Back in 2018, when I interviewed James Norton for the cover of this very magazine, he said something that almost knocked me off the rooftop of Cannes’ Martinez hotel. Namely, “I would love to play a Bond villain”. It was a bizarre, ambitious aspiration for the man both then and currently hotly-tipped to be Bond (Norton’s odds currently stand at a field-shortest 6/4).
Unfortunately, Bond villainy just didn’t seem to be in Norton’s blood. I’ve also interviewed Christoph Waltz for Gentleman’s Journal — and boy, now there’s a villain. The man practically murdered a Santa Monica salad in front of me. And the Austrian, softly-spoken and steely-eyed, ruminated on the future of the franchise back in his 2017 cover interview.
“I don’t think I’ll be back,” he said at the time, “but Daniel Craig is doing the next one.” Indeed he is — as is Waltz, who happily did eventually get the call-up for No Time To Die. But past the 25th Bond film, we don’t know. There are rumours that Eon Productions will finally kill 007 in this film — one of the official taglines is, ‘The 25th film will change everything’ — allowing for a reboot of the series similar to the one which introduced Craig. And that means, more now than ever before, that producers have to find the right person to next slip on the tux.
James Bond is arguably the most coveted mainstream film role in Britain, or even the world — although the producers tend to stick to the British Isles when it comes to casting Ian Fleming’s super-spy. So 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; we’ve trawled through the CVs of previous 007s, assessed the current front-runners and have distilled what Eon want from a Bond to tell you — almost definitively — who will next strap on the Walther PPK.
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 and espionage drama.
Of course, Eon finally plumped for Sean Connery — who embodies our 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 of 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 the 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 both tailor-made suits and the debonair air required of Bonds.
How old are Bonds when they take up the role?
Daniel Craig will be 52 when No Time To Die is 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 (Henry Cavill lost out to Craig in 2005 because he was just 22 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?
Now this is a fairly simple one. Despite recent bids for diversity in other huge franchises — Jodie Whittaker became the first female star of Doctor Who recently and Michael B Jordan is allegedly in talks to become the first black Superman — Bond is likely to stay a white British male.
Like other roles that frequently change hands — Batman, Dracula and even more literary-based Bond-like spy characters such as Jack Ryan — it looks as though the winning actor will be cast with an eye to avoiding controversy, and look to the source material for inspiration.
The 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 ‘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, last month Broccoli said: “James Bond can be of any colour, but he is male”. (Sorry then, Gillian Anderson.) Evidence, though, still suggests that a white British male will win the role — which brings us to the six 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. Henry Cavill has already missed out on the role, he’s already resting the Superman franchise on his big shoulders and got any spying out of his system with a turn as Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E — a role he looks set to soon reprise.
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. And Idris Elba, as suave as he is, has already proved too divisive for producers to plump for — and is 47 himself. So who’s left?
Tom Hardy, 42
Current odds: 8/1
Rough or Smooth: Rough
Previous experience: Inception, This Means War, Legend
He’s in the same age range as Cillian Murphy and Michael Fassbender, but the buzz seems more believable with Hardy. He’d be cast in Craig’s mould as a 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.
Richard Madden, 33
Current odds: 3/1
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 has his foundations in television, so isn’t scared of commitment to a role, and — importantly — seems to be widely liked.
Jack Lowden, 29
Current odds: 13/2
Rough or Smooth: A little of both
Previous experience: A little screen fighting, but not much to speak of
Lowden’s an interesting one. A recent nominee for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award, we interviewed the actor last year — 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 Bond, and he hasn’t yet built up the type of previous role experience the producers clearly look for. He’ll be playing an FBI agent against Tom Hardy’s Al Capone in Fonzo this year, but it may be too little, too late. A long shot.
Sam Heughan, 39
Current odds: 3/1
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, we didn’t want to include Sam Heughan. Maddeningly, however, his odds have rocketed to almost Norton-levels of late — and we caught him in Bond rom-com parody The Spy Who Dumped Me, where he was very convincing 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 pretty great in a tux. The perceived ginger problem, however, once again rears its redhead — and he’s potentially a little old.
Tom Hiddleston, 38
Current odds: 7/2
Rough or Smooth: Smooth
Previous experience: The Night Manager, High-Rise, White Stork
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 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.
James Norton, 34
Current odds: 6/4
Rough or Smooth: Smooth
Previous experience: McMafia, War & Peace
Early-to-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. But, after Eon shook things up with Daniel Craig, does this suggest that they’ll push the envelope even further?
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. Jack Lowden is a little young, and too inexperienced in similar roles. Sam Heughan errs on the older side, and may not be well-known enough.
Which leaves us with James Norton and Richard Madden. We’d split your money and put half on each; for it’s going to be one of these two. We don’t know which one — but the future of the franchise will be in safe, 00-designated hands with either.
If there’s doubt surrounding the actor, at least we know Bond will still be strapping on an Omega. Take a look at James Bond’s full watch collection here…
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