Landing James Bond may be the biggest acting gig in Hollywood, but 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson say they still have to pitch prospective actors on the part.
When variety catches up with Britain’s most famous producers in late August, they’re busy preparing for the 60th anniversary of Bond in October. But the search for a new actor to play the world’s most famous spy is quietly rumbling on in the background. It’s still “early days,” they claim, but whomever lands the role has to be in it for the long haul.
For a while, that person seemed to be Idris Elba. But the “Luther” star recently said he didn’t see Bond when he “looks in the mirror” — remarks that some have interpreted as Elba’s valediction to 007.
Broccoli and Wilson hadn’t recently spoken to the long-time Bond candidate at the time of this interview, but they say they understand. “He’s great,” says Wilson, and Broccoli quickly adds, “We love Idris.”
“The thing is, it’s going to be a couple of years off,” she notes. “And when we cast Bond, it’s a 10-, 12-year commitment. So he’s probably thinking, ‘Do I really want that thing? Not everybody wants to do that. It was hard enough getting [Daniel Craig to do it].” Wilson interjects: “And he was in his early 30s at the time!”
The producers are seated at a roundtable in their spacious office at Eon House, the headquarters of their production banner Eon Productions — a stately, towering Edwardian home on London’s Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park and nearby Buckingham Palace.
The half siblings — whose mother Dana Natol was married to Broccoli’s father, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, Bond’s co-founding producer — have served as the caretakers of Bond since “GoldenEye” (1995), which starred Pierce Brosnan. They worked with the “Remington Steele” actor for another three movies — “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997), “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) and “Die Another Day” (2002) — before hiring Craig for “Casino Royale ” (2006).
The duo formed a strong bond with Craig, and together evolved the character over the course of four more films, including “Quantum of Solace” (2008), “Skyfall” (2012), “Spectre” (2015) and last year’s pandemic- delayed “No Time to Die,” before Craig bowed out as 007. Well before the star’s last turn, however, speculation was rife about his replacement, and Broccoli and Wilson have already been fielding questions about the franchise’s next chapter for years.
Most young actors, say Broccoli and Wilson, think they want to do Bond, but don’t fully fathom the commitment of carrying a franchise across many years. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh yeah, it’d be fun to do one,’ Broccoli laughs out loud. “Well. That ain’t gonna work.”
It’s also a matter of resources for Eon Productions, explains Wilson. “It’s a big investment for us, too, to bring out a new Bond.”
Ultimately, the casting process isn’t simply about choosing someone for a role in a movie, they underline.
“That’s why, when people go, ‘Oh, who are you going to get?’ it’s not just about casting an actor for a film. It’s about a reinvention, and ‘Where are we taking it? What do we want to do with the character?’” says Broccoli. “And then, once we figure that out, who’s the right person for that particular reinvention?
“With [Craig]when we had the conversation at this very table about, you know, [whether he was] going to do it, he said, ‘Well, I’m going to do it. I really want to be a part of it, the whole thing.’ And he lived to regret that,” says Broccoli with a burst of laughter. “But it’s a big commitment. It’s not just showing up for a couple of months of filming.”
As Brosnan once said, she quotes, “More people have walked on the moon than have played James Bond.” (Indeed, there have been only six Bond actors to date since the first movie, “Dr. No,” in 1962: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Brosnan and Craig.)
Both Wilson and Broccoli, who is a director of the UK chapter of women’s advocacy org Time’s Up, have left their mark on Bond, particularly in humanizing the once-womanizing spy and ensuring more fulfilling, meatier roles for the female stars of the franchise. These are qualities that will continue in the next films, says Broccoli.
“It’s an evolution,” she says. “Bond is evolving just as men are evolving. I don’t know who’s evolving at a faster pace.”
Craig, she adds, “cracked Bond open emotionally,” bringing audiences into the character’s inner life. “The films over his tenure were the first time we really connected the emotional arc.”
Another first for the producers has been boarding a TV show based on Bond. As revealed by Variety earlier this year, Amazon’s Prime Video greenlit its first TV series based on the iconic British spy with adventure reality show “007’s Road to a Million,” a Bond-style spin on a race around the world.
“People have always come to us about doing a TV show, [saying,] ‘Oh, you should do a Bond challenge,’ but we always stayed away from it because we didn’t want to put people in danger and have them do dangerous thing, because it’s not for members of the public — it’s for trained professionals, ”explains Broccoli.
But “007’s Road to a Million” was the first time a producer — Britain’s 72 Films (“The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty”) — approached the pair with an idea that seemed both “fun” and also safe. “It wasn’t going to be dangerous to the participants is the key thing,” notes Wilson.
Broccoli and Wilson are producing the eight-part series alongside 72 Films and MGM Studios. The show is now in production and “it’s looking really great,” enthuses Broccoli.
“Audiences will get a big kick out of it, and that’s why we agreed to do it,” she says. “I mean, it surprised us as well as everybody else. Like, wow, we’re gonna do this.”
News of the show emerged just a week after Amazon closed its $8.5 billion deal for MGM in March, with the Bond franchise believed to be a powerful driving force behind the acquisition.
When the proposed deal was first announced in 2021, Broccoli and Wilson were quick to extinguish any speculation about a streaming play for Bond, and issued a statement assuring audiences that the movies would remain in cinemas. (Even in this interview, when asked whether Amazon might ask for a narrative Bond TV show, Wilson notes, “We’re trying to keep it theatrical,” and Broccoli swiftly retorts: “Well, we’re gonna keep it theatrical. We ‘re not going to try; we’ve got to do it. It’s just a theatrical franchise.”)
But the greatest shock around the Amazon takeover, they say, was the sudden departures of MGM film bosses Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy in April.
“It was a real blow when we lost Mike and Pam,” says Broccoli warily. “I mean, that was just — you know, we’ve had a roller coaster ride over the years with MGM and United Artists and all that stuff, for many, many years. There’s been a lot of ups and downs and we were so happy with their leadership and so looking forward to smooth sailing. And then a hurricane came and things changed.”
Broccoli is “eager to find out” who will be replacing the studio heads at MGM, which has yet to name a successor. In the meantime, the producers are working “very closely” with Alana Mayo of MGM’s Orion Pictures division on the movie “Till,” about Emmett Till, an African American boy who was brutally murdered in a Mississippi hate crime in 1955.
“She’s an amazing, wonderful, talented woman,” says Broccoli of Mayo. “I’m really loving working with her on this film, and UA are a great team.”
If the break from Bond has accomplished anything, it’s given the producers time and space to focus on “Till” and other projects, of which there are many. Alongside “Till’s” October release, Broccoli has a musical of “Sing Street” being staged in Boston, and another theater project with director Erica Schmidt in the works. Meanwhile, Wilson has written a TV show that the duo are looking to set up.
As well as serving on the board of Time’s Up UK, Broccoli is the chair of First Light, a youth-focused filmmaking initiative, a founding member of the London Screen Academy, and the president of the National Youth Theatre.
The work of Time’s Up UK, Broccoli says, is “vitally important,” and plans to form an Independent Standards Authority to issues handle of sexual harassment and abuse are underway. “It’s important for people to have somewhere to go to hear their grievances, and for some sort of system to help sort that out,” she says.
Broccoli and Wilson are also go-to industry leaders for the British Film Institute, which will soon set out its next 10-year policy. A former chair of the BFI UK Film Skills Taskforce, Broccoli admits that while the demand for production in the UK is “great,” it has to be “sustained by a workforce.”
“We have a skill shortage, and we have a diversity issue,” she says. “For me, I kept saying, ‘Let’s put them together.’ Let’s train people from various backgrounds for jobs that are needed. There are lots of people who are super talented but have not necessarily felt that the film industry was for them.”
And aside from advising on the future of the British film industry, there’s of course the question of Eon’s own next chapter. Asked about the stewardship of the company in the years ahead, Wilson jokes that Broccoli is “the spring chicken,” and at the height of her abilities.
Broccoli laughs along, but then turns serious.
“I’m gonna die with my boots on,” she says. “My joy is my family and my work. I don’t see it as a hardship. Every day, you’re up against new challenges, and it’s fun and it keeps you young.”
On Sept. 21, Broccoli and Wilson are the recipients of two Hollywood honors. In the morning, they will leave their hands and footprints at a ceremony in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre. Later that day, at the Beverly Hilton, they are the recipients of the Pioneer Award from the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, which honors industry leaders with outstanding philanthropic endeavors and provides financial support to those in need in the distribution and exhibition sector.
“[Those who work in distribution and exhibition] are in many ways unsung heroes because it’s been very challenging times,” says Broccoli. “Movie houses are the places people go to dream, and we have to fight to keep them going. These are the people fighting the good fight. We have to support them.”