An Aussie model famous for a chocolate commercial may seem a strange choice to take over as a suave upper-class British spy in the biggest franchise in Hollywood – but then Sean Connery was a Scottish former boxer and bodybuilder (and part time male nanny). The critics and public barely had time to take it all in before Lazenby sensationally left the role. The actor himself, plus Rigg, Connery and producer Cubby Broccoli have all weighed in with their explanations (and accusations) about what happened.
When Connery told the producers he was quitting after You Only Live Twice, Broccoli’s attention was caught by the model who was starring in the Fry’s chocolate Big Fry TV advert. You can watch it below.
Lazenby was called in to audition and spent all his savings on a Rolex watch and a Saville Row suit that had actually been made for Connery but never collected.
When he landed the role, the director Peter R Hunt said; “We wanted someone who oozed sexual assurance, and we think this fellow has that. Just wait til the women see him on screen … I am not saying he is an actor. There is a great deal of difference between an actor and a film star.”
Lazenby was offered a contract for seven films but then the unthinkable happened.
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The news was announced the month before the film was even released that Lazenby had quit. He himself said: “My parents think I’m insane, everybody thinks I’m insane.”
An unimpressed Rigg added: “I truly don’t know what’s happening in George’s mind so I can only speak of my reaction. I think it’s a pretty foolish move. I think if he can bear to do an apprenticeship, which everybody in this business has to do – has to do – then he should do it quietly and with humility. Everybody has to do it.”
Lazenby, though, loudly declared his reasons and has, more or less, stuck to them ever since – although with some regrets.
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At the time he said: “The producers made me feel like I was mindless. They disregarded everything I suggested simply because I hadn’t been in the film business like them for about a thousand years.”
Lazenby’s own personal beliefs, mixed with advice from his agent, Ronan O’Rahilly, also meant he viewed the 007 role as outdated, something that would quickly become unfashionable. He wanted to make films like Peter Fonda’s spiritual Easy Rider about the contemporary hippy and drug culture.
He said: “Fantasy doesn’t interest me. Reality does. Anyone who’s in touch with the kids knows what’s happening, knows the mood. Watch pop music and learn what’s going to happen. Most film-makers don’t watch and aren’t in touch.”
Years later, the actor added: “Ronan convinced me Bond was all over … I’d be in danger of becoming part of the Establishment. Something he rebelled against.
“Easy Rider was supposed to be the way forward and I could do three or four of those type of movies for every Bond. I wanted to be a free spirit, make love, not war. Ronan wouldn’t let me sign the Bond contract – kept sending it back.
“Who knows what would have happened had Ronan not got a hold of my brain? But I don’t regret a day of my life.”
Lazenby found it hard to find work, however, not helped by the fact that the highly influential Broccoli had spoken out against him.
The producer said: “He was my biggest mistake in 16 years. He just couldn’t deal with success. He was so arrogant. There was the stature and looks of a Bond but Lazenby couldn’t get along with the other performers and technicians.”
Interestingly, Connery, who had also had issues with Broccoli, defended his fellow star: “I have known George for many years and arrogance is not in his character. Alas I cannot say the same for Cubby Broccoli”
In 1978, struggling to find work, Lazenby issued a public statement.
Lazenby said: “It hasn’t been easy, trying to climb back… I admit I acted stupidly. It went to my head, everything that was happening to me. But remember, it was my first film… Now what I’ve got to do is live down my past; convince people I’m not the same person who made a fool of himself all those years ago. I know I can do it. All I need is the chance.”
Unfortunately, few substantial chances came his way on the big screen, while he picked up small screen roles over the years in shows like Baywatch, Hawaii Five-0 and General Hospital.
Promoting the 2017 docudrama Making Bond, Lazenby looked back on it all and said: “Do I have any regrets? Only when I was broke… But I thought about how my life would be like if it continued. I’d have had three wives in Beverly Hills, mansions, and been a drug addict.
“I thought, well, I think I did the right thing.”
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