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Actors Who Almost Played James Bond

There are certain things a James Bond movie must have: an amazing opening action sequence; a shaken-not-stirred-martini; Q's cool gadgets; a sexy femme fatale; and, of course, a handsome British guy in the role of top spy 007. These elements have been a part of the James Bond franchise (based on a series of novels by Ian Fleming) over the course of more than two dozen movies stretching back to 1962's "Dr. No," all the way up through 2015's "Spectre" ... and beyond. 

In that time, only a handful of actors have played the role in canonical Bond movies: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig — which means there's a much larger group of actors who almost played James Bond.

Cary Grant

Cary Grant is associated with the "golden age" of Hollywood: a classic leading man and movie star archetype equally known for and successful in Hitchcock thrillers, romantic dramas, and screwball comedies, including "North by Northwest," "An Affair to Remember," and "Bringing Up Baby," respectively. He nearly added "action star" to that impressive and varied resume when James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli personally asked Grant to play the lead role in his first major big-screen adaptation of Ian Fleming's wildly popular British spy novels, according to The Guardian. Broccoli and Grant were close friends in the early 1960s, with the actor serving as best man at the producer's wedding.

While many actors considered to play Bond over the years hesitated because they were Americans not wanting to play a very English role, Grant would also have been an American portraying Bond, technically — born and raised in the U.K., he became a citizen of the U.S. in 1942. Grant had a keen interest in playing 007, but a deal just couldn't come together. To the producers' chagrin, he'd only agree to do one film at first, and by the time he started filming he would have been 58, which Grant thought would be too old to believably play a super-spy. Sean Connery got the role instead, at the age of 32.

Dick Van Dyke

Best remembered today as the star of the sitcom named after him (okay, that and "Diagnosis Murder"), Dick Van Dyke had a pretty good movie career going in the '60s, with roles in films like "Mary Poppins," "Bye Bye Birdie," and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." In 1968, the American actor was in England for a few months filming that last one, and producer Albert Broccoli — who was responsible for "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" as well as the Bond series — called him to his office. 

There, Van Dyke says, Broccoli told him that Sean Connery was considering moving on after the completion of "You Only Live Twice," but that they still wanted to make more Bond movies, and would need a new actor to play the super spy. Van Dyke was straight up offered that big role. Taken aback, Van Dyke asked Broccoli if his inability to speak in a believable British accent (famously demonstrated in his role as Cockney chimney sweep Bert in "Mary Poppins") would be a problem, at which point Broccoli apparently recalled the bad accent — and rescinded the offer. 

Terence Stamp

Another young actor approached by Bond filmmakers after the almost-departure of Sean Connery: Terence Stamp, the original big screen Emperor Zod in "Superman II." In 1967, Stamp went out to dinner with a Bond producer named Harry Saltzman, who told Stamp he was perfect for 007 because he was "really fit and really English." 

While at first Stamp was hesitant to even try to replace Connery, he loosened up as the dinner went on...and offered up his own ideas about things he'd like to do in future Bond movies. Namely, he wanted to replicate a scene from one of Ian Fleming's novels, in which Bond poses as an ancient Japanese warrior and wears full traditional makeup. "I didn't get a second call," Stamp lamented. 

Clint Eastwood

Sean Connery ultimately decided to hang onto the Bond role for awhile, but left the franchise after he completed filming on "Diamonds are Forever" in 1971. By that time, Bond was a worldwide sensation and lots of major actors (and plenty of minor ones) on both sides of the pond were seriously considered to be the next 007. 

Not just anybody could replace Connery in what was already one of the all-time great character roles. Producers approached screen legend Clint Eastwood with an offer, but he just couldn't abide following Connery. "I was offered pretty good money to do James Bond," Eastwood later said. "But to me, well, that was somebody else's gig. That's Sean's deal. It didn't feel right for me to be doing it." 

Michael Gambon

A prolific actor racking up credits since the mid-1960s, Michael Gambon is likely best known to 21st century audiences for his supporting roles in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "Gosford Park," and the mega-popular "Harry Potter" films, where he was the second actor to play Hogwarts headmaster and powerful wizard Albus Dumbledore. Born in Ireland, he's a stalwart of the English performance circuit, appearing in quintessential English productions such as TV broadcasts of Shakespeare plays, BBC adaptations of literary works, the film version of "Paddington," and "Doctor Who." The lead role of arguably the most British franchise of all, James Bond, eluded Gambon, but that's only because he said no when producers showed interest.

After Sean Connery left the series, Bond producers were looking to carry on with a new actor, and invited Gambon to audition. It's then that he took himself out of the running. "I said I didn't want the part because I'm not like him," Gambon told The Independent, meaning 007. "I haven't got nice hair and I'm a bit fat." Producer Cubby Broccoli still couldn't convince Gambon to give it a shot after revealing that Connery also had hair issues — according to Groovy History, he was balding and wore a wig while playing Bond.

Adam West

Adam West already portrayed one of the most iconic screen characters of all time, playing Batman on the outrageously campy and immensely popular 1966–68 "Batman" live-action TV series. It was a role with which he'd forever be associated, and he'd find work for decades playing some variation of his ironic, self-aware take on the Caped Crusader (such as his role as the unhinged mayor of Quahog on "Family Guy"). But West nearly got to play it serious and debonair as the as-big-as-Batman James Bond.

According to "Batman" co-star Burt Ward (Robin), West was offered the part of 007 after George Lazenby left the franchise following "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in 1969. "He actually turned the role down," West told Express. "He thought from a technical standpoint that it should be a Brit that plays the role." West, who demonstrated his ability to play fancy, cool manly types with his work as Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne, along with the Bond-like Captain Q in a pre-fame Nestle Quik commercial, was born far away from England in Walla Walla, Washington.

Burt Reynolds

After Sean Connery left the official James Bond franchise, producers selected Australian model George Lazenby to take over the role, despite a complete lack of screen acting experience. When Lazenby departed the series after just one film, 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," producers had to find another new Bond once more, but this time sought out the services of an actor with a lot more acting experience as well as the dashing, gentlemanly good looks required to portray 007: Michigan-born Burt Reynolds, at the time best known for his roles on '60s TV shows like "Gunsmoke" and "Hawk."

Playing James Bond would have been a huge career breakthrough for Reynolds, who would go on to become one of the biggest movie stars of the '70s but who didn't really hit as a film actor until "Deliverance" in 1972. He didn't feel qualified to play such a quintessentially British character, something he regrets. "I think I could have done it well," Reynolds said on "Good Morning America" in 2015 (via The Guardian). "In my stupidity, I said, 'An American can't play James Bond, it has to be an Englishman." Because Reynolds said no, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli engineered the return of Connery — a native of Scotland, and not an Englishman.

Sam Neill

Forever known to American audiences as paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant in "Jurassic Park," Sam Neill was first a star in Australia. In 1980, he'd just moved to London and landed a new agent who got him an audition to be the next James Bond. He was immediately reluctant, both because he didn't want to be "stuck" in a movie franchise for years, and because he didn't think he was right for the part. 

Nevertheless, Neill went on his audition, which was an awkward disaster. The casting director asked him to take off his shirt to run lines for a love scene. Self-conscious about his lack of muscles, Neill refused to remove his clothes. Needless to say, he didn't get the part, but Neill went on to have a terrific career that's included two more "Jurassic" entries, "The Piano," "In the Mouth of Madness," the TV series "Peaky Blinders," and Taika Waititi's "Hunt for the Wilderpeople."

James Brolin

Today James Brolin is probably best known for his connections to other, more famous people: he's the father of "Deadpool 2" and "Avengers: Infinity War" star Josh Brolin, and the husband of singer Barbra Streisand. But back in the 1970s and early 1980s, the elder Brolin was a superstar and sex symbol, best known for his major roles in "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "The Amityville Horror," and "Hotel." He even played a parody of James Bond once — in a film-inside-a-film cameo in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," he played himself, playing Pee-wee Herman as a romantic and debonair action hero.

But that's the closest Brolin would get to being 007. According to UCR, Roger Moore opted to walk away from the franchise after playing Bond in five films. Due to a rights loophole, a Bond film by another production group, "Never Say Never Again," starring Sean Connery, got the greenlight. Original Bond film producer Cubby Broccoli figured that to be commercially viable and compete with Connery, he needed the security of Moore, and successfully convinced him to make 1983's "Octopussy." That forced out the actor who'd already signed on to be the new Bond: Brolin. "I started working out with the stuntmen, and then I went back home to collect all my stuff, because I'm gonna be gone a year," Brolin told "This Morning. "I'm home about a week, and I get a message that Roger Moore decided to do 'Octopussy.'"

Mel Gibson

In the '80s, Australian-American "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon" star Mel Gibson was sought out by Bond studio United Artists and production company Eon to portray 007. Gibson was interested, but producer Albert Broccoli was decidedly not. The reason: Gibson, who stood 5'10", was "too short" to play Bond (via the Sydney Morning Herald). 

To be fair, Broccoli was also concerned that a James Bond movie with Mel Gibson in it would wind up being about the star and not the character. Broccoli even told longtime Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, "I don't want to make a Mel Gibson movie. I want to make a James Bond movie." Gibson ended up doing well for himself even without donning the tux, starring in hits like "What Women Want," "Ransom," and Best Picture winner "Braveheart" (which he also directed), until personal issues and offensive comments derailed his career for a number of years. 

Pierce Brosnan, in 1985

Yes, PIerce Brosnan ably played 007 in four Bond movies released between 1995 and 2002, but he could have taken over even sooner, beginning with "The Living Daylights" in 1985. The previous Bond portrayer, Roger Moore, was done, the search for a new star was on, and a perfect new Bond was found: Brosnan, star of NBC's comedy-drama-detective show "Remington Steele." Even better: Brosnan was a free agent, because NBC had canceled the series. 

However, once Brosnan started getting a lot of publicity for being cast as James Bond, NBC realized they had a huge star on their roster and didn't want to let him go. The network reversed the cancellation of "Remington Steele" ... which meant that Brosnan could no longer make that James Bond movie. Producers cast Timothy Dalton instead, although Brosnan would eventually get his chance to don the tux in some of the franchise's most successful entries.

Liam Neeson

Just before Pierce Brosnan was finally able to portray 007 in 1995's "GoldenEye," producers approached intense, brooding, Northern Irish actor Liam Neeson. Today he's best known as the anchor of action movies like the "Taken" series and the "Star Wars" prequels, but in the mid-1990s, Neeson was regarded as a serious arthouse actor, best known for numerous sedate BBC-produced historical and literary dramas and thoughtful, critically acclaimed movies such as "Nell" and "Schindler's List," for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. Playing James Bond would have been a big, bold career shift for Neeson, and more than a decade earlier than when he actually did something along similar lines with "Taken."

It wasn't like Bond producers got cold feet, and or just had Neeson on a list of actors it might be nice to pursue. Rather, after Timothy Dalton wrapped his run in the series with 1989's "License to Kill" and the franchise lay dormant for a few years, the filmmakers really wanted Neeson and worked hard to convince him to sign up. "I was approached very heavily," Neeson told the Irish Examiner. "But I wasn't really interested." 

Clive Owen

This debonair British actor ("Children of Men," "Closer," "The Knick") had pretty much locked down the role of 007 during the lead-up to 2006's "Casino Royale," the first Bond movie since 2002 and the first since Pierce Brosnan left the franchise. But Owen was a big star and was accustomed to certain contract stipulations, including "profit participation points" (via Mi6 HQ) — which means an actor receives, in addition to a salary, something like an ownership stake in the movie and a portion of any potential box office dollars on the back end. 

Owen allegedly asked for that on "Casino Royale," but producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson wouldn't give them up, so he walked. Whatever the reasons, Owen has said he turned down the opportunity repeatedly. Owen never became the superstar he might have been had he taken the role, but he's worked consistently in titles like the ones mentioned above and recent efforts such as "Lisey's Story."

Henry Cavill

When Clive Owen dropped out of the running to play Bond, due to his approaching middle age as well as his contract demands, "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell decided he wanted to cast a much younger actor in the lead role and explore the spy's early years. 

Unknown British actor Henry Cavill, who would shortly go on to play Superman in the DC Extended Universe, was a finalist for the role, as was Daniel Craig. Campbell went with Craig because Cavill was too young, and he thought Craig could handle the role after being impressed with his work in the gangster movie "Layer Cake." But don't count Cavill out just yet: he's publicly declared his interest throughout the years in taking over the role following Craig's departure, which came in 2021 with the latter's fifth and final 007 adventure, "No Time to Die." Plus it doesn't seem like Cavill will be putting on Superman's cape and tights anytime soon again either. 

Hugh Jackman

Could Wolverine have also been James Bond? According to Hugh Jackman, it almost happened. Jackman said Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson approached him right before he started filming "X2," his second "X-Men" film as the clawed mutant Logan, and asked if he wanted to take over for Pierce Brosnan as the superspy. But he turned it down, saying he was worried that if he did two huge franchises, he'd never get the chance to take on any other projects. 

He also said he felt that the character's recent outings had been "unbelievable and crazy" and he didn't want to sign up for the role unless it became more "gritty and real." He recalled, "The response was: 'Oh, you don't get a say. You just have to sign on.'" Jackman turned down the martini and kept his claws, Daniel Craig got the nod as 007, and the rest was cinematic history.

Dominic West

Best known for his recent work on critically acclaimed "Peak TV" shows, English actor Dominic West starred as Detective Jimmy McNulty on "The Wire," Hector Madden on "The Hour," Noah Solloway on "The Affair," and Prince Charles on the fifth season of "The Crown." He occasionally works in action-heavy films too, such as "John Carter," "Johnny English Reborn," and the 2018 reboot of "Tomb Raider." He also almost headlined one of the biggest action franchises in the world.

In the mid-2000s, during a period when Pierce Brosnan was just about finished playing James Bond, producers of the series started seeing potential replacement actors, including West, who took a quirky approach to his audition. "Apparently all of the other candidates were returning up in a tux — as if dressed in full-on James Bond garb," West told The Telegraph (via Mi6). "So I went to my audition in an old pair of jeans and a tatty T-shirt. I thought I'd try to be different and go for the nonchalant look." West said he took himself out of the running for the job and had other pursuits in which he had more interest. "I'm enjoying working in the theatre," he explained.

Ralph Fiennes

One of the most celebrated and versatile actors of his generation, English actor Ralph Fiennes is a two-time Oscar nominee for "The English Patient" (as a badly injured World War II-era cartographer) and "Schindler's List" (as a brutally evil concentration camp guard). He's also known for his roles in hits like "Maid in Manhattan," "Red Dragon," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and in the latter four "Harry Potter" films as the wicked Lord Voldemort. Fiennes then joined another massively profitable film series of British origin, portraying Mi6 head Gareth Mallory, a.k.a. "M," in the James Bond films "Skyfall," "Spectre," and "No Time to Die."

Before he agreed to take on a major supporting role in the spy franchise, Fiennes was heavily considered to play 007. "A while back, [producer] Barbara Broccoli once talked to me about possibly playing Bond, and that didn't happen," Fiennes told the "Happy. Sad. Confused." podcast (via The Playlist).