LAZENBY, GEORGE

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


(September 5, 1939–     ): Handsome Australian leading man who replaced Sean Connery as James Bond and made a strong impression in his one 007 adventure, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby came to England in 1964 after a couple of successful years selling automobiles in his native country. Taking advice from photographer Chard Jenkins, Lazenby became a top male model in London. He gained some popularity with TV commercials for Big Fry Chocolate, in which he was seen carrying crates of chocolate on his back to give to children.

The commercials were seen by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman as they began their search for a new Bond in 1968. And Lazenby already knew Broccoli indirectly; they were both customers of Kurt’s Barber Shop in Mayfair. Unbeknownst to Lazenby, Broccoli had once mentioned to Kurt that he thought the young model would someday make an excellent James Bond. The producer often pointed to the way Lazenby walked—though he was a big man, he moved with the same catlike grace that had once sold Broccoli on Sean Connery.

Lazenby’s agent, Maggie Abbott, sent him to the 007 auditions. It was a new experience for him; as he explained much later, “I had no acting experience—I didn’t even know any actors. They were in a different class altogether, especially the young ones. A lot of these guys couldn’t afford drinks, while I was making 500 and 600 pounds a week. But I was bored with modeling by then. There was no challenge in it.”[1] Figuring that the best thing to do was to keep his Australian accent under wraps, Lazenby walked into the Audley Square offices of Eon Productions and pretended he was English.

Recalled Lazenby, “I walked right in and asked Harry Saltzman’s assistant for an interview. He was on the phone with Harry that very moment. He put the phone down and asked me some quick questions.” Lazenby lied and told the assistant that he was a playboy who raced sports cars for a living. He also mentioned his acting experience in Germany and Australia. The assistant repeated the information to Saltzman, who granted Lazenby an interview.

He was then escorted down a wood-paneled hallway to Saltzman’s office. He found Saltzman behind his desk, talking on the phone, his shoeless feet draped over the top of his desk. Saltzman motioned Lazenby to a chair, but the nervous model instead walked over to a window and gazed out. Saltzman hung up the phone and looked over the newcomer. He was impressed.

“So you want to be James Bond?” Saltzman asked. “Yes,” Lazenby replied. “Well,” Saltzman continued, “You’ll have to first meet our director, Peter Hunt. He’ll be here tomorrow at four o’clock. Can you make it?” Lazenby hedged, saying, ‘No, I’m sorry, I have to go back to Paris for a job.”

“I don’t know why I said that,” remembered Lazenby. “I was just getting nervous sitting in Harry’s big, plush office. You could tell there was a Rolls-Royce sitting outside, with a chauffeur standing next to it. I’d never been in touch with this kind of person before. Also, I guess I was stalling because I knew that when I met the director, he was going to know right away that I couldn’t act.”

Lazenby agreed to stay in town for a fee of 500 pounds. He eventually met Hunt and tested with another nonprofessional, Australian singer Trisha Noble, and did quite well. He was asked to stay in London for further testing on a retainer of 150 pounds a week.

By April 1968, Broccoli and Saltzman had narrowed the field down to five actors. Besides Lazenby, they were considering John Richardson, who had recently starred alongside Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., and who was romantically linked with former Bond girl Martine Beswick; and three young English actors: Anthony Rogers, Robert Campbell, and Hans de Vries. All five were being tested individually on the stages at Pinewood Studios, along with the many young women who were also testing for parts in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

It was a test fight sequence that proved decisive for Lazenby. Stunt coordinator George Leech picked the moment from the script in which Bond is surprised by a would-be assassin in the bedroom of a hotel on the Portuguese coast. Leech asked former wrestler Yuri Borienko to double the villain, a Union Corse gunman. Recalled Leech, “Yuri Borienko didn’t have a lot of experience in film fighting, and Lazenby had virtually none at all. I had to instruct both of them in the basic mechanics. Yuri certainly didn’t have to learn to fight, but he did have to learn how to react for the cameras. Lazenby was good physically, so he could learn how to punch easily enough. His main problem was learning not to flinch when a punch came his way.”[2]

Progress was slow at first. The overly energetic Lazenby got carried away several times and actually bloodied Borienko’s nose. The latter, a good-natured man, took the action in stride. For his patience, Borienko was rewarded with a significant part in the new film—that of Grunther, assistant to Blofeld (Telly Savalas). After three weeks of tough rehearsal, Hunt set up his cameras on Pinewood’s Stage B and began shooting film on the test fight. In its finished form, the fight lasted two minutes and was so realistic that Hunt later regretted that he couldn’t use it in the finished movie. (In the film, Lazenby would fight the same battle with actor Irvin Allen.)

Lazenby’s ability with his fists eventually won him the part, with Broccoli and Saltzman agreeing that of the five candidates, Lazenby was the perfect replacement. And after viewing the test-fight footage, United Artists in New York was inclined to agree. Negotiations were immediately halted with a number of other stars, and plans were finalized to go with George Lazenby when shooting began that fall.

Lazenby’s film debut as Connery’s replacement was, on the whole, a good one. Although he lacked the polish of a more experienced actor, he was very convincing as James Bond. And while his acting came up short in some key emotional sequences, especially his low-key response in the finale when his bride, Tracy (Diana Rigg), is murdered by Blofled and Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), his agile movements worked amazingly well in the film’s terrific action sequences. Lazenby could be a very physical actor, and director Peter Hunt played to this strength.

Unfortunately, besieged by worldwide press interest, and under the pressure of replacing one of the world’s most popular sex symbols, Lazenby began to crack. His relationship with director Peter Hunt deteriorated over the course of filming, with Hunt preferring to leave Lazenby on his own most of the time, especially in the film’s romantic sequences, when Bond falls in love with Tracy. Hunt later explained such a “hands-off” policy as part of his strategy for getting a good performance from a nonprofessional. “I wanted that feeling of isolation,” said Hunt. “That is Bond. He’s a loner. George wasn’t experienced enough to interpret this feeling of utter emptiness, especially the loss he feels when Tracy is killed. In that sequence, I didn’t want him bright and alert. I wanted him beaten down and angry. I thus left him entirely alone that day, hoping that he would get angry at me and then show some of that feeling in the scene.”[3]

The strained relationship between actor and director soon spread to other parts of the production, creating a long-running controversy that was picked up and fueled by the voracious British press. The reporters were particularly eager to exploit an apparent rift between Lazenby and his leading lady, Diana Rigg, especially when the latter announced she was going to eat garlic prior to a key love scene.

Lazenby later acknowledged that he was the cause of the eventual collapse of his relationship with Hunt and the producers. “It was definitely an ego thing on my part,” said Lazenby. “The result was that I did virtually the whole film without a director, and if you look at the call sheet, you’ll find that I did almost every scene in one take. I was practically a one-take man. If I made a goof, the crew would shoot the scene from another angle, and if that was good, that was what they would print. So I never really got warmed up in any of my scenes.”

Lazenby’s comments agree with those of the London critics, who claimed that his version of Bond was a mere shell of Connery’s. Hunt, though, had kinder words for Lazenby: “Apart from one or two moments of frustration brought about by his own feelings about his performance in the film, which we worked out, I had no problem with George. In fact, I had fewer problems with him during the shooting than I’ve had with more established stars. And he did everything in the film very well. It was only during the latter part of the production, when he became involved in quarrels and questions about his contract, that he became difficult. Eventually, he began to hate the film and, in consequence, me as well.”

Hunt continually advised Lazenby to keep a low profile and to wait until the film was released—then his strengths could be acknowledged. But others advised Lazenby to take advantage of his new image. Said Hunt, “Things would have turned out differently if he had been more sensible and not gone rushing around behaving in such a ridiculous way, saying all sorts of unpleasant things about people. Whether they were true didn’t matter; he was still making a spectacle of himself.

“The public will latch onto these things when they hear them, and you’ve got to be a pretty experienced person to be able to deal with the press. You have to be able to turn those quotes around so they don’t become a knife in the back. George wasn’t capable of doing that, and the result was that he got an incredible amount of bad publicity—a fact that probably damaged his career after OHMSS.

“As a young man who had never done a film before, he was still good, and he came through in the role. And you had to be a pretty mean critic to find no talent in him. And I knew that if he went on to make other Bond films, he would have grown into the role, as Roger Moore did. Unfortunately, George didn’t have the experience at the time to realize this, and he was badly advised by others. I had too much on my plate to stand by him, to take him on as a friend and confidant. It was also a long shooting schedule, and on such a shoot, you expect everyone at certain moments to have outbursts and periods of anxiety. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure.

“For six years, the world had identified the character of James Bond with Sean Connery. The phenomenon of Bond had reached its peak under Connery’s lead. To many, there could be no other James Bond.”

Lazenby’s feud with Hunt and the producers soured his chances of returning in the next movie, Diamonds Are Forever. During a publicity tour for OHMSS, he even refused to shave off a beard he had grown during his vacation. A decade later, Lazenby said, “Right now I could do it—I could sign a contract to do the Bond pictures for seven years. In those days, I couldn’t, because I was too immature for it. I felt as if I was doing them a favor. After all, I used to think, ‘I had a better life before I met you guys.’ So I had this chip on my shoulder, and my attitude was entirely wrong. I wasn’t looking toward the future.

“Also, in the beginning, I thought I was the only one with an ego. Now I know that everyone on a movie set has one. You have to tread very lightly through the vines. This was something I didn’t understand originally, because I was moving around so much. I never stayed in one place long enough to wear out my welcome.

“In those days it also took something like twenty-four hours for me to learn a page of dialogue. Today it would take me maybe twenty minutes. And that takes a lot of pressure off. At least you have your lines and you feel a lot more secure with them.”

After On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the word went out that Lazenby was unmanageable, and for a few years he found it impossible to get film work. He later went to Hong Kong, where he was in talks to work with Bruce Lee until that actor’s untimely death. Lazenby’s appearance in a number of low-budget kung fu films tided him over through the early 1970s, after which he went to the United States to play more serious roles. His post-007 feature credits include Universal Soldier (1971); The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977); Saint Jack (1979); Never Too Young to Die (1986), with fellow Bond player Branscombe Richmond (Licence to Kill); and Gettysburg (1993), as Confederate brigadier general J. Johnston Pettigrew.

It should be noted that one of the pieces of advice that Lazenby was given in 1969 was that the time of Bond was over—that the series was nearing its end. As time has shown, it was probably the stupidest, most inaccurate piece of advice that anyone in show business was ever given.


[1] George Lazenby, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, July 1, 1981.

[2] George Leech, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 23, 1977.

[3] Peter Hunt, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 21, 1977.