Legendary British actor Roger Moore has died at the age of 89 after an iconic career on the silver screen — including his record time as James Bond. This 2008 interview from EW takes a look back at Moore’s career and how he became “the best Bond.”
“Can I get you a drink, Mr. Moore?”
The waiter stands there, secretly hoping that he’ll say those five words known from the beaches of Rio to the bazaars of Cairo to the ski slopes of Gstaad: Vodka martini—shaken, not stirred.
“I’ll have a…Bloody Mary.”
Roger Moore is sitting in the posh dining room of New York City’s St. Regis hotel. He is wearing a crisp white shirt (French cuffs, naturally), a blue-and-red-striped tie (Savile Row, of course), and a blue blazer with a tiny florette pinned to the lapel signifying that the erstwhile international man of mystery is a Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Seated next to him is his fourth wife, Kristina, a lovely blonde with a vaguely European accent.
Every eye in the room is on him. Middle-aged men and their wives crane their necks just to hear his voice. This is what it is to be in the elite fraternity of actors who have played James Bond. When Moore‘s drink arrives, he swishes it around in his mouth like a fine bordeaux and announces “This is the best goddamned Bloody Mary I’ve ever had!”
Adjectives almost fail to do justice to Moore‘s speaking voice. It’s a purr coated in honey and caramel and molasses. He is 81 and has a leathery tan. If you squint just a little, he doesn’t look all that different from when we last saw him—in a steamy shower, canoodling with Tanya Roberts in the closing scene of 1985’s A View to a Kill (“Oh, James!”)—the last of his seven debonair, sardonic turns as 007.
I was 8 years old when I saw my first James Bond film. It was the summer of 1977. I consider myself blessed by the timing. The Spy Who Loved Me was not only the best Bond movie Moore ever made (an opinion he shares, by the way), it was also—thanks to the luscious Barbara Bach and the steel-toothed giant Jaws—one of the best films in the series.
Moore was the first Bond I knew. Like anyone who grew up in the ’70s, I’d later catch up with the older Connery films on TV. But they didn’t compare. They just seemed like smudgy Xeroxes of the Bond I’d first seen in the theater. And where was the fun? Sure, Connery was more dangerous, rougher around the edges, deadlier with a Walther PPK. But Moore was lethal from 10 paces, armed with nothing more than a cocked eyebrow and a saucy bon mot. And if there was some sort of sexual double entendre in that bon mot, well, all the better for an 8-year-old.
Moore had the good luck to play Bond during the last gasp of the Cold War. Often the plots were needlessly byzantine and downright absurd (the outer-space love story involving Jaws in Moonraker comes to mind). But most of Moore‘s Bond flicks were catnip to boys who hadn’t discovered girls yet. In Live and Let Die, he got entangled in Caribbean voodoo. In The Man With the Golden Gun, the villain had a superfluous nipple. And in For Your Eyes Only, he was chased down the Italian Alps by Aryans on motorcycles—Aryans on motorcycles! Cheese, yes. But served up with just the right amount of ham, thanks to Moore.
Moore played 007 more times than any other actor. By rights of possession, he owns the part. Connery appeared in only six, if you exclude the unofficial and embarrassing 1983 comeback Never Say Never Again (I doubt even Connery wants to include that one). And as any apprentice-level 007 aficionado knows, there were also the blink-and-miss George Lazenby (one film), the placeholding charisma vacuum Timothy Dalton (two), and the so-suave-he-was-almost-bland Pierce Brosnan (four). Now, of course, we have Daniel Craig, who’s updated Bond into a sort of sadistic, knuckle-scraping Jason Bourne in a tux. He’s serious, flawed, and, if you ask me, kind of a drag.
The knock on Moore has always been that he played the character too lightly. He was too arch. Too jokey. But that seems a bit rigid. Moore‘s Bond films grossed $1.2 billion worldwide. He took over a hugely popular franchise after its leading man walked and kept it humming for 12 more years. As far as I’m concerned, Moore is, was, and will always be Bond. It’s not a critical argument, just one from the heart.
When I explain this to Moore—that the Bond you love first is the Bond you’ll always love most, he seems genuinely touched. I think he even calls me “dear boy” before turning to Kristina and saying, “Darling, get Sean on the phone. He needs to hear this.”
After ordering a couple of insanely expensive hamburgers, Moore and I dig into his double-0 legacy. Moore is aware of his lightweight, also-ran reputation within the Bond universe. And he’s actually damn proud of it. “To be associated with success is absolutely wonderful,” he says. “If my first one, Live and Let Die, had not been a hit, people might have said, ‘Oh, he was the poor fellow who only made one,’ which is unfortunately what they say about George.”
Moore has just published a new memoir called My Word Is My Bond. The timing is no accident. He’s smart enough to know that piggybacking its release on that of the 22nd Bond film, Quantum of Solace, is good business.
Both in the pages of his book and in person, Moore, the only child of a policeman and a homemaker, is a cheeky raconteur. Naughty anecdotes from the exotic, far-flung sets of his Bond films pour out of him, like the time when his View to a Kill costar Grace Jones smuggled a very lifelike sex toy into bed during their onscreen love scene, or the fact that his diminutive Man With the Golden Gun castmate Hervé Villechaize had a sweet tooth for strippers from Hong Kong.
Moore also tells a story that should get the legions of Connery purists shaken and stirred too. Namely, that he was considered for the role of 007 in 1962’s Dr. No before Connery was tapped. “That’s what they told me, at least,” he says. “They also said I was Ian Fleming’s first choice. But Ian Fleming didn’t know me from s—. He wanted Cary Grant or David Niven.”
By the early ’70s, Connery had grown weary of Bond and had become increasingly testy about the financial details of his contract. So Bond producer Cubby Broccoli came back to sniff around Moore, who had just wrapped the British TV series The Persuaders! In 1973, he offered the actor a three-picture deal. Moore knew it wouldn’t be easy to make fans forget about Connery, so he wanted to put his own stamp on the character. “I tried to find out what Bond was all about,” he says, “but you can’t tell much from the books. There’s the line that says ‘He didn’t take pleasure in killing, but took pride in doing it well.’ So that’s what I did. But the other side of me was saying, This is a famous spy—everyone knows his name, and every bartender in the world knows he likes martinis shaken, not stirred. Come on, it’s all a big joke! So most of the time I played it tongue-in-cheek.”
Moore is the first to admit he’s no Olivier. Well, second, after the critics who crucified him as 007. In the past he’s been quoted as saying, “My acting range has always been something between the two extremes of ‘raises left eyebrow’ and ‘raises right eyebrow.'” When asked about this bit of self-deprecation, he adds, “I can also wiggle my ears.”
As our hamburgers arrive, Moore delicately reaches for a knife and fork—yes, he actually eats a burger with a knife and fork—and says, “Listen, if I say I’m s— as an actor, then the critic can’t, because I’ve already said it! For years my agents would tell me, ‘You’ve got to stop saying these things about yourself. People will believe you.’ So? They may also be pleasantly surprised!” Actually, Moore says that he did bring one bit of Method acting to the role of Bond. In each of the films, whenever he went face-to-face with a villain in a scene, he would imagine that the bad guy had halitosis. “If you watch those scenes, you’ll see I look mildly repulsed.”
In Moore‘s sixth Bond film, 1983’s Octopussy, the secret agent squared off against a rival that even Ian Fleming couldn’t have dreamed up: Sean Connery. After leaving the franchise 12 years earlier, Connery had returned in the unsanctioned 007 movie Never Say Never Again, which opened four months after Octopussy. The high-noon box office showdown seemed like it would reveal, once and for all, America’s favorite Bond. Octopussy won. When I ask Moore if he felt any competitiveness with Connery at the time, he smiles. “No more than two jockeys who are going to be paid anyway for running the race. But it would be nice if you won because you’d get the extra bonus. But really, no more than that. Sean and I are friends.”
As he finishes this sentence, a stranger comes over to our table. It’s Plácido Domingo. Moore gets up, and the two go off to the side of the room to catch up. I ask Kristina how these two know each other, and she tells me that they often play tennis together while on vacation in Acapulco. Of course they do. Then I ask her where she and Moore live. She replies, “We spend the summers in Monaco and the winters in Switzerland.” What did you expect?
When Moore returns to the table, he launches into his reasons for leaving the franchise. He twists open a mini-bottle of ketchup, pours some on his burger, and then licks the rim of the bottle to catch a stray dollop. “It had been on my mind for a long time,” he says. “I became very conscious that I was getting long in the tooth to play the great lover. Not that I ever needed Viagra,” he says, shooting a rascal’s grin at his wife. “I was 57 in the last one. You can see I was getting a little scraggy around the neck.”
Afterward, Moore made a few appearances in forgettable films, passed on a TV series with Burt Reynolds, and began working as an ambassador for UNICEF, which he continues to do today. But mostly he just wandered away from acting, happy to live the good life, ski, and play tennis. “I was not born with tremendous ambition,” he admits. “And thank God, because my contemporaries who had ambition are all dead. It can kill you.”
Ambition or not, Moore has always worked hard not to criticize, or even comment on, the Bonds who came after him. He’s too diplomatic for that, too classy. So when I ask him his opinion of the newer-model 007s, I’m not surprised that he waves the question off with his hand. But I ask again. “Okay, I’ve seen Daniel’s Casino Royale, and I thought it was bloody good! I saw bits of the Timothy Dalton ones, and I saw one of Pierce’s and I thought that was a bit phantasmagoric—invisible cars! They went too far.” However, he says, “in 47 years they haven’t made many mistakes with the Bond franchise. They’re clever enough to sense a trend. And the trend right now is for hard, gritty Bond.”
If that’s the case, and the Bond movies reflect the times in which they’re made, what does he think the Roger Moore Bonds were trying to say about the late ’70s and early ’80s? He thinks about it for a minute, then seems to grow frustrated. “People are always reading things into the films,” he says. “But we set out to make entertainment. There’s no hidden agenda. They’re just ‘Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, here comes a pretty girl, there goes a car chase, let’s shoot a helicopter down.’ That’s as deep as they got.”
Just then, a man in his 40s approaches. He hovers behind Moore, waiting for the right moment to say something. Finally, Moore turns around and shoots him a “Can I help you?” stare. The man stammers and clears his throat. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m a huge fan and I just wanted to hear your voice. Could you say something—anything?” Moore takes his napkin from his lap and slowly folds it. “Thank you, that’s very nice of you.” That’s it. The man walks away, giggling, a childlike smile on his face. I ask Moore if he ever gets tired of this. Tired of the fact that wherever he goes, he’ll always be hounded by people who want a piece of James Bond.
He almost chokes on his Bloody Mary.
“Are you kidding? I’m damn lucky!”
Then comes the old Moore quip. “…I’ve been lucky, said the man as he stepped into the street.” He crashes his hands together, mimicking the impact of an oncoming bus.
His wife and I politely laugh.
But our reaction isn’t hearty enough. Moore wants more. So he calls upon the deadliest weapon in his arsenal and cocks his left eyebrow.
Talk about a license to kill.