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Why The Role Of Felix Leiter Was Recast 7 Times In James Bond Movies

Nabbing a supporting role in a James Bond movie tends to go one of two ways. First, there's the path of the lifer — when Desmond Llewelyn landed the part of Q in 1963's From Russia With Love, he managed to hold onto it for 36 years. Bernard Lee played M from 1962 until his death nearly 20 years later. Judi Dench, too, spent the better part of two decades lamenting the end of the Cold War as the head of MI6.

Then there's the second route: The brief and uncelebrated life of the flash-in-the-pan Bond colleague. Sometimes a performer plays a part that just doesn't stick, a la Sheriff J.W. Pepper, the franchise's country-fried Scrappy Doo who lasted all of two movies before being quietly swept under the rug. Other times, a regularly occurring part matters more than the actor behind it, and the freight train that is the 007 series just keeps chugging along, replacing necessary bits as it goes.

That, frequently, has been the fate of the actors cast as Felix Leiter, James Bond's sometimes-BFF from the CIA. After nearly 60 years of Bond movies, Leiter is perhaps the only character who has been recast more times than Bond himself. Across his ten Eon Films appearances and Never Say Never Again, Felix has been portrayed by eight different actors. We'll start at the beginning.

A good Felix Leiter is hard to find

Eon started their run of James Bond films with 1962's Dr. No. In it, Felix Leiter was played by Jack Lord, the actor who would later star in twelve seasons of Hawaii Five-0 as Detective Stephen McGarrett. According to The Vintage News, when he was approached to reprise the Leiter role in Goldfinger, Lord requested "much more money–and for Leiter to be a more significant character, functioning as a partner for Bond, not a sidekick." A hard pass from the studio later, Canadian actor Cec Linder was brought in to play the part.

Linder was 43 when Goldfinger came out, but it was that post-WWII kind of 43 that you just don't see anymore — his hair was grey, there was some frumpiness to him, and that high-contrast film stock from the '60s made him look more like a grandpa than a CIA agent. He was considered miscast by the producers, so they started all over again with Thunderball, bringing in a man whose name shines like the morning sun: Rik Van Nutter.

Van Nutter only lasted for the one movie. In a strange move, the filmmakers decided to backtrack and cast Norman Burton in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever. At that point, change was brewing, and the 007 universe was about to experience a shakeup.

Double duty in the James Bond franchise for David Hedison

Live and Let Die, released in 1973, saw Roger Moore as the new Bond, and with him came a new Felix: Moore's friend David Hedison. Leiter disappeared for a while after that, not making another appearance until 1987's The Living Daylights. By that point, Timothy Dalton was playing 007, and Felix was recast. John Terry took the reigns, then was unceremoniously replaced in License to Kill ... by David Hedison. Hedison, with his nonconsecutive portrayals, became the first actor in the series' 25 year history to play the part more than once.

In the meantime, Irvin Kershner's Never Say Never Again brought Sean Connery back to that MI6 life in the only James Bond movie not produced by Eon. Bernie Casey, an ex-football player, got one shot at playing Felix, but the shot at dueling Bond franchises was more or less dead on arrival.

Then followed another dark period for Felix Leiter fans. The character wouldn't show up again until 2006, when Casino Royale's gritty new Bond called for a gritty new Felix, played by Jeffrey Wright of Westworld fame. He showed up again for Quantum of Solace, and is set to return for No Time To Die, assuming that it ever comes out, so it looks like we finally have some continuity on the Felix Leiter front ... for now.