It takes a special actor to be the lead in the James Bond movies. There’s a lot of attention and constant scrutiny if you’re even being considered for the role of 007, so actually being cast is a whole other animal of pressure. Six men have felt that burden thus far, and George Lazenby’s story may be the most perilous, as he’s the only Bond to have taken a singular outing in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
There’s a really interesting story behind why George Lazenby only starred in one James Bond movie. From bluffing his way into an audition, to a combination of heated relationships and bad professional advice, it’s a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, with some regret on the side. Appropriately enough, it all started with chocolates, charm and a bit of thievery.
How George Lazenby Got The Role Of James Bond
The usual story that kicks off the road to George Lazenby’s casting in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is his stint as a commercial actor. Apparently, a series of commercials for Fry’s Chocolate Cream had brought the Austrailan model to the attention of producer Albert R. Broccoli, and the process went from there. For reference, take a look at the ad below, which shows Lazenby playing the “Big Fry” character that supposedly put him on the map:
However, in the Hulu original documentary Becoming Bond, another angle is added to this story. The short short version is that Lazenby was encouraged to sneak into the office of casting director Dyson Lovell upon the insistence of a talent agent he knew, Maggie Abbott. This is where that promise of thievery comes in, and it’s by Lazenby's own admission in the 2017 film mentioned above.
To help himself along, George Lazenby nabbed one of Sean Connery’s unclaimed suits from his tailor, as well as got his hair cut at the same place the outgoing 007 did: The Dorchester hotel. Sneaking in looking the part, the wheels started turning upon meeting Lovell, and the game was on.
After eventually a heated argument between producer Harry Saltzman and director Peter Hunt, Lazenby was put into the audition process through Hunt’s insistence. All George had to do was go through some screen tests and accidentally punch the stunt coordinator during a fight test, and in the actor’s accounting of events, Saltzman made his decision by gruffly telling him: “We’re going with you.”
Why George Lazenby Only Starred In One James Bond Movie
After a challenging shoot, a massive falling out with director Peter Hunt and alleged friction with co-star Diana Rigg, George Lazenby was convinced to turn down a huge offer to continue as James Bond. In an 2015 interview with the Daily Mail, Lazenby laid out both producer Harry Saltzman’s insistence to win him back, as well as how his manager got him to say no, as follows:
He was saying to me, ‘What do we have to do to get you to sign? How about $1 million to go anywhere in the world?’ But my manager, Ronan O'Rahilly, wasn't keen. He said, ‘Don't do it. There's a guy called Clint Eastwood over in Italy making Westerns for $500,000 a time. You could do two of those instead.’
Just a month before the premiere of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the actor began his campaign to distance himself from the role he had so charmingly won. Press appearances leading up to that December 1969 debut saw George making statements like the following (via Spyscape):
Bond is a brute ... I've already put him behind me. I will never play him again. Peace – that's the message now.
George Lazenby was done with James Bond, and he would pass up all subsequent offers the producers would make him. As you read above, “$1 million to go anywhere in the world” was on the table, but in true Bondian fashion, the world was not enough. But there was even more at stake with that deal, so much so that it could have changed Bond history quite extensively.
The Extensive 007 Deal George Lazenby Passed Up
In addition to that $1 million offer that Harry Saltzman offered to George Lazenby, there was an offer for six more James Bond movies on the table too. According to a profile done by The Australian Women’s Weekly (via Trove), the next 007 adventure in the Lazenby run would have been The Man with the Golden Gun.
That report came out in August 1969, mere months before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would debut in theaters. By the time George Lazenby would show up to the December premiere of the film, he would show up appearing very un-Bond like, as you can see below:
A photo posted by on
Reports on what Lazenby's next James Bond adventure would have been are a bit conflicting. In the 2000 documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the plan recalled stated that Diamonds Are Forever was next on the block. What’s more, the death of Tracy would have been saved for that picture’s pre-titles sequence if Lazenby and director Peter Hunt to have returned.
The die was cast though, and George Lazenby passed up films such as the ones mentioned above, and allegedly Live and Let Die, to move in a direction he felt was better suited for his career. Even an offer for the non-official James Bond movie Never Say Never Again was rejected, sealing Lazenby’s fate in 00-history as a one movie man.
Does George Lazenby Regret Leaving The Bond Movies?
By the time George Lazenby showed up to the premiere of his one and only 007 film, he rocked that hippie look you saw above. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would debut as a huge success, but it wasn’t enough to win him over. Along with acknowledging to being in that following headspace in the Daily Mail interview from 2015, Lazenby also admitted one crucial regret:
It was the late 60s - bell bottoms and long hair were in and Bond had short hair and wore a suit. We thought Bond was over. We were wrong. … Sometimes I wish I'd done one more just to shut the people up who think I failed.
To further hammer the point home, fellow James Bond veteran Roger Moore confirmed as much through his 2008 autobiography My Word Is Bond. Citing the Ronan incident himself, the longest running actor to play the good Commander mentioned this unfortunate twist of self inflicted fate thusly:
George took some bad advice ... I knew George then and have met him many times since. He admits he made a mistake.
Watching him tell the story in Becoming Bond, you can definitely see the regret in George Lazenby’s recollections. At the same time, the man tells the story of his life and times on both sides of the gun barrel with a wit and charm that shows the promise of what could have been. While he didn’t know it then, that lone Lazenby outing would eventually become the favorite of people like director Christopher Nolan, and would also become the most important Bond movie that influenced No Time To Die.
As for the James Bond franchise, it certainly wasn’t over like Lazenby and Ronan O'Rahilly thought it was. But the difficulties in filling the role certainly weren’t limited to this singular tale, as Commander Bond’s future would hold even more wild tales of how actors could lose the role at the last minute, even after being cast.
If you want to learn more about George Lazenby’s life and hear him tell his own story in the James Bond legacy, I highly recommend watching Becoming Bond. As of this publication, the original documentary is still streaming for those with a Hulu subscription, and is well worth the effort to track down should that ever change.