"Timothy Dalton – The Private Bond" (a Starlog Interview)

[I’ve been digging through old film magazines and thought this article might be of interest.]

Timothy Dalton – The Private Bond

The British actor takes a very personal view of his role as a superspy with a “License to Kill”

by Dan Yakir (Starlog No. 145, August 1989)

Timothy Dalton is wearing a bathrobe over his tux, to protect himself from the chilly Mexican evening. He’s relaxing in the lobby of the grandiose Gran Hotel, which serves as the selling for a Central American casino and headquarters of drug czar Sanchez—the man he will pursue to the bitter end in License to Kill, the new chapter in the James Bond saga.

In this $36 million production, directed by Bond veteran John Glen, the indomitable 007 embarks on a personal mission to avenge the maiming of his friend, ex-CIA agent Felix Leiter, and the brutal murder of Leiter’s wife-to-be during their wedding. Bond becomes so obsessed with punishing the culprit, Sanchez, that he is dismissed from Her Majesty’s Secret Service by “M,” and his license to kill is revoked.

At 41, Dalton seems to have made his screen character very much his own, but he refuses to become complacent. This is one actor who takes his job very seriously.

STARLOG: Let’s talk about Bond as he appears in this film; it seems he reveals a private side that he hasn’t shown before.

TIMOTHY DALTON: Mmm…You surprise me. How does this happen?

STARLOG: Well, maybe we’ve seen the public Bond before—the man on a mission—without dwelling on his inner motivation and the private pain.

DALTON: I think the story is based on something personal. I mean, he’s still the same man, of course, and I would like to think that you saw quite a few glimpses of the man himself in the last film, for example, because I believe that’s important. I wouldn’t say the private Bond. It’s still the same man, only here he’s driven less objectively and professionally than he might be if he was working on a mission or a job. It comes from a personal source, but of course he’s still Bond.

STARLOG: What was the special challenge for you doing the character in this particular film, given the plot and motivation?

DALTON: [Laughs] I don’t know that I could give a comprehensive answer to that. Almost every scene you do is difficult; every scene you do has a challenge, which is finding all the right bits of the jigsaw so that when you finish the movie, they will fit together and you’ll have a proper picture of the man that fits with the film.

STARLOG: How different is License to Kill from The Living Daylights?

DALTON: It’s a different kind of film—more straightforward in its motive. Daylights operated on quite a few levels of deception and intrigue, which I don’t think we’ve got in this story. There’s a fundamental course for aggression here and lots of blocks to the fulfillment of that. License to Kill is about vengeance, retribution, setting a wrong—a personal grievance—right, but it broadens and expands and takes on a larger perspective. Ultimately, as in all good Bond films, good does triumph over evil on a better basis than just one of personal revenge. I mean, one’s own scope, one’s own awareness of how he’s behaving is enlarged and is brought back to something that is much more calculating and striving for a good end.

It’s very difficult for me to talk about it, because when you’re in the beginning of the film, it’s one thing to have broad strokes and outlines in your head, but day by day, through the process of work with your colleagues, influences change, colors change, textures change. It’s difficult to judge until it’s finished.

STARLOG: What kind of relationship does Bond have with Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell)? Is he still as monogamous as in The Living Daylights?

DALTON: Yeah, I would pretty much say so. In general, it’s faithful to the spirit of Ian Fleming’s books, as I think are most of the Bond films. It usually starts with a woman giving him some trouble or problem or he’s getting tangled with some woman he perhaps doesn’t want to be tangled up with, but through the story, getting to know her better and perhaps either endangering himself in order to protect her or finding that she sometimes protects him and through their [eventual] mutual knowledge of each other, coming much closer, which I think is classic Bond.

STARLOG: In this case, what is the nature of the relationship?

DALTON: She’s sort of a freelance out-of-jobber for either American government agencies and/or drug smugglers, whatever; at this moment in time, she happens to be on our side and we both end up together going for this man Sanchez, who’s our villain, a drug baron.

STARLOG: Would you say Bond has more of a partnership with her than with the females in the previous movies?

DALTON: I wouldn’t say there’s more of a partnership. no! I mean, I think there was quite a good partnership between Ursula Andress and Sean Connery in Dr. No or with Diana Rigg [and George Lazenby] in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Certainly, you could say in The Living Daylights, although the girl wasn’t innocent, they developed into being—however haphazardly—partners; she certainly helped him. I don’t want to give the story away; there are complexities to it that shouldn’t be revealed.

STARLOG: How did you get along with Carey Lowell?

DALTON: Carey is a lovely person. She’s extremely bright, responsive, very believable, and very good to work with. I think she has all the potential to be right up there in the forefront of the Bond leading ladies. Also, Talisa Soto, who is—

STARLOG: The “Bad Girl"?:

DALTON: She’s not a bad girl, just a tangled girl, very attractive, very nice, something of a victim caught up in this affair.

STARLOG: What kind of an opponent is Sanchez, as played by Robert Davi? What kind of a Bond villain is he?

DALTON: Before I speak about Davi, I would like to mention that this movie will be a harder, grittier, darker, and perhaps more realistic film than we’ve seen before. Alec Mills, who’s lighting it, and the very texture of the story, both guarantee that. It’s certainly much together. And Davi as a villain is not among the “pantomime villains.” He’s an actor of a very deep and real power and the work that I’ve seen him do so far is filled with a sense of danger—it’s being played realistically. Much of the film looks very moody and strong and dirty, which I like. One of my three favorite villains anyway was Gert Frobe in Goldfinger. I thought his performance was magnificent in a very wonderful film. Davi, too, is moving towards something fairly unique in the Bond films, and I hope it works.

STARLOG: He’s a worthy opponent?

DALTON: Oh hell, yes—and it goes beyond the nature of the character or the actor playing the character. I don’t want to give the impression that one is moving away from tradition. He is still quite a monster and a villain in a world scale—his operation is global and destructive [Laughs heartily]. Well, sometimes one would prefer to be playing the villain!

STARLOG: Since fans have responded favorably to your portrayal of Bond, do you feel a greater ease playing him?

DALTON: No. I was gratified that so many people did enjoy The Living Daylights, but the response has not been 100 percent, because everybody has their preconceptions of how James Bond should be. But overall, there has been an overwhelming sense of pleasure at the direction the last movie took and how it was received by the audience. But it doesn’t give one greater ease at all!

STARLOG: You don’t see Bond as an old friend you can just slip on?

DALTON: Not really, because it’s not quite as simple as that. One has to make it work again and again every day. I have to shoot new scenes and new plotlines and make every moment feel right. That’s the problem. It has nothing to do with whether you feel happy, content and relaxed. It has to do with what your imagination is telling you, what your responses are telling you. However good your previous work has been, the new one is always the new one—it has its own demands.

STARLOG: Perhaps you face a bigger challenge than the previous Bonds, because they set the mold for themselves and then stayed with it. But you’ve already made a change from The Living Daylights to License to Kill.

DALTON: Yes, definitely. But you can’t expect every story to be the same. When people talk to me about Roger Moore and Sean Connery, you can’t compare the two; you can only say which films you prefer.

STARLOG: But they stayed as themselves within the movies that they made; there was no dramatic evolution.

DALTON: I know, but the movies themselves had the evolution. You could see the evolution between Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. You could see development, but they were still within a similar area. But even Connery’s last film was completely different from, say, From Russia With Love. They were two different entities and therefore perhaps required different kinds of performances. The more the films developed into technological extravaganzas and light-hearted comedy spoofs, the more removed they became from the early Bonds. In License to Kill, too, I hope you see a different Bond.

STARLOG: Do you feel you’re taking a risk that way?

DALTON: I suppose so. But it would be boring to be the same all the time, to have the same story. I don’t wish to abuse the word, but there is a…formula, which has to do with Bond versus the villain, with good vs. evil also in Bond himself. That’s all formula. but within it, there’s scope for variety and the more the better.

STARLOG: Arc the Bond movies moving toward a more classical, neater, cleaner structure? They seem to trim all the extras.

DALTON: I think so. I would like to think that, because my favorite Bond movies were the early ones, and they did capture the spirit of the Bond books well. I can read those books today and still get totally involved and keep turning the pages and I can look all those early films and really enjoy them. I don 't know if you could ever call Ian Fleming’s works classics, but in the sense you intend, yes. I would like that.

STARLOG: How bound are you to Bond?

DALTON: No more than Harrison Ford is to Indiana Jones. One must remember that for all the pleasure and entertainment and success it can bring, and for all the hard work that goes into making it for 18 weeks, a Bond movie is only two hours every two years! That’s not much in the scale of things! There have to be other things in between. How could I be an actor, how could I be the actor I am, if I did nothing else?

STARLOG: So, you make unusual choices, like Hawks?

DALTON: It’s probably the most enjoyable experience I’ve had making a film. Hawks is about two men who are facing a premature death , since they have cancer—and that puts life into focus. It’s provocative, a serious comedy, a black comedy. It deals with ordinary people who are going slightly crazy because of the situation they’re in—it’s somewhat life-affirming, challenging, aggressive. And it says: Fight for your life; don’t give in!

STARLOG: Has it affected you in any way?

DALTON: It’s certainly the kind of film that can make you realize that survival can be up to you—up to a point. It certainly reminds us how we take life for granted, and how we shouldn’t, because it’s precious.

STARLOG: What motivates you to act in the first place?

DALTON: That’s something I think about constantly, because it has to be for a purpose, it’s not just self-indulgence. People often say, “Well, it’s just the way I express myself.” That’s no good, that’s narcissistic, juvenile. You work to express the piece, because you believe the piece has value and that it can be communicated to other people who will see something new of life because of it. You must believe that it will in some small or big way make a difference to their lives.

Shakespeare, perhaps more than any playwright, explored the ultimate reaches of the human emotion. Eugene O’Neill is, to me, the greatest playwright of the 20th century, but when you enter the back of a dark theater in Sydney or London or New York and see the way people react to Bond, that counts, too. Perhaps it’s not on the same scale of things, but it’s definitely worthwhile!

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While on the topic of Licence to Kill, here are excerpts from another article from the same period…

James Bond’s Final Mission?

by Lee Goldberg (Starlog 146, September 1989)

“You can’t disappoint the audience, but you can’t give them what they expect,” explains Michael Wilson, co-writer (with Richard Maibaum) and producer of Licence to Kill

Wilson concedes that he, and longtime 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli are “running scared,” attempting to maintain the formula while also “being slightly ahead of our time.” But how long can James Bond remain a cultural icon, and a money-making machine, and not become an anachronism? Wilson admits they “worry about it all the time.”

For one thing, they must keep a close eye on the international scene. In the post-Cold War thaw of Watergate, feminism, glasnost and AIDS, they must pick their villains and their stereotypes carefully.

“We have to be aware of the world situation and what people will accept as a ‘loosely-based on reality’ sort of plot,” Wilson says. The Red Threat just won’t wash today, not with Gorby-mania in the headlines. “I guess people are more hopeful today than ever before and don’t want someone undermining that hope.”

…“Timothy gives us a different direction to go in,” says Wilson. “I think the films with Roger emphasized his talents. For Timothy, a gritty, more reality-based piece is the way to go. Giving him one-liners won’t play to his strong suit. He plays it fairly straight.”

Dalton gives producers the chance to show a darker, more violent side to Bond who, in this film, “is thrown out of the service, and he has lost the objectivity he normally has, and that makes for a rather impassioned, exciting film.”

…“This film’s thrust is that Bond loses his professional objectivity because of his vendetta,” Wilson says. “In a sense, it’s the awakening in him of the realization that when he loses his objectivity, he begins to make things worse for himself.”

Bond also lost a wife (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and went looking for vengeance (Diamonds are Forever), but those events aren’t touched on in this film , which obviously tackles similar themes. “There is a reference, but very indirect, to Bond being married before, and it’s sort of bittersweet,” says Wilson. “We never really saw Bond go for revenge before. It wasn’t a very developed idea in those films.”

Although grittiness doesn’t lend itself to the series’ more cartoonish elements, the producers have compensated by emphasizing the stunts, some left over from other movies. “I have stunts I haven’t even unpacked yet,” Wilson jokes. “The truck chase in this film is something John Glen has wanted to do for years.

“We find our stunts where we can. Normally, we think the stunts up in-house or go with a person we’ve worked with before. For instance, the stunt with Bond and the seaplane was done by Sparky Green, the fellow who directed our air unit in the last film. He gave me this stunt and it blended perfectly with the narrative. which was fortuitous, otherwise it would have gone on the back shelf.”

…the Writers Guild strike drove a wedge between Wilson and Richard Maibaum during the film’s writing. They worked together on the outline, which was turned in just before the strike. Wilson wrote the script alone, while Maibaum walked the picket line, although Maibaum shared script credit. “I said to Dick that we’ve worked a long time together over the years, and I didn’t feel I wanted to go through an arbitration. I told him I would be happy to share credit, and he said wonderful,” Wilson says. “He was put in a difficult spot, and I wasn’t prepared to make it more difficult.” (Wilson maintains he did not violate any WGA rules by working during the strike. The WGA, through a spokesman, had no comment).

The producers have bowed to the old Bond films by eschewing a pop band in favor of a “power ballad,” in the tradition of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” themes, by Gladys Knight. “We had gone with Duran Duran, which paid off handsomely, but a-ha was a disappointment. We thought it would be better this time to go with a power ballad, a ballad with guts in it.”

…Ever since Jack Lord played Leiter in Dr. No, the producers have been looking for someone to replace him—with no luck. “We’ve never found someone who was that solid a performer. This time, we were looking for someone whom we’ve seen as Felix, and whom the audience might have some association with. David Hedison fit the bill.”

Wilson won’t say whether Q will be back next time, though “people love him so much, we would like him to stay on.” (Lois Maxwell had to be replaced as Miss Moneypenny because “it would have meant a change in the playing of the character, and we wanted to keep that relationship intact.”) It’s certain Timothy Dalton will play Bond again, but Wilson feels it’s “not appropriate to discuss his contractual situation” beyond that.

Although there are no more Ian Fleming books or stories to plunder, there are several new 007 bestsellers written by John Gardner, though “we haven’t seen anything in those books that are useful for films,” Wilson says. Nevertheless, the books are “encumbered by us. No one can option those books to anyone but us for perpetuity.”

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Great stuff! Keep it coming, please!

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Excelente. Thanks for posting. Been about four decades since I read a Starlog article…:slightly_smiling_face:

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Fantastic content here. Thanks for posting.

This sentence stuck out for obvious reasons.

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