Becoming Bond director Josh Greenbaum: 'The film really explores both sides of that -- how did he get the role and why did he walk away'
Note: this piece has been updated with the addition of Hulu's trailer for Becoming Bond (see below)
In the annals of movie history, George Lazenby is famous as the actor who got away from James Bond, or let James Bond get away from him.
Even those with only a limited familiarity with the 007 films probably know Lazenby as the man who succeeded Sean Connery, starring in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He was an unusual choice to say the least -- an Australian by birth and a former car salesman and model with no acting experience. Of the primary actors associated with the role, he's the only one to play Bond a single time.
There was over three thousand guys they saw and 300 on film. There's no test that even comes close. And I beat out actors. I was the only non-actor, so it was kind of unusual, the whole thing that was happening to me.
How he became Bond, and especially why he only appeared in one of the films has remained cloaked in some mystery, perhaps appropriate for the world's greatest putative secret agent. But the truth comes out in the upcoming Hulu documentary Becoming Bond, directed by Josh Greenbaum. The film just celebrated its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. (It's set to premiere on the Hulu streaming service on May 20).
To see Lazenby now, at 77, is to understand how he got cast as Bond almost 50 years ago. He's a striking presence, funny, and exceptionally handsome even as a septuagenarian.
These are the top quotes from Lazenby and Greenbaum on the arrivals line at the State Theatre on Congress Avenue.
It's the biggest thing I supposedly did in my life and as you know I was never in mind to be an actor. But to be James Bond, [I thought], 'Oh, I'll be that.'
It's one of those things that's unusual in your life and you can't get away from it. Somebody will go, "You're George Lazenby, aren't you?" Even though you try your hardest just to be incognito for once in my life after the film. But it doesn't work and you gotta just take that as it comes. It's not bad, a bit of fame here and there, right? Sometimes helps.
It opened a lot of doors. [One time a] Cop pulled me over and said, "Oh, you're George Lazenby. Get out of here!" And he wouldn't give me a ticket. That part was good. The other part was you couldn't really have any privacy. You always had to watch what you're doing or there'd be a camera around somewhere.
This was the biggest film test in history -- the part I got. There was over three thousand guys and they saw 300 on film. There's no test that even comes close. And I beat out actors -- I was the only non-actor. So it was kind of unusual, the whole thing that was happening to me.
He remembers specifics. He's got an incredible memory. Lines of dialogue. What someone was wearing. What the room looked like. And so it instantly clicked for me like, wow, this would be such a powerful way to do reenactments. Fun, creative, comedic reenactments at times so they're not overly dramatic, overly stylized... I was excited to do something new with it.
I wanted to reenact all these scenes with actors like Josh Lawson and he [George] wasn't quite sure but it ultimately came down to building up enough trust that he took the leap and I'm really grateful that he did.
Hesitation? Yeah, I did. I talked to these guys for days before I said, "Let's do it." Just to see what they had in mind. But I had no idea it would turn out like this.
I wouldn't sign a Bond contract. I walked away [in 1969] thinking it [the franchise] was over because it was hippie time. Make love, not war. And I thought I'd get any film I wanted.
The film really explores both sides of that -- how did he get [the role] and why did he walk away.
It's confidence maybe mixed at some point with hubris... He wasn't an actor so he didn't desperately want [the part], in that way that you get careful. So he was just bold and that's what enabled him to get it.
He's just an honest, authentic guy. He included all the highlights and lows of his life, warts and all.
No all documentaries are meant to entertain, they're meant to tell a story, right? Well this has got both and I think it will work... I hope you get a giggle.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.