For over five decades the role of James Bond has been one of the most coveted by male actors young and old. That is what makes it so insane that George Lazenby, the car salesman who was plucked out of obscurity to follow Sean Connery in the franchise, walked away from the character after starring in just one movie. The remarkable tale is told in a new documentary Becoming Bond from Josh Greenbaum after premiering at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
Perhaps even more remarkable, according to Lazenby, his life after turning his back on Hollywood was even more debaucherous than the antics that took place on the set of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Sitting down at Austin’s Intercontinental, in a tailored suit that would make Bond proud, the Australian smiled as he shared those cherished memories, with impressive recollection.
Let’s start with what drew you to the role of James Bond.
I mean the reasons that I wanted to be Bond were simple. I looked up to Sean Connery as an actor, and I thought that I would get laid a lot more. The strange thing is it actually had the opposite effect. Short hair and suits didn’t get you laid in the late 1960s. Everyone was wearing bell-bottoms.
The story of how you got it is incredible.
I look back at it and say, “How the fuck did I do that?” I mean in the end I truly wanted it, but I knew better than to let them see that I did. I was playing hard to get. I told them I was doing a movie in Paris, which was complete bullshit. I just made myself irresistible. I copied Sean Connery’s look to a T, and even went to his tailor to get one of his suits. It was a place on Savile Row, and I asked them to make me one like Connery wore. They told me it would take six months, but when I was on my way out of the door, they found one that he had left there. I took that. I put a Rolex watch on like he wore. I got my hair cut at the same barber he went to.
What was it like to shoot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
The set of Bond started to get a little claustrophobic, so they gave me the use of a helicopter. They wanted to keep me happy. I would take my helicopter out to go get girls. One of those trips we went to Geneva, and there was a gun shop. I was browsing through the guns and saw a .45 and a Luger. I said, “I’ll take those two.” They asked if I had a permit, and I didn’t, so they didn’t want to sell it to me. The guy next to him said, “That’s James Bond!” They handed them right over. I was on the set with these guns, shooting cans. I was drunk pretty much every night on that movie.
Sounds like you managed to have some fun.
Somebody in the crew must have been worried because they called the cops. Harry [Saltzman] came into my trailer and told me to hand them over. So I handed him the .45, but I still had the Luger. I got too drunk a night after that and started to shoot out the lights, and then they took that one. Next thing I know the cops are at my door again. I was headed back to London for Christmas break on a plane, and before I boarded, the PR guy whispered, “You don’t have any guns on you do you?” I said nope. Then the steward came up to me in my seat and said two men wanted to talk to me, and they were cops. They leaned in closely and put the Lugar in my pocket, and I went right back to my seat. So I land in London and they ask me if I have anything to declare, and I said yes and pulled out the Luger. They asked if there were any bullets in it and I hadn’t checked. There were two still in the magazine.
How did your life change when you turned down the second Bond movie?
I didn’t regret it at all because I got to do whatever I liked again. Right when I gave up Bond I started growing out my hair and beard. I was staying in a house with George Drummond, who was one of richest men in England. I mean the man was The Queen’s banker. So we had this five-bedroom apartment and he bought a Lamborghini. He parked it out front and then pissed off to Barbados for a month. So I had his Lamborghini and the place to myself.
Did you take advantage of that?
One day a girl was walking by the house and asked whose car it was, so I said it was mine. She asked if we could go for a ride, and I took her. Those cars rattle pretty fiercely, so there was no foreplay necessary when we got back to the house. [laughs]. From then on I asked every girl who came over if she wanted to go for a ride in the Lamborghini first.
Sounds like you were living life like an off-duty James Bond still.
I tend to forget that I even played James Bond until somebody reminds me. But I am glad I got to share the story.
Becoming Bond is available on Hulu on May 20.