For the last several years, rumors and wishful thinking have linked actor Idris Elba to the role of James Bond. When he recently spoke with Variety about the topic, he offered a different idea:
“Are we interested in having a Bond character other than being a male?” Elba asked. “It could be a woman, could be a black woman, could be a white woman, but I think, that character, everybody would like to see it have — do something different with it, why not?”
There has been some talk online arguing that a female Bond would go against the spirit of the character. This falls apart when you consider that the spirit of the character as author Ian Fleming intended was lost almost from the beginning. Fleming wrote Bond as gentlemanly, but almost plain, able to walk into a room without drawing attention to himself. Hardly something we can say of any movie star.
When Sean Connery, the most iconic Bond, was being considered, Fleming said, “He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks. I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man.” Of course, Fleming eventually changed his mind, and since then we’ve had a variety of Bonds, from the genteel performance of Pierce Brosnan to the steelier Daniel Craig.
One hangup for a lot of Bond fans has been that a perfect James Bond should be from the UK. In fact, every Bond actor has been from the former British Empire, but the majority of them have not been technically British. Sean Connery is Scottish. Pierce Brosnan is Irish. Roger Lazenby is Australian. Timothy Dalton is Welsh. For our list we’ve leaned towards actors from the United Kingdom, but we’ve also included some from South Africa, Australia, Canada, and even (gasp) America.
While Daniel Craig is once again set to suit up as the legendary British super spy at least one more time in 2019, the future of James Bond is very much an an open-ended question.
Though it is uncertain who will be the next actor to step into Bond’s historic shoes, there are plenty of women who would be up to the task if they were asked to serve in her Majesty’s Secret Service.
After all, another iconic British character who has only been portrayed by men, Doctor Who – who has captivated English TV audiences since 1963 – is blazing a new path with Jodie Whittaker as the Time Lord.
From prestige darlings to big-budget action heroines, here are some of the women we think might be up to the task of playing 007.
If there was any doubt that Charlize Theron could handle any badass part that might be assigned to her after her turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, she came back last year and doubled down on her action chops with Atomic Blonde. While the world of Atomic Blonde is a little more Bond-friendly than the dusty, desolate, dystopian world of Mad Max, both films exhibit her penchant for executing violence with grace – a hallmark attribute which makes the super spy less a murderous deviant, and more so a silent necessity to cure the world’s ills.
Theron is the clear favorite among cinema speculators when it comes to a dream casting for a female James Bond. Chris Hemsworth has called for Theron’s casting as 007, and in Atomic Blonde, her character, Lorraine Broughton, orders a vodka rocks in a clear wink at cinema’s most beloved spy.
Famous for doing her own stunts and taking lumps along the way (including one particularly nasty fall that eventually required spinal fusion surgery), Theron feels like a natural fit for Bond. As Hemsworth put it, “She’s smart as hell. She’s physically able. I worked with her on Snow White and the Huntsman. Watching her in those fight scenes, doing it in high heels, by the way, and an eight foot long gown was even more impressive.” Additionally, roles like Monster demonstrate her ability to assume various identities, and she’s shown her comedic flair in projects like Arrested Development and Young Adult.
Essentially, Bond and Theron have something very important in common: it’s hard to think of anything they couldn’t do, and it’s hard to imagine them not looking good doing it.
If you’ve seen The Crown, you might be thinking, “Okay, Claire Foy definitely has the iconic British thing going for her, but an action star?” However dainty and proper she appears as Queen Elizabeth, Foy may have actually already put a plan in place that will have her transition from “Her Majesty,” to serving at the pleasure of the monarch in the Bond franchise.
Foy will be the next actress to step into the role of Lizbeth Salander, the main character in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series which is slated to be released in October and could catapult her to even greater heights.
In an interview with Nylon, Foy compared the two roles, saying, “I trained in theater, and if you train in theater, you’re aware that if you play a Shakespeare part, a hundred thousand other women played that part. I don’t really buy that idea. I think the idea with Lisbeth Salander is that she keeps going. It’s sort of like James Bond in the sense that she does keep going.”
Foy wouldn’t exactly fit Daniel Craig’s mold of Bond: she would be a throwback to more polished portrayals of Bond you saw with actors like Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Gritty reboots are big business at the moment so perhaps it might be refreshing if the next rendition of Bond focused a bit on the elegance that some actors have so studiously brought to the role. In the age of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, there is a sense that colorless and intense are desirable qualities in any film. But, a Bond with color, charm, and elegance might be a pleasant surprise and a hit with audiences.
Few performers in Hollywood, male or female, have as much action-movie experience as Zoe Saldana. Avatar, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, Pirates of the Caribbean: it seems that where there’s an action franchise, Saldana has her hand in it somehow.
Outside of the big franchises, Saldana has also been featured in a number of standalone action films. She described her intense stunt training on the 2010 action-comedy The Losers in a 2010 profile:
“With my dance background, if I’m taught well, I’m pretty much able to do anything…I trained with [stunt coordinator] Garrett [Warren] for eight months, doing martial arts and weight-lifting…The Losers, every location was a warehouse or a hangar, and we’re just whooping out guns and there’s stuff firing at you. I did full weaponry training and learned how to plant a pretty lethal kick, which really paid off.”
One aspect to Saldana’s work that is essential for anyone playing Bond is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. We remember Bond’s elegant and badass moments, but 007 has also had to deliver lines like, “I thought Christmas comes only once a year.” to a character named “Christmas” and has defused a bomb dressed as a clown. Saldana’s performance in the Guardians of the Galaxy films has often placed her as the straight woman amidst madcap tomfoolery. She always comes out looking great because her characters know how to take a joke.
That being said, unlike an actress such as Claire Foy, Saldana would likely continue the franchise in the mold of Daniel Craig’s gritty Bond. There would likely be room for laughs here and there, but you would have to imagine Saldana’s Bond would be more a vehicle for incredible stunts than witty repartee.
In the summer of 2016, British bookies were taking odds that Margot Robbie would play the next Bond Girl. Given the way her career has evolved since then, it might make more sense for her to play Bond himself.
Though she received mixed reviews for her performance as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, her turn as the world’s sexiest unhinged clown showed people that she had real action chops. Her performance as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, was equally badass, but far more nuanced (and better received). Robbie netted her first Oscar nomination for playing the figure skater, and if it weren’t Frances McDormand’s barnstorming performance in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, she might be headed for Oscar glory.
If Robbie were to win an Oscar and then take on the role she would be the second Bond to have a statue, and the first to take one home before taking the role. Though Oscar winners like Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz, and Halle Berry have appeared in Bond movies, the only Bond to win an Oscar was Sean Connery, who didn’t earn his statue until 1987’s The Untouchables.
Robbie’s less memorable turn in Focus also demonstrated some of the skill set necessary to take on the Bond mantle. In the film, she and Will Smith play con artists. Focus features all of the sexual tension and double crossing you might expect from a film of its genre. You’ll leave the viewing convinced that Robbie would be a natural saying, “Shaken. Not stirred.”
In a relatively short feature film career, beginning with Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie has proven herself remarkably dynamic, despite the danger of being typecast. If she can find the time between the four future Harley Quinn projects that have been announced, she would make an excellent Bond.
She also wouldn’t be the first Australian to play to role. George Lazenby served as the super spy in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Though Angelina Jolie has largely left behind starring acting roles for her burgeoning career as a director, she has tackled a number of Bond adjacent roles throughout her career. In Salt, she played a CIA operative accused of being a Russian sleeper agent. She and Brad Pitt played married assassins assigned to kill each other in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. And of course, she played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
In the case of Salt, the part was actually written for a man – with Tom Cruise cast as Edwin A. Salt – before ultimately deciding not to do the film. Rather than scramble for third and fourth tier male actors, producer, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, had a revelation; Edwin could be Evelyn.
“With Mission [Impossible]’ and Bourne and Bond, you’re going to be the fourth spy guy,” he said. “We thought, ‘Let’s be the first spy girl.'”
While Hollywood isn’t casting Jolie in the same sexpot leading lady roles she enjoyed in her 20s, the 42-year-old Jolie is actually at just about the average age for a Bond. Pierce Brosnan was 41 when he donned the black suit while Daniel Craig has held the martini glass from age 38 through his current age of 49.
Jolie’s recent roles have added an air of elegance to her work. The Tourist and By the Sea have allowed Jolie to try out an artsier, more nuanced pose than some of her early action-focused work. Now might be the perfect time for her to play Bond, as she might create a version of the character that meets Daniel Craig’s grit and Sean Connery’s charm somewhere in the middle.
By transitioning from a sensual brothel owner to a cold-blooded killing machine in Westworld, Newton showed that she has what it takes to play Bond in the streets and in the sheets. It’s no small thing to be able to portray a convincing lover and a convincing fighter, but Newtown did it to perfection in HBO’s robot thriller. She did it while also having to deal with flashbacks to the frontier and questioning her own sentience (yeah, it’s a complicated show).
Westworld is just the next in a long line of action roles for the British star. In between more prestige focused projects like For Colored Girls and Beloved, she has squeezed in blockbusters like Mission Impossible and Chronicles of Riddick. If producers want Newton as Bond, they’ll have to act quickly. She has a featured role in the forthcoming Han Solo film, and Star Wars is the kind of franchise that can tie you up in intergalactic battles for years.
On balance, in Newton’s career she has been more about loving than fighting. Since her early performances in Interview with A Vampire and Jefferson in Paris, Newtown has always been comfortable in a refined role or period drama. Though she is capable of ass kicking, we would expect her take on Bond to have the smoothness of a Roger Moore or the classically trained Timothy Dalton.
Towards the beginning of her career, casting Blunt as an action star might have seemed an odd choice. The Five Year Engagement and The Devil Wears Prada are a far cry from a position with MI:6. Recent years have changed the trajectory of Blunt’s career. Her performances in Sicario and The Edge of Tomorrow proved that Blunt has action chops and real star power.
It would be interesting to see what sort of Bond Emily Blunt turns out to be. The grittier Sicario reminds us of a Daniel Craig-era Bond, starring Blunt as a conflicted and overwhelmed FBI Agent. However, her work in films like The Young Victoria and Jane Austen Book Club show that she is capable of a more classic Bond pose.
Additionally, Blunt likes to take on characters who have their demons. In Sicario, her character appears haunted and filled with doubt, while her portrayal of alcoholic, Rachel Watson, in The Girl on the Train, was the best part of a film that received mixed reviews. Blunt could bring a dark edge to Bond, and perhaps introduce us to a 007 who struggles with alcoholism or codependence. Just maybe, she could make Bond an Oscar worthy role.
Regardless of what direction she took the role, Blunt was born and raised in London, which ought to thrill Bond purists who may want to see a 007 who actually has a UK passport in real life.
If Ruth Negga was tapped to play Bond, she would be the second Irish actor to take on the part. Pierce Brosnan grew up in Lavan, while Negga was raised in Limerick. The Irish-Ethiopian actress is best known to American cinephiles from her turn in the interracial marriage period melodrama Loving. Not exactly in the same wheelhouse as 007, the film was an awards-friendly melodrama.
Negga’s flourishing television career has more than prepared her to strap on some guns and do her majesty’s business. Regular arcs on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Preacher have offered Negga plenty of action experience. Throughout Preacher’s run, critics have praised her tough performance. Variety’s initial review of the series called Negga’s character Tulip, “simply, a badass.”
Though she is a relative newcomer to most Americans, Negga is well known back in Ireland and the United Kingdom. She has done acclaimed work in various BBC dramas. Her work as Shirley Bassey in BBC’s Shirley in 2011 earned her Ireland’s equivalent of an Emmy.
It has been a longstanding opinion of Bond purists that anyone who plays Bond ought to be from the British Empire. While Bond fans certainly don’t consider Americans appropriate, this has included Australia (George Lazenby), Scotland (Sean Connery), and Ireland (Pierce Brosnan). The Irish Negga would conform to traditional Bond expectations while opening up the image of the secret agent to more than white men.
In the midst of the romantic rendezvous and pithy one-liners, it is sometimes easy to forget that 007 is first and foremost a spy. With five seasons of playing various clones on Orphan Black under her belt, we know that Maslany could easily portray a master of disguise.
James Bond is expected to be all things to all people, and watching Maslany move effortlessly from playing a thief to a detective to a microbiologist makes it clear that she’s up to the challenge. It’s hard to understate what Maslany has achieved with Orphan Black, playing 10 distinct characters consistently over the show’s five seasons. Her performance has led to many accolades, including an Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama. Considering the body of work she generated in the role, New York Magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz declared her “The Best Actress on Television.”
Additionally, while on Orphan Black, Maslany was expected to do her fair share of ass kicking, which doesn’t hurt when you’re thinking about portraying a secret agent.
Naomie Harris’s heartbreaking performance as a mother struggling with drug addiction in Moonlight made her a household name for many American audiences. It’s likely you’ve seen her in some of your favorite popcorn fare as well. She has had prominent roles in films like 28 Days Later, Miami Vice, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
If you’re a Bond fan, you’ve actually already been watching Harris for years. She played Eve Moneypenny in Skyfall and Spectre. Though in many of the Bond films Moneypenny has been little more than M’s secretary, it is actually canon that she spent time in the field. The Fleming estate-sanctioned Bond spinoff, The Moneypenny Diaries, indicates that she had been a practicing agent before becoming a desk jockey. In Skyfall this was made Bond film canon as well. The transition could be seamless to films focusing on a version of Moneypenny as Bond. Sit Daniel Craig down for some desk duty, and send Harris out with a license to kill.
- Words: Brenden Gallagher