Whenever a new James Bond film is announced, people are quick to say, “yes, that’s all well and good, but who will the NEXT Bond be?” A Bond casting is always a big deal in the film industry. More men have walked on the moon. That said, the role of 007 has belonged almost exclusively to tall, white, British men, with dark hair, the notable exception being Daniel Craig who is a tall, white, British man with blonde hair. Many fans want the franchise to shake things up and maybe cast a person of color in the role. And whenever that discussion comes up, one name is always touted above the rest.
I am here to tell you the unfortunate truth:
Idris Elba Will Never Play James Bond
Before I break your hearts and dash your dreams, we must first discuss the character and the legacy of Bond, James Bond.
Who will play James Bond next is a morbid question but an understandable one. Bond is a franchise unlike any other, a fifty-plus-year spanning, multi-billion dollar behemoth. And, apart from Batman, it’s the only series in which the lead character is frequently recast. Even in that regard, Bond is something of an anomaly. We’ve had numerous Batmen (five in thirty years, not counting voice work or television), but only two actors has played the caped crusader more than twice (Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Trilogy and Ben Affleck if you count the Suicide Squad cameo).
Being cast as Bond isn’t a one-off (unless you’re George Lazenby). It’s a commitment that demands years and years of your life and comes with the understanding that you will play the part until you are worn out. Actors take their tenure as Bond very seriously. He’s one of the United Kingdom’s most treasured cultural touchstones, no matter what you think of his politics. He even showed up in the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
But that isn’t to say that the series isn’t open to reinvention. On the contrary, Bond changes with the times. Sean Connery’s bottom-slapping, strong-armed misogyny may have flown in the ’60s, but by Moore’s era, Bond would woo women into bed with a sly grin and a cheesy one-liner. In Pierce Brosnan’s first outing, 1995’s Goldeneye, Bond faces his greatest threat to date: Human Resources. The movie constantly addresses the previous years of mistreatment, having Moneypenny playfully remind 007 that his flirting constitutes sexual harassment and introducing Dame Judi Dench as M by calling Bond a misogynist dinosaur. Indeed, Brosnan’s entire run as Bond consisted of Bond Girls who were very much his equal and sometimes spies themselves.
And then there was Craig’s Bond, which rebooted the franchise and brought the series back to its rough, brutal origins to match a post 9/11 world.
The times have changed. Bond has mellowed.
The Problem With Elba
Over the years, several actors have become fan favorites. Michael Fassbender, Tom Hiddleston, Henry Cavill, James Norton, and Tom Hardy frequently appear on top 10 lists. But the name I hear most often is Idris Elba and as I stated above, he will never play the part.
Elba has personally confirmed on multiple occasions that he will not be playing James Bond but that has not stopped rampant speculation and fanboy dream casting. I know, because I am one of those fans.
I love Idris Elba. The man has a swagger and confidence that is undeniably sexy, but he also has a self-awareness and a sense of humor that tells me he wouldn’t be swallowed by the part. He’s had a killer run in the past ten years. He is the best part of Pacific Rim, terrifying in The Jungle Book, and I’ll bet Marvel is kicking themselves for wasting him in the Thor series. Also, if you haven’t seen Luther yet, check it out. It’s on Netflix. And it’s awesome.
I have no problem with a black man playing Bond. I’m confident that there are many black men working at MI:6, and Bond could absolutely be one of them, but unfortunately, Elba will probably not be seriously considered. He has previously stated that he is wary of taking on the role, fearing that some only want “a black guy to play James Bond” instead of wanting him.
People always bring up Bond’s description in the novel as a white man with “dark, rather cruel good looks” as though that’s why you can’t cast a person of color in the role, which is silly. The persona of the character is more important than the look and Elba has that gruffness in spades. Make no mistake, this is not a matter of race. This is a numbers game. I think Idris Elba would have been a great James Bond… ten years ago.
A Young Man’s Game
Let’s just do the math. Connery was 32 when he first played Bond in Dr. No, and 53 when he showed up for one final hurrah in the disastrous and controversial Never Say Never Again.
George Lazenby only got one bite at the apple at 30. Roger Moore stepped into the role at 46 and retired at 57, but his series was stunt-double heavy and his last Bond films are physically uncomfortable to watch and often pared Moore with actresses half his age.
Timothy Dalton entered at 41 and left at 43, and Brosnan, who was passed over for Dalton for being too young, replaced his predecessor when he was 42 and left the franchise just before 50. Daniel Craig, our current Bond, was 38 in Casino Royale and 50 now.
The Bond Franchise, like Deadpool said of superheroes, wants their stars to be “tough, morally flexible and young enough to carry their own franchise for ten to twelve years.” And Elba has simply aged out of that window. “But Lukas,” you cry, “Idris Elba is only 46! That’s the same as Moore! And besides, Tom Cruise is still playing Ethan Hunt!”
Fair point. It is true that Tom Cruise is still performing insane stunts in the Mission: Impossible series at 56 years old, but Tom Cruise is an immortal being for whom time and physics do not apply.
The more important thing is that when people talk about who they want to play James Bond, they act as though the movie were coming out tomorrow. Yes, Elba is as old now as Moore was when he first took the part, but Moore’s run is not a highlight for Bond in the action sense, and Craig’s last film won’t be released until February 2020, if the current schedule holds, and it’s already been delayed once before. If the Broccolis were to cast Elba the DAY Craig’s last film premiers, which they never do, Elba will be close to 50. From there, you’ll have anywhere from one to three years production before the film premieres, at which point Elba will be over 50 years old, at the start of his run.
I have no doubt Elba would be a terrific James Bond. The question is, will he be a terrific James Bond for three or four films after? No actor has ever played Bond past 57 and they simply don’t make Bond films as quickly as they used to. Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger all came out within one year of one another, whereas Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall saw two- to four-year breaks in between.
It is for that reason, above all, that Elba will never play the man with the license to kill, as much as he looks the part. And my God, does he look the part.
Last Word on James Bond
I have no idea who will play the next James Bond. I have really enjoyed Craig’s tenure, even if the results were rocky. No Bond has ever gone out on a high note, but I would love Craig’s last film to be a triumph. The Broccoli’s don’t take casting Bond lightly, nor should they. They can’t just look for the star of The Saint or Remington Steele anymore, and in an age of Hollywood tentpole filmmaking, most eligible young actors have been cast in big franchises already and Bond doesn’t like to share. Fassbender is Magneto, and Cavill was Superman. It is hard to imagine who the next man will be to don the tux, but whomever they choose, I’m sure they’ll be terrific. I’m old enough to remember the outrage of “James Blonde.” Heck, I was part of it (I was pushing hard for Clive Owen at the time). But who knows? I was wrong about Craig. I’d love to be wrong about Elba. I just don’t think I am.
And for those of you who are wondering, my personal favorites in descending order are Brosnan, Craig, Connery, Moore, Dalton, and Lazenby.
And the actor I would most like to play James Bond next is Luke Evans.
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