Playing James Bond made George Lazenby a star. Refusing to play him again made him a nobody. A new doco explores the man, the myth and the aftermath.
After 48 years, George Lazenby has polished his many anecdotes about his one-film stint as James Bond to a fine lustre. And in the documentary Becoming Bond, those well-honed tales positively shine.
The movie traces his tale from boyhood in Canberra to the dizzying heights of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and the crashing lows that followed his decision to reject a multi-picture deal. Lazenby himself narrates, looking dapper as he talks down the barrel of the lens, while Josh Lawson plays the more youthful version in the plentiful, and occasionally slightly fanciful, recreations.
“It turned out OK,” says Lazenby, 76, of the film, which screens as part of the American Essentials film festival. “It’s quite funny. It’s truthful. Certain things have changed, but not much.”
So, it’s the way it really happened? “It’s very much on the money,” he says. “I’ve learnt that if you tell the truth, it’s funnier than fiction.”
The scene in which producer Harry Saltzman pushes a suitcase full of money across the table at him as an ex-gratia enticement to sign on for six more films is a bit of “poetic licence”, he admits. “The real story is Saltzman said, ‘Sign the f—ing contract and I’ll give you a million dollars, in any bank account you want to name, anywhere in the world’.”
History records he turned it down, and history generally shakes its head in disbelief. But despite the lean years that followed acting-wise, Lazenby has no regrets. Well, not many, anyway.
“It’s a tiny opportunity missed but I’m glad it happened when it did,” he says. “Back then it was hippy time, it was ‘make love not war’. I just wanted to get laid, and if you had a suit on you looked like a waiter. You had to have bell bottoms, long hair, flowery shirts. That all gave me the impression Bond was over, so I didn’t feel like I was doing the wrong thing by myself.”
There’s plenty of George “getting laid” in Becoming Bond, channelled through the medium of Josh Lawson. How do you think he did?
“Well, he’s not as good as me, but he’s all right. I mean, who can play me? He’s a nice guy, but nobody can be me, no matter who they are. Maybe Cary Grant could have done it, but no one else.”
If you had to pick one word to describe George Lazenby, it would be chutzpah. The guy had it – and still has it – in spades.
He was a working-class boy who discovered pretty early on that he enjoyed sex. He started out as a car mechanic, then moved to selling cars when he realised he’d meet more women that way. He chased a girl to London, sold more cars, then fluked his way into a modelling career. From there, he fluked his way into an audition for the role of Bond after Sean Connery decided he was done with it.
Lazenby had plenty of charm, but zero acting experience. The way Becoming Bond tells it, it seems his main talent was as a salesman – with his chief product being himself. Is that fair?
“Well no,” he says. “They tested over 300 people on film [for the role], and the people who chose me were United Artists in America, and all they saw was the film tests, they didn’t meet me. The salesman part got me into being tested, but the test got me the job.”
As for the nooky, he’s on the record as claiming Bond was bad for his sex life. How on Earth can that be?
While he was modelling, he says: “I was messing with five girls a day in London. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” But being on a movie set played havoc with his averages. “It restricts you to the people who are around you.”
Becoming Bond plays a bit like a Carry On movie, with Lawson’s Lazenby as a cheeky chappie far more interested in chasing skirt than nailing his lines. All these years later, Lazenby likes to create the impression he’s still similarly inclined.
He’s single now, and planning to stay that way. “I like a woman who does what she’s told,” he says. “They’ve all got this woman’s lib thing going. One asked me to wash the dishes with her the other day – I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding’, and got up and walked away. I’m old school, man. I said, ‘Pour me a martini’. She didn’t want to know.”
Sorry, George, I think 1969 is calling. But before you go, one last question: who do you think should be the next James Bond?
“Jesus, I wouldn’t have a clue,” he says. “I haven’t seen a Bond movie since mine.”
Becoming Bond screens as part of the American Essentials Film Festival. Details: americanessentials.com.au