The 1969 classic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, widely considered to be among the greatest James Bond movies, opens with 007 roaring his Aston Martin onto a beach at sunset. Jumping out of the vehicle to save a woman from killing herself in the ocean, he spectacularly defeats a couple of goons in hand-to-hand combat, then watches helplessly as the lady jumps into a car and drives away.Alone on the sand, Bond – played by Australian model-cum-actor George Lazenby – turns to the camera and delivers the now- famous line: “This never happened to the other fella.”
But the line works on another level too. When it comes to Lazenby’s relationship with the James Bond franchise, a lot of things are relevant to him that never happened to the “other fella”, be it Connery specifically or any other actor who has played the martini-sipping, gadget-deploying, double entendre-delivering secret agent.
Lazenby is the only Australian to play 007, for instance, and the only actor to have landed the role with no prior acting experience. And unlike his colleagues Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, he played Bond once – and never again.
I intended to ask Lazenby, 77 – speaking to me over the phone from Los Angeles – what he thinks of the significance of that “never happened to the other fella” line, given it feels so relevant to his legacy as the outsider Bond: the blip on the radar; the aberration; the casting decision that never really made sense.
But mid question, Lazenby interjects. “I wrote it! That was my line!” he exclaims. On set, he would issue complaints such as, “I betcha the other fella didn’t have to do this” and “this didn’t happen to the other fella”. The film’s director, Peter Hunt, asked him to say it off the cuff, according to Lazenby, “so I said it, thinking it would never be in the movie. And they used it.”
As he keeps talking, the actor gives me yet another “only George Lazenby” to add to the collection. “I did my own stunts – except the skiing, because the insurance company said no skiing, although I did some anyway, in close-up – and I’m the only Bond who ever did that,” he says. “Sean Connery wouldn’t step down a step without saying ‘stunt man!’”
A new stranger-than-fiction documentary, Becoming Bond, explores Lazenby’s life, unpacking how the former model lied and scammed his way into the audition room by pretending to be a seasoned actor – and then, against all odds, nailed the part. The film, which is screening in Australia as part of the American Essentials film festival, also addresses the question that has plagued Lazenby for decades: why, after achieving the seemingly impossible, he did the seemingly unthinkable by rejecting a million-dollar offer to sign on forsix more Bond films.
The documentary considers this mostly in the context of Lazenby rejecting a “slave contract” proposed by the studio. But also, as he explains to me, “I had advice that James Bond was over anyway. It was Sean Connery’s gig and, being in the 60s, it was love, not war. You know, hippy time. And I bought into that. They also said there’s a guy called Clint Eastwood doing movies in Italy, getting 500 grand for a month, for doing a western. They said, you could do that. So I didn’t feel like I was losing the million dollars.”
Lazenby claims he was subsequently blacklisted by the industry, becoming the movie world’s equivalent of a one-hit-wonder. He agreed to participate in the documentary, directed by Josh Greenhaum, to set the record straight. “I haven’t talked about it much lately – in the last, say, 20 years – but I did want the truth to be out there,” he says. “Word got around that I was difficult to handle. They said that was the reason I didn’t do another Bond, but that wasn’t the truth.”
In his colourful and outspoken subject, Greenhaum found a motherload of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll – and a person more than happy to talk about his exploits. Lazenby estimates he has slept with “maybe a thousand” women. “In the 60s alone there was sometimes three, four, five a day. For years. They had the pill. It was on script. I was a handsome guy from Australia …
“It was ridiculous. It really was. If you were handsome, and you had the balls to ask them – I mean, how many times you could get it up was how many times you could do it.”
The actor has previously said that the day-to-day requirements of working on a film reduced his sex life (“It restricts you to the people who are around you”), and he clearly wasn’t fond of the on-set experience. “You’ve got to be there on time. You’ve got to be dressed and made up,” he grumbles. “It’s OK every now and again but to do it seriously, you need to have a different frame of mine than I’ve got.”
One of the anecdotes Lazenby recounts in Becoming Bond, which features re-enactment scenes starring Josh Lawson, is of a day in the 60s when he picked up a woman off the street (“she was engaged, by the way”), and took her to a nearby friend’s house for tea. Some time later, when the woman announced it was time for her to leave, Lazenby’s friend turned to them and said: “You two aren’t going anywhere, I put LSD in your tea.”
Lazenby says he “didn’t even know what acid was, until I saw my breath going across the room, watched the curtains moving and started to taste colours.” The former 007-from-Down-Under was later fed marijuana by that same friend in Germany, he explains; when he noticed this friend reading a menu upside down in a restaurant, he erupted into a laughing fit so hard he had to leave the premises.
According to Lazenby, his consumption of mind-altering substances came after 007. And when it came to alcohol, his beverage of choice was a far cry from the delicate shaken-not-stirred: “I was just drinking beer when I got the Bond movie and drinking beer during it,” he says. “There was never a martini. I had one sip of one once, and I didn’t like it. I wasn’t into hard liquor at the time. I was into beer, which wasn’t very James Bond.” Indeed, there’s not a lot in George Lazenby’s story that was.
- Becoming Bond is screening as part of the American Essentials film festival in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide