If it wasn’t for Roger Moore, we could have seen David Bowie playing Max Zorin in James Bond. Adam Hay-Nicholls explains…
For petrolheads, James Bond’s 1985 assignment A View to a Kill taught us just two things: That when hiding underwater, the Michelins on a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II can be used as a makeshift aqualung, and that the Renault 11 TXE’s handling is improved by removing the back end. Everything behind the front seats, including the wheels.
But for anyone who likes a good villain, few Bond films top AVTAK’s Christopher Walken and his masterful portrayal of Max Zorin. The actor, 42 at the time, brought unpredictability and crazed intelligence to the baddie role; a peroxide-blond energy entrepreneur, stud farm owner and KGB asset. The backstory: Dresden-born Zorin was the product of a Nazi experiment, where pregnant women had been injected with massive quantities of steroids in an attempt to create super-babies. Psychopathy was a curious side-effect.
Thing is, Walken wasn’t producer Cubby Broccoli’s first choice for the job. The first choice was 38-year-old David Bowie.
Imagine that: David Bowie as a peroxide-blond Hitler-sanctioned superman. Doesn’t take much. He could have played it in his sleep. Might the movie have been even better with the addition of Britain’s greatest solo artist? Bowie coupled up with co-conspirator Grace Jones would surely have been one of the most iconic visuals of the Eighties.
Why did this most inspired piece of casting not come to pass? I shall tell you.
From 1982, Bowie lived in the Chateau du Signal in the suburbs of Lausanne. Given the bonkers top rate of tax pre-Thatcher, a lot of British actors and pop stars had already become ensconced in Switzerland. One day, at about 5:30pm, there was a knock at the door and it was Roger Moore. “Hello David,” said Moore, with his beloved deep, slow enunciation. “Good lord, Rog, come in!” Bowie loved Bond. He loved Hollywood. Most of all, he loved stories, and Roger Moore was an incredible raconteur. Rog made himself comfortable while Bowie poured tea, and started to regale the Thin White Duke with wonderful anecdotes. Tea became gin and tonics, and gin and tonics moved on to dinner. Moore made to leave at midnight. “Anytime you wanna come round, Rog, my home is your home,” said Bowie as he waved goodbye.
The next day at 5:30pm, there was another knock at the door. “Hello David”. Rog waltzed in, poured himself a gin and tonic, sat down and began to regale Bowie with the exact same stories he’d told the previous evening. They were slightly less funny the second time around. This went on for two weeks, every day at 5:30pm. Eventually, Bowie hid under the kitchen table and pretended he wasn’t in.
When the 007 people rang to make Bowie their big movie offer, he wasn’t interested. Roger Moore did his fucking head in, he said.
And that was cinema’s eternal loss.