“Need I remind you, 007, that you have a license to kill, not to break the traffic laws.” — Q (Desmond Llewelyn)
In light of the latest 007 news, it seems appropriate that I continue my efforts from a few weeks ago of fan-casting James Bond’s closest associates. (Of course, I already had this planned and nearly finished before the news broke.) My latest is for the beloved ‘Q’….
As you all know, I’m sure, ‘Q’ (short for “Quartermaster”) is the brilliant and innovative engineer who provides Bond (and other agents) with tricked-out sports cars and various weapons and other devices intended to help keep Bond alive and accomplish his missions. In fact, ‘Q’ is the head of Q Branch/Division, MI6’s fictional R&D labs. As per Wikipedia, “Charles Fraser-Smith is widely credited as the inspiration for Q due to the spy gadgets he built for the Special Operations Executive. These were called Q-devices, after the Royal Navy’s World War I Q-ships….”
The character has been portrayed by six men altogether, though only the four pictured here were in official Bond films by Eon Productions: Peter Burton (1962), Desmond Llewelyn (1963-1999), John Cleese (2002), Ben Whishaw (2012-present). Burton played the armourer “Major Boothroyd” in Dr. No, a character Ian Fleming named after Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert in Glasgow, Scotland, who had given him some suggestions for improving Bond’s firearms. Boothroyd returned in From Russia with Love, this time played by Llewelyn. But, from Goldfinger (1964) forward, the character was referred to as ‘Q’. Llewelyn died in late 1999 and Q’s assistant, ‘R’ (Cleese), got a promotion in Die Another Day (2002). Alas, ‘Q’ was recast along with everyone else for the Craig-era films.
I am not aware of any physical description given for Boothroyd/’Q’ by Fleming in the original novels, though there may be. However, the point is fairly moot, since (like ‘M’) the title has been held by more than one individual over the years. Most of them have been relatively slender and at least 6′ tall. Whishaw is only 5’9″, though, and also seems to be the only one under 40. The older, “consummate professional” versions of ‘Q’ are typically of mixed feelings toward Bond, recognizing the agent’s successful track record, yet often annoyed by his short attention span and a “playful lack of respect for his equipment”. There is usually a bit of verbal sparring between the two, though usually limited to lighthearted teasing, nothing heated. Despite this, the respect is mutual. The dynamic is somewhat different with the now-younger and less experienced ‘Q’, but Bond recognizes and appreciates the younger man’s skills.
My preference would be to cast someone in their 40s to 60s, though I’m flexible on height and general build. In addition to my final three, there were only two actors that I seriously considered for the role before ruling them out, and they happen to be my oldest and youngest candidates, respectively. Brendan Gleeson (6’2″,b.1955) has, of course, been in many things over the past three decades, including genre productions like Braveheart, Turbulence, Mission: Impossible II, Edge of Tomorrow, and three Harry Potter films. James Corden (5’8″,b.1978), on the other hand, has been acting (e.g., “Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story”, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman, Gulliver’s Travels, “Doctor Who”) for about 20 years but is most known these days as the popular, silly host of “The Late Late Show with James Corden” here in the States. Though they didn’t survive my “Top 3” cut, I still think either Gleeson or Corden could do a wonderful job — Gleeson in particular playing Q as uptight and humorless, whereas Corden would be best playing it rather more eccentric, perhaps even goofy.
I’m going to throw a couple Americans out for your consideration first. I think you’ll see, though, how these “out of the box” choices might be surprisingly good candidates for ‘Q’. The last (and oldest) might be a more traditional choice….
A certified genius, Masayori “Masi” Oka (5’6″,b.1974) graduated from Brown University with degrees in math and computer science and a minor in theater arts. He appeared in various small roles in TV and film, while working as a CGI artist for Industrial Light & Magic. He became a genre star with his breakout role as Hiro Nakamura in “Heroes” (and later “Heroes Reborn”). Since then, he has become a semi-regular as Dr. Max Bergman on “Hawaii Five-O” (see pic). His quirky performance and straightforward, somewhat wordy explanations of his findings (to the mild annoyance of the other characters) would, I think, work quite well as a version of ‘Q’, too. If he can’t do a passable British accent, they could have fun with his being a “Yank”.
Neil Patrick Harris (6′,b.1973) came to prominence as a child actor playing “Doogie Howser, M.D.”. He also did voice work (e.g., “Capitol Critters”) and appeared in genre shows like “Quantum Leap” and “The Outer Limits”. Later genre work includes Starship Troopers, “Joan of Arc”, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” (see pic), and lots more voice work (e.g., “Justice League”, “Spider-Man”). Since his sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother”, ended, he has appeared in Gone Girl, “American Horror Story”, and stars in the new “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Harris is multi-talented, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could pull off a good British accent. He could play ‘Q’ as a by-the-book, humorless/sarcastic straight man (pun intended), OR he could play him as a rather fun and eccentric character. Either way, he’d make a great Quartermaster.
I think the first thing I remember taking note of Kenneth Branagh (5’9.5″,b.1960) in was Dead Again, though I don’t much remember the movie. I was, of course, aware of his work in Henry V, and he went on to do other Shakespearean works, as well. I next saw him in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Robert De Niro. Other genre work includes Wild Wild West, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Valkyrie, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, “Wallander”, and the recent Dunkirk. Branagh is another top-notch talent — heck, he could direct the film, too — who could do a terrific job as a semi-comedic foil / ally for Agent 007. He is also old enough to be a quasi-mentor or fatherly figure for our 30-something Bond.
I can’t decide which one I like best. You?
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.