Fan-Cast: James Bond, part 2: M

“Go to hell with ‘dignity’. I’ll leave when the job’s done.”  — M, Skyfall

A little over a month ago, I did some fan-casting for legendary British intelligence officer, James Bond, aka Agent 007. I promised to eventually follow up with casting suggestions for Bond’s closest associates. So, assuming another reboot when Daniel Craig leaves the franchise in a few years, this week I’d like to take a shot at finding a new “M”. (I was going to do “Miss Moneypenny”, too, but I decided they each needed a separate post.)

M

The Four Ms

Apparently inspired by various individuals that Ian Fleming knew or was familiar with, M is the Head of the Foreign Intelligence branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, i.e., Great Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) (aka MI-6). As a member of the 00 Section, Bond reports directly to M. The tradition of the head of MI-6 signing his/her name with a single letter came from the agency’s real-life first director, Captain Sir Mansfield George Smith Cumming, KCMG, CB (1 April 1859 – 14 June 1923), who used to sign “C”. Some, but not all, of those holding the office in the novels and movies have had the initial “M”, but the single-letter title seems to have stuck.

As per Wikipedia, “A naval theme runs throughout Fleming’s description of M and his surroundings, and his character was described by journalist and Bond scholar Ben Macintyre as “every inch the naval martinet”. Macintyre also notes that in his study of Fleming’s work, Kingsley Amis outlined the way Fleming had described M’s voice, being: angry (three times); brutal, cold (seven times); curt, dry (five times); gruff (seven times); stern, testy (five times).” The character often clashes with Bond, while simultaneously trusting the agent’s intel and respecting his end-results. I am not aware of any physical description given for M. Of course, there have been multiple people to hold the office (four in the movies, not sure about the novels), including a woman, so that would all vary, anyway. But, we do know that the sorts of people who are appointed are very smart, accomplished, usually with military experience, and not averse to doing a little field work.

If casting someone in their 70s (by the time a post-Craig film went before the cameras), I can think of three distinguished British actors that could do the role justice. First, there is Jeremy Irons (6’2″,b.1948), known to genre fans for everything from Dead Ringers and Die Hard with a Vengeance to The Man in the Iron Mask, The Time Machine (2002), Eragon, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Michael Kitchen (5’7″,b.1948) hasn’t done much genre work, though he did appear in Dracula A.D. 1972, “Thriller”, “Tales of the Unexpected”, The Russia House, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”, and he played the recurring ‘Bill Tanner’ character in Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough. (He came to my attention when he starred in the “Foyle’s War” series of TV movies.) Then, of course, there is the amazing Helen Mirren (5’4″,b.1945). In addition to starring in the various “Prime Suspect” mini-series, Mirren can be seen in “Thriller”, Excalibur, 2010, White Knights, “The Twilight Zone”, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, State of Play, RED & RED 2, with some voice work thrown in.

If I had my druthers, though, I’d like to see someone a little younger in the role, if for no other reason than to increase the odds of their staying with the franchise for several years. So, here are a couple of candidates:

Colin Salmon

Once suggested by Pierce Brosnan to replace him as Bond, Colin Salmon (6’4.5″,b.1962) would be a terrific M! First appearing in “Prime Suspect 2”, Salmon went on to appear in such genre fare as “Tales from the Crypt”, Immortality, Resident Evil, “Dinotopia”, “Keen Eddie”, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, “Hex”, “Doctor Who”, Punisher: War Zone, “Merlin”, “Strike Back”, “MI-5”, “Arrow”, “24: Live Another Day”, etc. And, oh yes, he played M’s Chief of Staff, Charles Robinson, in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. Salmon is a wonderful actor with a commanding voice and presence. It might even make sense for the Robinson character to be promoted into the M position.

Stephen Dillane

“Game of Thrones” fans know him best as would-be king ‘Stannis Baratheon’. But, Stephen Dillane (6′,b.1957) has been around for awhile and appeared in plenty of other genre productions. These include “The One Game”, “Super Soldier”, Welcome to Sarajevo, Spy Game, King Arthur, Freakdog, 44 Inch Chest, “Eternal Law”, “Hunted” (in which he played the head of a small office of spies), “Secret State”, Zero Dark Thirty, and the current “The Tunnel” series. His characters are often cold, stern, by-the-book types, which fit perfectly with Fleming’s original characterization of M. I think Dillane would be a great choice.

If I was more familiar with British TV and movies, I could probably come up with a couple more. But, those will have to do for now. Comments?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Casting: James Bond

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”  — Goldfinger, in Goldfinger

Yes, it is time once again to seriously contemplate who is “worthy” to pick up the mantle of James Bond, Agent 007.

So far, it appears that Daniel Craig (5’10”,b.1968) will do a fifth film — 25th in the franchise, not counting the original Casino Royale (1967), which was a non-series spoof, and 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which was “unofficial” — before saying farewell. It’s just as well, since filming can be brutal. Craig has suffered various injuries during his stint, including a serious knee injury while filming a fight scene for Spectre (2015) that required arthroscopic surgery. Plus, he will be at least 50 years old by the time the next movie gets filmed, and Craig has admitted that it’s tougher to stay fit and that he already requires more action-doubles than he used to. (We all know that we prefer to see the actors performing their own stunts for that extra dose of realism.)

Who might take over? As I wrote a couple years ago, Idris Elba (6’2.75″,b.1972) is being talked up by some people. As much as I like him, I explained why I didn’t think they should go with a black Bond. (Or Asian or Latino, either.) In addition, Elba is already in his mid-40s, which automatically shrinks his “shelf life”, if you will. If he shot his first film as Bond for release in the early-2020s, then we’d soon be back to having a 50ish 007 already. Same goes for one of my other favorites, Richard Armitage (6’2.5″,b.1971) from “Strike Back” and The Hobbit movies. I think he’d be great, but as of this writing, he is already 45. Also, Damian Lewis (6’1″,b.1971), who’s name comes up on occasion. Tom Hardy (5’9″,b.1977), who has been suggested by others, is pushing 40, but I don’t think he (or Lewis) is right for the part.

Not that actors can’t remain fairly fit and handsome and charming well past 50. Connery and Moore certainly did, though I doubt they did their own stunts in the later movies. [Note: Connery was 32 when Dr. No (1962) came out, 41 for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and 53 when Never Say Never Again (1983) was released. Moore was 45 when Live and Let Die (1973) debuted and 57 when he finished with A View to a Kill (1985).] So, I’m not saying guys like Elba and Armitage couldn’t do a bang-up job. But, these days, it’s hard to find actors — let alone those heading into middle age — who would want to be tied into doing, say, five or more action films over a period of a dozen years or more. Especially if they enjoy performing in other genres.

My preference would be to see a younger James Bond, having recently been recruited from the Royal Naval Reserve and freshly graduated from MI-6’s “00” program. Ian Fleming never revealed Bond’s age, though researchers have come up with two estimates for his birthdate: 11 November 1920 and 11 November 1921. Fleming wrote his first Bond tale in 1953, and I believe it was supposed to be contemporary. That means Bond was already working for British Intelligence when in his early 30s. With that in mind, I’d like the new James Bond to be in his early- to mid-30s. The ever-popular Tom Hiddleston (b.1981) fits this age range, and he’d probably do a fine job, though producer Barbara Broccoli has said he is “a bit too smug and not tough enough to play James Bond.”

In any case, I have a few other candidates that I like even better….

Aidan Turner

Aidan Turner (5’11”,b.1983), another Hobbit alum, is perhaps the current fan-favorite. He has also appeared in “Being Human” (the British version, where I first noticed him), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, “And Then There Were None”, and now stars in the latest incarnation of “Poldark”. He has the looks and the charm. If he buffs up a bit and practices that cold stare, he might be a pretty good choice.

 

 

 

Max Brown

When I first started thinking about fan-casting Bond a few years ago, the first person I thought of was Max Brown (6’2″,b.1981). I had recently seen him playing a medical examiner in “Beauty and the Beast” and thought that he might have the right stuff. He’s a handsome Brit, so that was a good start. You might recognize him from “MI-5” or “Agent Carter”. Or, if you’re a fan of series about British monarchs, you may have seen him in “The Tudors” or “The Royals”. Could he be our new Commander Bond?

 

Philip Winchester

Philip Winchester (6’1″,b.1981) is another great choice and someone I’ve cast before. He’s a bit beefier than the previous two and has already played the action hero — primarily in “Strike Back”. Winchester has also been in Thunderbirds, “Crusoe”, Solomon Kane, “Fringe”, “24: Live Another Day”, and currently stars in “Chicago Justice”. He looks good in a tux, uniform, tee-shirt, or shirtless, and I can easily see him as our steely-eyed, suave Mr. Bond.

 

 

Sam Witwer

As a bonus, I’d like to throw an American into the mix. Sam Witwer (6’1″,b.1977) is pushing 40 (though he doesn’t look it), so he’s also older than preferred. But,… he’s a possibility. He has appeared in many genre shows, but you may best remember Witwer from “Battlestar Galactica”, “Dexter”, “The Mist”, “Smallville”, the American “Being Human”, and “Once Upon a Time”. He has also done voicework for various Star Wars video games, as well as “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” animated series. I know, it seems like heresy to suggest an American play an iconic British hero, but Brits and Canadian play Americans all the time. As long as he can “act and talk British”, why not?

Done. I’ll probably do another post or two on Bond’s regular supporting characters in a few weeks. Meanwhile, do you have any other casting ideas for the next ‘007’? Let us know below…

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.