“Just what the hell are you trying to do, 007? Start World War III? ” — Felix Leiter (John Terry) in The Living Daylights
Last week I fan-cast “Q”, and I think I did a pretty good job. Now, let’s see if I can propose a few candidates to portray another of James Bond’s sometime-associates, Felix Leiter….
Felix Leiter, as 007 fans know, is an American CIA (later DEA) agent who occasionally works with Bond on certain missions. They are written as friends and peers, though Bond, of course, always takes the lead, whether authorized to or not. Leiter’s role is often fairly small, typically assisting with technology, hardware, muscle, and/or money. After all, it’s the British agent who is the star.
The name originates from a combination of two of Ian Fleming’s friends: Ivar Felix C. Bryce and their mutual friend Thomas Leiter. The Leiter character has been portrayed on-screen by nine different actors, if you include the two versions from non-Eon productions (i.e, Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again (1983) and Michael Pate’s British agent, Clarence Leiter, in the first Casino Royale (1954)). But, those in the official Bond films were Jack Lord (1962), Cec Linder (1964), Rik Van Nutter (1965), Norman Burton (1971), David Hedison (1973 & 1989), John Terry (1987), and Jeffrey Wright (2006-2008).
The Casino Royale novel introduces Leiter as a former U.S. Marine working with NATO’s Joint Intelligence Staff. He is tall, thin, and roughly 35 — so, about the same age as Bond. Also, “a mop of straw-coloured hair lent his face a boyish look which closer examination contradicted”. (Note: The sketch by George Almond appears to be of Leiter after he lost a hand and half a leg in a shark attack and joined the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The incident occurred in the Live and Let Die novel but was delayed until the License to Kill movie. We’ve never seen a post-amputation Leiter on-screen.) Most of the actors to play Leiter have been at least 6′ tall, but the ages have ranged a bit — especially Linder, who was nearly a decade older than Connery in Goldfinger, and Hedison, who was 19 years older than Dalton in License to Kill — as have builds and ethnicities. The better portrayals are described by experts as “swaggering” (Lord), “relaxed and charming” (Van Nutter), and Hedison lent the role an “understated charm” and “genuine chemistry” with Bond.
Given the variety of looks for Leiter in the past, along with the fact that many of the particulars really are inconsequential for this supporting character, I decided not to try to adhere to Fleming’s description of a tall, thin, boyish-looking blonde. However, I did opt to keep him roughly the same age as Bond (i.e., mid-30s to 40ish). I like Ben Foster (5’9″,b.1980) for it, and I think he may be the only actual blonde that I looked at for the role. He’s the right age and general build, but ultimately I decided he was a tad too short and didn’t have quite the right look. Jai Courtney (6’1″,b.1986) has the acting and action chops, but I decided he was a little too young. Similarly, Corey Hawkins (6’3″,b.1988) might have been an interesting choice, plus he’s tall and thin, but he is even younger than Courtney. So, he’s out, too.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (5’9.25″,b.1981) is my youngest candidate, and he still has a fairly boyish look to him, which certainly works in his favor. On the other hand, he is barely taller than Foster. Still, I think he could do a bang-up job as Leiter. His genre credits include “3rd Rock from the Sun”, “The Outer Limits”, Mysterious Skin, The Lookout, Stop-Loss, Killshot, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I don’t think playing Bond’s CIA counterpart would be too tough for him. Not at all.
My oldest candidate, and what some might consider a surprise pick, is Freddie Prinze, Jr. (6′,b.1976). Prinze’s genre roles were in things like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Wing Commander, Scooby-Doo, No Heroics, “24”, “Bones”, et al. He has also done a lot of voice work over the years, including Delgo, a couple “Mass Effect” games, a couple “Dragon Age” games, “Star Wars: Rebels”, and “Robot Chicken”. He’d probably need to dye his graying hair, but playing Leiter in a Bond film or three might be a great way to get the talented Prinze back into movies.
Possibly my favorite (at least, at the moment) is Matt Bomer (5’11.5″,b.1977). He even played a superspy in a few episodes of “Chuck”. Other genre credits include “Tru Calling”, Flightplan, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, “Traveler”, “White Collar”, In Time, Space Station 76, “American Horror Story”, and The Magnificent Seven remake. He might need to give the role a harder edge than others he has done, but Bomer has the looks, build, and talent to make a great Bond-ish secret agent. Felix Leiter could be right up his alley.
The best choice of the three would probably depend on who is cast as Bond and the potential similarities, differences, and acting chemistry between them.
That’s it for 007 and associates. Maybe someday I’ll try fan-casting some old Bond villains….
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.