JAMES Bond, I report with half a mind to revoke his licence to kill, has dropped his guard and allowed himself to get old. At any rate, the man who played him more often than anyone else has.
At 84 – he was 45 when he got the part – Roger Moore these days feels the chill.
“It’s bloody cold in here,” he complains as he walks at a yeti-like pace into the drawing room of a hotel in London’s Knightsbridge where he has just lunched with his family.
I suggest a dimly lit sitting area beyond that I hope will be cosier. In his open-necked shirt and Commander Bond blazer, he approaches this sanctuary cautiously, suspiciously even. As our doppelgangers rise to greet us, he muses at last: “But there’s nothing there.” In an unintentional re-enactment of the climax of The Man Who Haunted Himself, the one film Moore believes to have truly taxed his acting chops, I have led the British national treasure into a smoked-glass mirror.
Our interview has been arranged to coincide with Moore’s appearance at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival and the publication of Bond on Bond, his heavily illustrated analysis of 50 years of Bond movies. It involves penetrating a heavy smokescreen of Mooreish humour. In a slow, deep, but very quiet voice, he tells me that Daniel Craig, soon to open in his third Bond movie, is a very good 007 for our time. But that short he did for the Olympics ceremony! Her Majesty should have done her own stunts, and what was Craig doing working with a non-Equity actor? Of course he loved it. After all, the parody was pretty close to how Moore played Bond for his seven movies between 1972 and 1985.
“I saw the humour in the character, in the very idea that here’s a spy that everybody knows what he drinks wherever he goes. That’s not really a spy.”
But it was Moore’s jokey, charisma-lite sex appeal that was fatal for those who wanted something nastier in their Bond. Moore found an escape clause in one of the novels — “Bond did not particularly enjoy killing” — and used it as his premise. In his 2008 memoir, My Word is My Bond, he regrets that Guy Hamilton, the director of The Man with the Golden Gun, had made him twist Maud Adams‘s arm until she spilled some plot-beans. “My Bond would have charmed the information out by bedding her first. My Bond was a lover and a giggler.”
Not a sadist then? Has he read Fifty Shades of Grey? “Oh, what a load of cobblers that is! I tried to read it. It’s girls’ magazines dirtied up. I mean, only really kinky people want to be hurt.”
In fact, I say, it seems as if it was his wives who bullied him. His first, an ice-skater called Doorn Van Steyn, whom he married at 19, told him he would never be an actor because his face was “too weak”, his chin “too big” and his mouth “too small”. His next, singer Dorothy Squires, bitterly refused Moore a divorce when he fell in love with Italian Luisa Mattioli. Much later, and finally married, Luisa was less than sympathetic during her husband’s recuperation from prostate cancer. Weak and depressed, he was, he writes, unable any longer to handle her “outbursts of Italian temperament”. Bullied? “Well, I deserved to be bullied because I’m a lazy sod.”
Later that day with Piers Morgan, Moore’s recollections become more colourful. The “slightly mad” Van Steyn had thrown a pot of tea at him. Squires had smashed a guitar over his head and, when he left her for Mattioli, punched a fist through a window and grabbed his shirt. Years later, when Squires was living in poverty and still complaining about her ex, Moore paid for her cancer treatment.
He admits he might never have married his fourth wife, Kristina Tholstrup, but for his post-operative depression and his fear that time was running out (this was 19 years ago). “Every stone you lift doesn’t necessarily have a maggot under it,” he says, which is the most he can say for the health worries that dogged him since he caught pneumonia as a five-year-old. This March he was struck by it again and spent three weeks in lung hospital near his home in Switzerland (he has another in Monaco). He even had to learn how to walk again.
“That really makes you re-evaluate everything.” Such as? “I just think I should have been nicer to a couple more people.” Like who? “I don’t know. I’m joking.”
Moore says his approach to unpleasantness is to blank out things. He cannot remember, for instance, what year his mother died, even though it was 1985, the date his lease on Bond expired.
Does he ever cry? “Only very privately, with a movie.” For all this, he says he is very demonstrative with his three children and five grandchildren. Suddenly he turns to the subject of his father, a working-class policeman from Brixton. “I only ever shook hands with my father, you know.” They never kissed? “I did, eventually, when he had a pacemaker put in. My then wife said to me: ‘Well, why don’t you kiss him?’ It never occurred to me to kiss my father. It became very different after that.”
It is hard to assess whether the criticism of his acting ever hurt him. He always self-harms first. When I ask what would have happened if he had taken Lew Grade’s insincere advice to turn down the Bond part, he says he hopes he would have gone on to make The Invisible Man because then he would not even have had to turn up. And, of course, all the best jokes about his eloquent eyebrows are his own. “I had the choice years ago of going to Stratford or going to Hollywood, and I took Hollywood. I could have been still carrying a spear with varicose veins in Stratford. I took the gamble.”
But, I protest, it was his presence that made those 1960s spy fantasies work. He says no, handing the credit to writers, too many of whose good lines he probably ruined. “Writing is hard work. Saying the words is just having a memory.”
In fact, the only time Moore appears even a little precious about his oeuvre is when we talk about The Man Who Haunted Himself. Here, in 1970, Moore abandons suavity for a portrayal of desperation, over-reliant, perhaps, on the application of drops of perspiration to his forehead. “It was interesting to play two characters, the good and the evil,” he says, before a cloud occludes his memory.
He had disagreed with the film’s director, Basil Dearden, over how to say, literally, two words, the character’s son’s name: “Jamie, Jamie.”
“It was the wrong reading of a line and it always stuck with me.”
So what did he do? Did he say it Dearden’s way? “Oh yes. How, I don’t know. But I did.”
By: Andrew Billen/The Times UK