Interview with 007 George Lazenby for Landmark's Anniversary Series Revival of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the first Bond “reboot." Of the 26 films in the Bond franchise OHMSS is among the top two most admired (the other: From Russia With Love). It’s the only film in which Bond marries, the first to imply an international orgy and the only one to star George Lazenby.

Lazenby tackled the part the way Bond tackled women—only once and without a contract. A male model (and from what it sounds like, a real ladies man), Lazenby wasn’t an actor by trade; he entered the fold armed with little more than two pushy friends and what he calls “arrogance.” After shooting, producers offered him a million dollars to sign the contract, but he turned it down, and from then on was marked as a problem collaborator. As a result, his name has become a cultural shorthand to describe an acting one hit wonder, but his story is among the most interesting in the legacy of 007s.

Tuesday July 8th, Mr. Lazenby will be present for the 45th Anniversary screening of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at L.A.’s Landmark Theater. (For more on the event click here.) Every two weeks, Anniversary Classics revives a film with an actor or filmmaker in attendance. Past events include John Cassavetes’ Woman Under the Influence attended by star Gena Rowlands and 1983’s The Right Stuff attended by director Philip Kaufman, actor Dennis Quaid and
producer Irwin Winkler.

Lazenby spoke to me by phone, from his home in Los Angeles. His responses were too priceless to truncate or reorganize so I’ve left our exchange in its entirety.

MOVIESWITHBUTTER: Mr. Lazenby? This is Sara Vizcarrondo, the journalist scheduled to speak with you this morning.
GEORGE LAZENBY: Who are you now?

MWB: I’m with a website called MoviesWithButter. The site was founded by the men who began Rottentomatoes.com.
GL: We all need a rotten tomato in the head sometimes.

MWB: May I quote that?
GL: Sure. Why not? Sometimes we don’t know which way we’re headed and need someone to hit us in the head and why not get hit with a rotten tomato?

MWB: That’s incredible to hear. A lot of people don’t find publicity so easy to laugh at.
GL: Did you say adversity?

MWB: I said publicity but “adversity” can be similar.
GL: It [publicity] gets a message out there that’s sometimes not what you want. It doesn’t really effect me what people think—except what the people around me think; I care greatly about that.

MWB: You were the first “new” Bond and the only one to reject the franchise before the film hit theaters. Some reports say you didn’t think your opinions were heard or you didn’t get along with the producers. How would you characterize your split with the International Man of Mystery?
GL: Why did I split? Well, first of all I didn’t have a mind of my own as far as film went. I never met an actor before I did this role and I got talked into giving it up by my manager Rohan O’Reilly. He mulled it over and said it was Sean Connery’s gig and now that I’ve done it, the best I could do was get out. I hadn’t signed the contract because it was 67 pages and I kept sending it back with changes. So finally I finished the film without a contract and, there I was, in a pretty bad spot. They offered me $1 million, under the table, to sign. I said to Rohan, ‘what’s wrong with that?’ and he said, “don’t worry about it. This guy, Clint Eastwood, is getting half a million for these Spaghetti Westerns and you can, too.” But after I said “no” to the contract, well then, I couldn’t get more work because the word got out I was difficult to handle and people can’t have that because too much is at stake. I always came to the set on time, knowing all my lines. They called me “One Take George” but they gave the press “open season” because I wouldn’t do another Bond and I was sort of stuck in a vacuum.

At that point, I was famous, but I couldn’t work. So I went sailing for 15 months. I needed a roof over my head and didn’t have a lot of money and the girl I was with told me she couldn’t get pregnant and I said “there, there” and off we went. Then after 15 months, she got pregnant and we came to shore to take care of business. I went to Singapore looking for movies.

I got a ticket by Cathay [airline] to Hong Kong and went to Bruce Lee’s studio, Golden Harvest. Raymond Chow was very happy to see me. Bruce, said he wasn’t happy to see me, so I left. So, there I was. At a bus stop, no money, and Bruce Lee pulled up to my bus stop and took me to a restaurant to meet with him. I wasn’t there for 10 minutes and Bruce gave me $10K to come out after my baby was born to make a movie with him. We talked for 3 days about the movie and then he died. I didn’t plan to marry but I learned the girl I was with was entitled to a trust fund she’d lose if she had a child out of wedlock so we married. We were together for 24 years. So anyway, after the baby was born, I called Raymond Chow and said “you owe me 10k” and he asked why and I said Bruce gave it to me for a movie so Raymond put me in some films and that’s how I came to work in Hong Kong.

I came back to America and still couldn’t get steady work. Ben Carruthers and I starred in a movie together called Universal Soldier (1971) but we couldn’t get that distributed. I started a TV series with Mike Sloan called The Equalizer. It was my idea and I had wardrobe everything ready to go, and then I got a phone call and…well I struggled.

MWB: Your Bond had only the precedent of Sean Connery but was, until Daniel Craig, the single most physical of the gentlemen spies. Can we attribute any of this physicality to the fact you were a model before you acted?
GL: No, modeling is nothing: you just stand there. I was a physical person from birth and the stunts, we’d do them 15 or 20 times. I was getting fitter and fitter all the time and I never worked out. I was making a movie—that was my workout. I’ve been a physical person—rather than a mental person—all my life. I find mental stuff drives you crazy if you go deep enough. The world is crazy and you wonder how it contains itself and how we can even walk around still.

MWB: What can you tell me about the audition? It sounds like a high water mark for bravado.
GL: Well, I didn’t have an agent but an agent told me to go for the job. He couldn’t represent me because I wasn’t in the union. I heard about the audition through a friend with whom I double dated. The girl was (casting agent) Maggie Abbott. She’s around somewhere. She said “you should come for the part” she said “come back to London for this audition” but she wouldn’t tell me what the part was so I hung up and forgot about it. Later, I went back to London to see my friend Gareth, who’d been on the double date with us, and she took me up to the office and she was waiting outside while he said “I think you’re right for James Bond” and I said “I’ve never acted” but they had auditioned 300 people and Maggie said “we’ve seen none with what you’ve got.”

MWB: Which is what?
GL: Self-assurance…you might call it arrogance. They threw me out of the office and Maggie said, “Get in their office!” and I pushed my way past their secretary and I went into the office while he [director Peter S. Hunt] was on the phone with Harry Saltzman and I said, “I hear you’re looking for me.”

MWB: Was that guts?
GL: Oh, I was way over my head and I knew it. I said, “I can’t be here tomorrow,” and that was my way out because, I said, “I’m filming in Paris!” That was a lie. So, I go down and see their accountant, who’ll give me £500 at 4pm tomorrow if I come back—at the time, that was 15 weeks wages! I went out in the street, called Maggie and said, “They’ll give me £500 to come back tomorrow.” She said, “Where are you?” and I said “a phone box.” She said, “no one in history has been paid to come back for a call back.” I said, “I’m not an actor.” But, I went back the next day and they tested me. They tested me at Harry’s place for 4 months. They just wanted to see me do a fight scene and I did that, bloodied a stunt man’s nose and when we were done I stepped over the guy’s body and they gave me the job. I said, “It’s about time!” That was my arrogance. I knew they’d seen thousands and tested 300. Peter Hunt, the director, told me there’s no film in history that tested more than 10. They’d been going on for years since Sean [Connery] gave up the part. So I had something and they wanted it bad but…they couldn’t get it for a million dollars.

MWB: Yours is the only film in which Bond marries. Did you express anything in your testing to make yourself seem especially marriageable?
GL: I think if a guy wins at gambling, gets any woman he wants, kills anyone in his way—well, most people want that man on their side.

MWB: So, was the role of Bond great for your love life?
GL: As a matter of fact, if you’re talking about making love, getting girls on the side, I had 10x more before I was Bond than when I was Bond. You gotta remember, London in the 60s, the girls were chasing the boys. They had the pill and it was crazy. But when I was Bond, I was on show and so I couldn’t move around like I had before. It wasn’t getting me the action I got before.

MWB: Your name is a cultural touchstone—how do you view that.
GL: I can’t do anything about it. If I do something about it I waste my time. I go through life as it comes, day to day. I do sometimes reminisce about the place I was [at] before I had time to think, and I wonder what it would have been like if I’d been in more Bond films, but I don’t regret it. I wasn’t brought up to be an actor. I wanted to be James Bond like any other man, but once I did it, the hippies came in. They were “make love not war” and Bond was the opposite. I was in my prime, stuck in the “make war” situation. It was unfashionable to be a gentleman or look like one. In the 60s, walking around in a suit and tie with short hair wasn’t…well even Wall Street lost their ties—if you had ties you couldn’t get a woman.

MWB: About the upcoming anniversary screening of Her Majesty’s Secret Service--
GL: I had no part in it and I don’t know anything about it.

MWB: They called you and you said “sure?”
GL: It’s a bloody long movie. Everyone tells me it goes on long, but it stands up ok. It’s 2 hours and something. Movies these days—they should try to make them shorter. I’m fortunate or unfortunate for that movie—I don’t know which. When you look at your life you sometimes don’t have much control over it, kids or circumstances, you just have to handle. One of the best times of my life was on that boat where no one could get to me and I could sail anywhere I wanted and that’s as sweet as it could get in this world. International waters, no phone, no one can get to you. With the person you want to be with. It’s a wonderful feeling and one that’s incredibly rare these days, especially with cell phones. There’s nothing like it. You don’t know where your next meal is coming from. You can’t catch a fish. I tried but…so it makes life very real when you’re in charge of your own destiny. Sometimes I wouldn’t listen to weather forecasts, I know it sounds stupid, but I’d go out in storms because you couldn’t steer in them. Let the wind hit your face and ride the waves. And you don’t feel afraid, you feel like everything’s going to be all right. In fact the girl I had with me slept through the storm one night. I thought she’d come out and give me a break. I slept for 24 hours the next day. I was fatigued from sailing through the night in the storm. That girl, who was my wife for 24 years, when she left what she said to me was “What happened to that man who sailed into the storm?” Well…seems like enough.

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