This article first appeared on November 8, 2016
Roger Moore came to Ireland last November to talk with his fans. Esther McCarthy met the 90-year-old who had seven outings as James Bond
ROGER Moore wanted to be a comedian. He even tried stand-up once, an ill-fated effort on a stage in Pontypridd while wearing Richard Burton’s dinner jacket.
“It was raining outside and the audience had come up out of the pits,” he tells me. “There were only six of them and they were all soaked. They sat with steam coming off them.
“I came out with Burton’s dinner jacket, a bit of rouge on the cheeks and mascara, and did my little patter. Absolutely terrible, and silence built. I would have loved to have been a comedian. I learnt about timing from that,” he chuckles.
Anyone who’s seen Moore as James Bond, or indeed met him in real life, will agree he knows a lot more about comic timing than this characteristically self-deprecating tale would suggest.
While Sean Connery’s Bond was all rugged grit, Moore’s was suave and quick-witted. You always got the sense that he wanted to let you in on the punchline.
“Sean actually said that the difference between he and I, between his Bond and my Bond, was that I signalled a joke, whereas his came unexpectedly. I used to think: ‘Let the audience come and have a laugh’.”
“After all, he offers, some of the plot points were a bit ridiculous, such as the idea that the world’s best-known agent could go undercover. How can you be serious about a spy who everybody knows?”
— RTÉ Radio 1 (@RTERadio1) November 1, 2016
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When we meet in Dublin he looks in terrific shape for a man who recently entered his 90th year, and still twinkles with the sense of mischief that helped make him a bona fide A-list star, adored by million of fans. Dublin is a city he knows well.
“It’s a wonderful place to have friends but, I wouldn’t think, too nice a place to have enemies. I first came in 1961. I was moderately young by comparison.
“I remember on one occasion coming in and customs officers said to me: ‘Are you here to see himself?’ Meaning John Huston.
“I played Sherlock Holmes in a film for Fox, called Sherlock Holmes in New York, which was shot in Los Angeles.
“We had John Huston as Moriarty and he was wonderful to work with. We would smoke cigars — in the bad days when I smoked — play backgammon, and he was a great character. When Jack Haley Jr was running Fox, he approached John Huston to play Moriarty. He said to him: ‘There’s a lot of words, a lot of dialogue and you might have a problem remembering all of them’. So they made idiot boards — prompt boards. The bugger never looked at them once. I would have loved to have worked with him as a director.”
He will return to Ireland on November 20 for An Evening With Sir Roger Moore, in which he will revisit his 71-year-old career in TV series like The Saint and The Persuaders, and of course his stint playing 007 in seven of the most iconic movies in Bond history. He relishes, he says, the opportunity to interact with fans, even if some of them ask cheeky questions. “At one show, a fellow in the front row said ‘Mr Bond, you’re a good-looking fellow. Do you shag all the leading ladies?’”
As with many actors who take on such an iconic role, some of their other work can feel somewhat overshadowed. As well as his breakthrough performances in The Saint, with his novel addresses straight to camera. (“I enjoyed most of those little talks to camera because they had nothing to do with what the show was about”) there were other exceptional performances.
He showed a real darkness in the psychological thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself, and held his own against Burton and Harris in Wild Geese.
— Esther McCarthy (@Esthermccarthy) October 28, 2016
The self-depreciating wit kicks in again when I ask him were there roles he’d have liked to tackle, but he has perspective, too.
“I’d have loved to have been Laurence of Arabia. But I’m not Peter O’Toole. There are a number of films I would have liked to have done. I’m philosophical about it. Maybe I was too tall, maybe I was too fat. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter,” he smiles. “I never had a fantastic ambition, that ambition where you’ve got to win. Those that I knew, contemporaries that had ambition, they’re dead. It kills them.
“When I was a child my mother used to go to whist drives. They enjoyed themselves playing cards and felt they should do something for the children. They had a sports day and I was submitted for a race. And I ran, and I ran. Everybody passed me. When the next race started I was still running. But I stood in front of the table with the prizes on it. I stood there until they gave me a bag of toffees. My theory is you don’t have to win the race to get the bag of toffees. Just relax.”
He says he was first approached to play Bond by good friends Cubby and Harry (producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) when Connery said he was done after three films.
Connery would do several more of course, and George Lazenby would briefly don the tuxedo, before Moore was approached again. “I wasn’t really surprised when they came back again, because I’m such an egotist — who else could they get?” he laughs.
He is proud of the films, and loved uttering some of the witty lines. “I think my favourite one of all was Tom Mankiewicz’s in The Man With the Golden Gun, with the little gunsmith at the other end of a rifle, which I lower to his crotch, and say: ‘Speak now or forever hold your piece’. I love that line — I wish I had a chance in real life to say it.”
There has been colourful speculation, he says, about who will be the next Bond ever since Connery left the series. But he is not on board with calls for a female Bond.
“How can it be? The name is James Bond. It is Mary Bond? Felicity Bond? The name is James. It wouldn’t be James Bond. He’s very specific in his description of James Bond, is Ian Fleming.
“Daniel Craig certainly is a hard act to follow. I remember seeing Casino Royale, and he did more action in the first five minutes of the film than I did in fourteen years and seven Bonds. He’s a wonderfully physical actor and I think, brought a lot to Bond.”
Moore is a passionate supporter of Unicef, the charity he has worked with ever since Audrey Hepburn asked him to co-host an event many years ago.
“There’s room in all of our lives to take on something charitable. I suppose it was the way I was brought up. My mother was a great animal lover and a great human being. My father, as little money as he had, he would always put his hand in his pocket. It seemed to me to be very natural,” he says.
He still adores taking to the stage and performing, and is invigorated by his live tour. “My memory is such that I have a problem with names. If I were to do a play, which I would love to do, I’m going to dry in important moments. But this, it doesn’t matter if I dry. I’m telling lies anyway!”
This article first appeared on November 8, 2016
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