50 Years of James Bond: Timothy Dalton Gets His ‘License to Kill’

Timothy Dalton as James Bond (Danjaq S.A./United Artists Pictures)

When Timothy Dalton first identified himself as “Bond. James Bond” in The Living Daylights (1987), he tossed the signature line off casually while on the phone, as if he could just as easily have called himself “Blow. Joe Blow.”

After only one more outing as Agent 007, in License to Kill (1989), he threw off the iconic role as well, announcing that he was no longer interested in playing the world’s most famous spy.

“I don’t think anyone except the few people who have played James Bond can tell you how strange and special it is and how much your life changes,” Dalton said in an interview in Metro in 2007. “I have no regrets about doing it at all. You also have to deal with the press and people’s expectations of what James Bond represents – you end up living in a world which is rather separate. It’s a unique role.”

The Welsh-born Dalton, now 68, was the fourth actor to play England’s most famous fictional secret agent in the movie series. He inherited 007’s martini glass from Roger Moore, who in turn had succeeded Sean Connery and George Lazenby. When Dalton departed, Pierce Brosnan took over. The current occupant, Daniel Craig, stars in Skyfall, which opens in the U.S. on November 9. It is Craig’s third turn as Bond and the 23rd film in the series.

Dalton first had discussions with the Bond producers about taking over the marquee role after Connery had quit and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) was next on the slate. He begged off, saying he felt he was too young – he was still in his twenties – for the part. (It went to Lazenby, an Aussie model with no prior acting credits.)

He spent the next decade and a half building up his resume on stage, screen and television. Most impressively, he laid down a heavy foundation of Shakespeare and had outings as both Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights in BBC productions. (He also had a longtime romance with Vanessa Redgrave, with whom he often co-starred on stage.)

When age caught up with Roger Moore and he retired as Agent 007 after A View to a Kill (1985), the producers originally tried to get Irishman Brosnan, who had recently become a star on the American TV show, Remington Steele (1982-87).  Due to contractual obligations to the TV series, Brosnan was unavailable and the Bond producers once again sought out Dalton. This time he said yes.

He made two Bond films, both noteworthy more for his darker, brooding take on the role than for the films themselves. Dalton sought to get away from Moore’s jokey boulevardier and instead played Bond as a man with an edge, an interpretation he  felt was closer to how author Ian Fleming had depicted the character in the books. Indeed, Dalton was often spotted on the sets of his 007 films paging through the original Fleming novels as a reference aid.

Trivia fans will want to note that Dalton’s Bond was the last to smoke cigarettes on screen. Additionally, at 6 feet 2 inches, he was the tallest actor ever cast in the role.

The first of his Bond films, The Living Daylights, scored at the box office, grossing $51 million in the U.S. and at least twice that internationally. Dalton’s future as Bond appeared bright. The second, however, failed to perform, especially in the U.S., where it grossed only $34.7 million (but raked in another $121.5 globally). License lost out badly to competing summer blockbusters such as Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2 and, since then, all Bond films have opened in the fall rather than the summer.

Dalton was signed for three Bond films but found himself, after License, twiddling his thumbs for five long years as the producers and MGM engaged in a prolonged legal battle over rights to the franchise. When the dust cleared and the producers were ready to begin production on GoldenEye, his contract had run out and Dalton had decided it was time to go. He gave his notice and left 007 behind. (Brosnan was now available and stepped into the role.)

In his post-Bond years, he has notably portrayed Rhett Butler in Scarlett, a 1994 TV miniseries that was a sequel to Gone with the Wind, spoofed the Bond role in the 2003 movie, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and played a grocery store manager in the 2007 British comedy, Hot Fuzz. More recently, he played villain Alexei Volkoff on the TV series Chuck and provided the voice for Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3. He has also continued periodically to return to England for stage roles, including an adaptation at the National Theatre in 2003 of the popular trilogy of fantasy novels, His Dark Materials.

Dalton also showed up in the tabloids two years ago when his name popped up tangentially in the scandal involving Mel Gibson and ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of Gibson’s then infant daughter. Before Gibson, Grigorieva had been involved with Dalton; they are parents to a now adolescent son.

Of greatest interest to Anglophenia readers, however, is the fact that Dalton appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who, in 2009 and 2010.

“I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was a kid — not all the time, not every week, but yes, I watched Doctor Who!,” Dalton told USA Weekend in 2010. “So when someone comes along and says, ‘Will you play a Time Lord in the final episode of this particular Doctor Who series?’ of course you come and play a Time Lord. Who wouldn’t?”

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Is Timothy Dalton your favorite Bond?

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