Predicting who will be next in line to don the 007 mantle is a 24-7 pastime in England, where speculation on the subject pretty much never stops. But for those of us who don't have Bond in our blood, it's hard to comprehend the mysterious forces that separate the James Bond contenders from the guys who just look good in a suit — or the cultural trends that determine each film's ratio of fast-paced action scenes to cheesy sex puns.
So, curious to know what might be in store for James Bond after "SPECTRE," MTV News got in touch with James Chapman, Professor of Film Studies at Leicester University and an internationally-renowned Bond expert, to get the scoop on how the role has evolved -- and which of Hollywood's young men (or maybe even young women!) might be on deck to play it.
MTV News: It seems like the debate over the next James Bond is already heating up, even though we're a long way off from getting a new actor in the role. Is it normal for people to be speculating about this so far in advance?
Chapman: The interest and speculation is greater than ever before. Partly I think that's something that might be encouraged by the producers, and by the studio, because it generates interest in what you'll remember, as a franchise, is over 50 years old. It seems to ramp up the interest in Bond, and it's a way of sustaining the interest between films.
MTV News: How do you go about predicting who the next Bond will be? Is there a science to it?
Chapman: There's always various names being bandied about, some outright favorites, and some quite surprise choices. Whoever's cast as Bond really needs to be at the right level of public visibility. They're not going to go with somebody who's completely unknown, but they're not going to go with a big major star. When Roger Moore became Bond in 1973, he was already a well-known television star. He had that sort of visible profile. When Timothy Dalton became Bond for "The Living Daylights," I think that was a bit of a surprise, because Pierce Brosnan had been the frontrunner. He had more or less been offered the part, but at the last moment, due to his television contract, was unable to take on the role.
MTV News: Pierce Brosnan is probably the James Bond most of our readers grew up with; he's definitely the first one I remember. I didn't realize he was up for the role so many years before he actually stepped into it.
Chapman: When they announced "Goldeneye," I think Pierce was the right kind of age, he had the right kind of profile, in films and so on, he was a known commodity. Now Daniel Craig was a bit of a surprise. There had been a lot of people banking on Clive Owen, for example, to be the next Bond, and because Craig looked a bit different, because he was blond and maybe a bit shorter, I think that came as a surprise.
MTV News: On the subject of different-looking Bonds, it seems like the internet's favorite frontrunner right now is Idris Elba. What do you think the chances are of a black man stepping into the role?
Chapman: I don't think Idris Elba will be James Bond. [Editorial note: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.] It has nothing to do with his ethnicity, I think he's just the wrong age. By the time Craig finishes, he'll be late forties, early fifties, and he might spend ten years in the role, so I doubt they'll go with someone that age. Could they have a black James Bond? It's a difficult one. Ian Fleming's Bond is very much coming out of the 1950s. He's locked into that class and ethnic framework... but Britain is a very different country now, and the thing about the Bond movies is, they have always responded to social and cultural change. I see no theoretical reason why you couldn't have a black actor playing Bond at some point.
MTV News: So, maybe the next-next Bond, after whomever comes after Daniel Craig?
Chapman: It's hard to say, because it's so many years ahead. For the next Bond, there's a lot of speculation around Damian Lewis; if he were cast, he'd be the first redhead James Bond. Some fans are up in arms about whether he has the right look -- personally I don't think it matters in the slightest -- but Damian Lewis is kind of around the right age, and he's got some of that visibility as a TV actor. The smart money seems to be gravitating toward him at the moment.
MTV News: And the guy on deck after that -- we'd be looking at British men who are on TV or in movies, but who are only just getting started, and who are in their... late teens, early 20s?
Chapman: You'd be looking at someone who's in their 20s now, who in 10 or 12 years would be in their mid to late 30s.
MTV News: Do you have any thoughts on how the character will evolve moving forward? Just looking at Daniel Craig versus Pierce Brosnan, it's striking how differently they play the role. Craig is tough and kind of raw, but Brosnan is so charming it's almost sleazy.
Chapman: I guess we're talking about masculine archetypes, masculine ideals. The idea of the perfect male, the perfect hero, is always changing. When Pierce Brosnan was cast as Bond, it's important to remember that there had been a period without any Bond movies, and in that period, we had a lot of action movies that you might call blue-collar action movies. I'm thinking of the "Die Hard" films, the "Lethal Weapon" films. You had these musclebound, working class archetypes. I think the charm, the smarminess in a sense of Brosnan's Bond, was partly to differentiate the Bond movies from the other kinds of action movies that were around at the time.
MTV News: And when Daniel Craig came along?
Chapman: We see the same process going on the other way around. If you look at the other action movie franchises that were around in the first decade of the 21st century, you have the Jason Bourne films, Matt Damon, who was a more intelligent kind of hero figure. Less brawn, and more brains. And those blue-collar action stars are getting older now, and they're making fewer action movies -- or doing them in an ironic sort of way. So Craig became a more muscular, working class sort of Bond.
MTV News: I can't help noticing that the women of Bond movies have changed a lot over the years. I'm thinking particularly of Vesper Lynd in comparison to the Brosnan Bond girls, but it seems like they're becoming better-developed characters in general.
Chapman: Well, if you go by Ian Fleming's books, the women are better characterized there than in any of the films. Often in the books, the woman comes along and saves Bond's life! But the very recent films have also departed from the traditional formula, because so far, Bond doesn't get the girl at the end. He has relationships early on with secondary characters, but they get killed off. And at the end of "Skyfall" he loses a mother figure -- and the other, who's set up as a putative love interest, turns out to be Miss Moneypenny. Craig's Bond so far hasn't ended up with a girl in any of the films. We might see this as a rejection of that closing clinch and cheesy one-liner we used to get at the end of the films.
MTV News: And since we're talking about women: Is there any chance that we might see a female James Bond someday?
Chapman (after making a noise that is impossible to transcribe in print): No. You'd create a different character if you do that. For example, I don't think you could have Wonder Woman played by a man. It would be very controversial. Bond is a man, and just as you wouldn't cast a man in an important female role, I don't think you'd do it-- no.
MTV News: Just to press the point, we are seeing women being cast in some important traditionally male roles already. Lucy Liu is playing John Watson, the Ghostbusters are coming back as an all-female team — but you don't think James Bond could be part of that trend?
Chapman: There's revisionism and then there's something beyond revisionism. Like Sherlock Holmes, you've had so many years now of very free adaptation, you can do a lot with it, playing around. But the studio has very tight control over the Bond character, and I don't see that as something they're going to want to do. I think the appeal of Bond - the sexism is part of that. Even the more realistic movies, the Daniel Craig movies, are still fantasies. They're fantasies of British power, of consumerism, but I think they're also fantasies of male identity, success with women, and enjoying the consummate goods. And I don't think that kind of politics would work out if you changed Bond's sex.
MTV News: You mentioned that this is a specifically British power fantasy, and as a cultural icon it sounds like Bond has an almost godlike status. Would it be fair to say that casting a woman in the role would be seen as almost sacrilegious?
Chapman: Yeah, pretty much. It's fun for the media to peg a story on, but I don't think it's a very serious possibility. Every gut feeling I have tells me it's never going to happen.
MTV News: So in your professional opinion, if we're betting on what the next incarnation of Bond will be like, what do you predict?
Chapman: If you look at the Bond series, each new Bond is always a bit different from his predecessor. Sean Connery was tough. Roger Moore's Bond is smooth, suave, more sophisticated. With Timothy Dalton we get a more serious, intense kind of Bond. With Pierce we get a suaver, more playful kind of Bond. With Daniel Craig we're back to a more physical tough guy.
So we may sway more back to the charming sophisticate, for the next one…. but the dominant trend of action now is the superhero, and the emphasis is very much on the extraordinary, the special powers they have. So if the Bond films were looking to differentiate themselves from those kind of movies, we might emphasize Bond as a human being, Bond as down to earth. And we might get some of the clever gadgets, and return to the gadgetry as a way of positioning Bond as something different from a superhero. Bond doesn't have x-ray vision -- but he might have x-ray spectacles!