton was 40, Brosnan was 41 and Craig was 37. That’s an average age of 37.2-years-old, meaning that Craig was virtually bang-on when he took the role. It also establishes a loose pattern that would put the next Bond as slightly younger than Craig’s 37, somewhere in their early-to-mid-thirties.
What do Bonds look like?
This is a fairly simple one. Despite recent drives for diversity in other huge franchises — in 2017, Jodie Whittaker was announced as first female star of Doctor Who, and Michael B. Jordan has allegedly been touted as the first black Superman — Bond is likely to stay a white British male.
Like other roles that frequently change hands — Batman (George Clooney, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale), Dracula (Gary Oldman, Luke Evans, Nicolas Cage) and even more literary-based Bond-like spy characters such as Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine) — the winning actor will likely be cast with an eye to avoiding controversy, and will use the source material for both inspiration and to justify the eventual choice to any naysayers.
And this source material — Fleming’s novels — describes Bond as six feet tall and 165 pounds, slim, and with blue-grey eyes, a “rather cruel” mouth and dark hair which falls to his forehead in a wandering comma. It’s Connery and Brosnan — with Moore, Dalton and Lazenby not far off. Craig is the most notable departure so far, but the biting “James Blonde” headlines are likely still echoing in the heads of producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson — making them even less likely to stray from Fleming’s original vision this time around.
That being said, before the release of No Time To Die, Broccoli said: “James Bond can be of any colour, but he is male”. Which brings us to our possible candidates…
Who will be the next James Bond?
The big question. Let’s kick things off by discounting a few of the names currently being kicked around. Cillian Murphy would be nearing 50 by the time he starred in his first Bond film, making him too old — as, unfortunately, would be Michael Fassbender or Luke Evans. And Idris Elba, as suave as he is, has already shot down any Bond rumours — and is already 50 himself. So who’s left?
Date of Birth: 15 September 1977, Current Odds: 9/1, Rough or Smooth: Rough, Previous Experience: Inception, This Means War, Legend
He’s in the same age bracket as Cillian Murphy and Michael Fassbender, but the buzz seems more believable with Hardy. He’d be cast in Craig’s mould as a bulkier, more brawly Bond, has proved he looks good in a suit (with the Kray Twins biopic Legend) and even dabbled in espionage in ill-fated rom-com This Means War. He’s well-known and well-liked in Britain, but is more than five inches shorter than any of the first five Bonds (Hardy is 5’9”, Craig is 5’10”). He’s like Craig 2.0, which bodes well if the producers want to stick with a tried-and-tested formula.
Date of Birth: 18 June 1986, Current Odds: 25/1, Rough or Smooth: A little of both, Previous Experience: Bodyguard, Bastille Day
Could we have another Scot step into the shoes of Bond? Madden’s a good shout for the role; good-looking, 5’11” and classic dark hair. He’s proved himself as an action star in BBC’s big-budget Bodyguard, is a dab-hand at accents and has enough years in the tank to treat us to a good half-dozen films if he chose. Like previous iterations, he had his start in television, so isn’t scared of commitment to a role, and — importantly — seems to be widely liked. His odds, however, have dropped from 3/1 to 25/1 in recent years.
Date of Birth: 2 June 1990, Current Odds: 10/1, Rough or Smooth: A little of both, Previous Experience: Slow Horses, in which he plays a MI5 agent
Lowden’s an interesting one. A recent winner of the annual Chopard Trophy, we’ve interviewed the actor in the past — and he struck us as something of a younger James Norton. He even starred alongside Norton in BBC’s War & Peace. Another Scot, Lowden would likely see some unwarranted criticism as a ginger-haired Bond. But his barnstorming, dynamic lead role in Apple TV+’s Slow Horses shows remarkable promise in the secret agent arena.
Date of Birth: 30 April 1980, Current Odds: 40/1, Rough or Smooth: Smooth (with a little rough), Previous Experience: The Spy Who Dumped Me, SAS: Red Notice, Any Human Heart
The third Scot on this list, Sam Heughan is another actor whose odds have dropped. But, if you caught him in Bond rom-com parody The Spy Who Dumped Me, you’ll know how convincing he can be as a suave MI6 agent. The Outlander star has previously played both military men and nobles on British television, he’s 6’3” and looks great in a tux. The perceived ginger problem, however, once again rears its redhead — and he’s potentially a little old.
Date of Birth: 9 February 1981, Current Odds: 50/1, Rough or Smooth: Smooth, Previous Experience: The Night Manager, High-Rise, Loki
Hiddleston really should be discounted above with Cillian Murphy and Michael Fassbender. But his continued presence near the top of the odds list can’t be ignored. The Night Manager (recently announced to be returning for a second season) was Hiddleston’s BBC-funded bid for 007, and he did well. Very well. He’d be a Moore-type; classic, smooth and a tad unbelievable in a Craig-level fight scene. But he’s a cracking actor, and would bring a very British Bond back to our screens. This one just depends on how patriotic EON are feeling.
Date of Birth: 18 July 1985, Current Odds: 7/2, Rough or Smooth: Smooth, Previous Experience: McMafia, War & Peace, Rogue Agent
Mid-thirties. 6’1”. Played a globe-trotting hero in BBC’s McMafia. Handsome, well-liked and very, very British. He even shares Bond’s first name. So yes, James Norton was almost made for this role — and his short odds show that bookmakers have noticed. He’d be a very safe bet, and clearly has the chops for it — watch his chilling turn in Happy Valley if you’ve any doubts. We’d be guaranteed a great performance should Norton land the keys to the Aston.
Date of Birth: 5 May 1983, Current Odds: 5/2, Rough or Smooth: Smooth, Previous Experience: The Man from UNCLE, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Argylle
Has it all been leading to this? Cavill has played world-class spies aplenty (mostly CIA agents, admittedly), but he’s just been let go as Superman — so may be looking for a franchise to lead. He’d be a brilliant Bond; and has the right future-facing modern sensibilities to not be caught up in any toxic Lazenby-style antics off-screen. And yet, Apple TV+’s Argylle (from Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn) is set to kick off a new spy trilogy, and Cavill will star in Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare — so he may have his intelligence-gathering hands full.
Date of Birth: 13 June 1990, Current Odds: 13/8, Rough or Smooth: Somewhere in the middle, Previous Experience: Tenet, Bullet Train, The King’s Man
And so we come to the top of the odds table — although these things switch around so often it can be difficult to pin down a true frontrunner. But Taylor-Johnson is a decent bet. Brown hair, perilously handsome and just under six-feet-tall. He’s suave enough, strong enough and young enough to deliver just what we want from a 21st century Bond — and his trimly tailored, sharp-shooting assassin in Bullet Train proves that he can even deploy an artful wisecrack or two.
So who should you put your money on?
All things considered — and we really have considered all things — we’d say that Hiddleston and Hardy are still too old and too well-known to be reasonably considered. Bond stars tend to curb their output during their tenures, and these two are just too in-demand. Sam Heughan also errs on the older side, and may not be quite well-known enough. And Jack Lowden remains a little young, despite a fantastic showing in his spy series.
Which leaves us with James Norton, Richard Madden, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Henry Cavill. Cavill would have been our odds-on favourite, but with his upcoming slew of spy projects, it looks like he’s scratched that itch elsewhere. Norton, too, we feel would have been a shoo-in had Daniel Craig quit after Spectre — but now? Not so much.
So, currently, we’d recommend splitting your money and putting half on Richard Madden and half on Aaron Taylor-Johnson; as it’s almost certainly going to be one of these two if EON chooses in the next couple of years. We don’t know which one — but the future of the franchise will be in safe, 00-designated hands with either.
Want to be a bit more like Bond yourself? Here’s how to dress like 007 this summer…
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