As he lends his voice to an audio adaptation of the spy novel Passport to Oblivion, the Australian-born model turned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service star talks about why he only played James Bond once, keeping active at age 80 and how Dr Jason Love could be the new 007
RD: This is your first foray into audio acting. How was the experience?
As I sat behind a microphone in a small London recording studio for one rainy day it was a real challenge because my physicality has always been a big part of the way I approach acting. For this, it just comes down to my voice but I threw myself into it. It is a different kind of energy and it is hard work but it was just fun to hang out with Terrence Stamp [who voices the head of M16] and the other cast. Terry told me that James Bond producer Harry Saltzman once had asked him to take over from Sean Connery as 007 but instead he ended up starring in the movie Modesty Blaise, which was part of all those Bond spy film knock-offs. Ah well, what might have been!
RD: The character of Dr Jason Love was described as “the natural successor to James Bond” when the first book came out. Do you agree?
What’s interesting about Jason Love is he's a reluctant spy rather than a 00 Agent. Oh, and he’s Australian and I reckon I can play Australian rather well! To be frank, I hadn’t heard of author James Leasor or Dr Jason Love, but I’ve since learned Leasor was a sort of contemporary of Ian Fleming’s, a journalist who turned out some pretty good books including Boarding Party—which was made into The Sea Wolves starring good old Roger Moore. It really is a small world!
RD: What are your memories of going up for On Her Majesty's Secret Service?
I nearly died as kid due to illness [a growth on his kidneys] but growing up in a rough Australian suburb I threw myself 100 per cent into life. That’s why I had no fear when I went up for the role. I worked hard for it: endless auditions, learning how to walk like Prince Phillip and talk like him too, to look and dress like Sean Connery so I went to his barber’s and tailors. And I have great memories of working on the movie with Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. I guess my film was one of the better ones.
RD: Much has been written about why you refused to do another Bond movie, but what's the true reason?
I just told them I wasn’t doing another Bond film and they kept raising the money, but my agent advised me not to do any more because he thought the gig was over and hippies were the next big thing.
RD: With hindsight, do you regret the decision?
No. I guess I should have done at least one more based on the feedback I keep getting from everyone who has seen the film, but I’ve had a very good life with no complaints. I started working in real estate and I bought a boat with the last bit of Bond money I had, then I sailed around the Mediterranean for 15 months with a wonderful girl [Chrissie Townsend] and we went on to have kids and I married her.
RD: What have been your subsequent career highlights?
I enjoyed doing a couple of movies in Hong Kong in the 1970s, even though it was very hard work. I worked with great directors like Peter Bogdanovich and Cy Endfield, and portraying Superman’s father in the Superboy television series opposite Britt Ekland as his mother was fun.
RD: Fifty years on there's still a lot of love for your take on 007. How does that feel?
This year I returned to the Palacio Hotel in Estoril in Portugal as well as to Schilthorn in Switzerland where we filmed it. We celebrated with generations of fans from all around the world and it was pretty special. I’ve also been told directors like Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan figure my Bond movie to be the best one.
RD: Have you ever met the other on-screen 007s?
Sean, for me, was always the man—the guy who inspired me to go for the part. I met him a couple of times in LA and he told me to my face I’d been good. I’ve seen him say that in the papers too. I was pals with Roger, who sadly left us a couple of years ago. He was a real nice gentlemen and funny as hell. I’ve seen Timothy Dalton at the odd thing in LA and I met Pierce Brosnan and the other guys at a few anniversary events back in 2002. I also met the Queen of England at the Bond premiere that year. I was a bit nervous but at the Royal Albert Hall I got a standing ovation. The hairs went up on the back of my neck. Daniel Craig is great as Bond, very physical like me. You've had a Scot, a Welshman, and Irishman, a couple of Englishmen and me, an Australian. I guess anyone can play the guy from now on.
RD: There are ten books in the Dr Love series. Would you be up for doing all of them?
Sure. Love could become the new Bond.
RD: You recently described yourself as “pretty active for a just-turned-80-year-old”. How do you stay in shape?
I still think I’m young in my head. But of course I occasionally feel the age, especially when I travel. People tell me I’m still strong. That comes from the years of motocross racing, but I quit that when I turned 56 and then picked up golf.
RD: What are your pleasures in life?
I figure my real achievements are my kids. My daughter Melanie got married last year and I was so proud of her, as I am of Jennifer—who has made me a great granddad. My younger kids are doing well: George Jr. and my twins Samuel and Kaitlin. Family and friends are what’s important to me now. Having lost my son Zach [to a brain tumour] a while back, I realise time is precious. I’ve lived—and continue to live—a good life and I’m very grateful. Plus they made a plaque for me back in my hometown Goulburn in Australia and I’m a waxwork at Madame Tussauds so in some ways I’ll sort of live forever!
Passport To Oblivion is out as a two-disc audio set from November 29. For more on George Lazenby visit georgelazenbyofficial.com
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