Why George Lazenby Walked Away From James Bond
George Lazenby had a comet-like presence in the James Bond series, arriving out of nowhere and leaving just as quickly. On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Lazenby's One-Bond Wonder, opened on Dec. 18, 1969, in London – and by then, he already had one foot out the franchise door.
A complex and stubborn figure, Lazenby quickly returned to the same obscurity he'd enjoyed before bluffing his way into briefly succeeding Sean Connery.
"If you think you know your Bond, think again," one of the movie's trailers promised. "This one's different." Was he ever: The film finds Lazenby casting aside 007's typical playboy wiles, instead falling in love with Diana Rigg's Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo. He's then left to grieve over her lifeless body after she's murdered at the behest of Telly Savalas' Blofeld in an unconventionally dark final scene that was faithful to Ian Fleming's 1963 novel.
He was the rebel Bond, going to one knee during the iconic opening title sequence, breaking the fourth wall ("This never happened to the other fella") and shedding an actual tear over Contessa on the first take. Behind the scenes, Lazenby made even bigger waves. He had his own ideas about James Bond. He battled with director Peter Hunt (who reportedly stopped talking to the novice actor altogether after one too many pieces of directorial advice), with his co-stars and – most of all perhaps – with expectations.
The specter of Connery still loomed large. Nobody knew if fans would accept a new James Bond. This occasionally became the source of gallows humor. "[The fights] were all difficult and I had to do all of them," Lazenby told IndieWire in 2016. "Later on, a stunt-guy friend of mine said he told Peter that I could get hurt, and Peter said, 'No one's seen him yet. If we kill him, we could do it all over again.'"
But that's also how Lazenby ended up starring in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. When bigger names turned the producers down, they were forced to search for an unknown. This out-of-nowhere hire became the stuff of industry legend, stoked over the years by Lazenby himself.
Watch the 'This Never Happened to the Other Fella' Scene
An Australian then living in London, Lazenby was working as a model in the late '60s before he crossed paths with James Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. This much is known. How Lazenby got there is a matter of conjecture.
Maybe Broccoli spotted Lazenby getting his haircut and recognized him from a recent ad campaign. It could be that Lazenby had a tryst that led to him meeting an agent connected to the Bond franchise. Or perhaps Lazenby won the job after showing up unannounced at London auditions with an overstuffed, and clearly fake, resume.
However he got the part, Lazenby displayed a penchant for rugged, and sometimes wrongheaded, individualism from the first. When Broccoli and fellow producer Harry Saltzman asked him back after his successful casting call, Lazenby said he didn't like their attitude.
“So, I told them I couldn't be there, that I'd be in Paris for a film – which I wasn't - and they asked how much I was being paid," Lazenby told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014. "When I told them I was being paid £500 a day – which I wasn't – they said, 'Go down to the accountant, and he'll give you the money. Be here tomorrow.' They had never paid any actor to come back for a callback."
When Hunt learned about the ruse, Lazenby said the belly-laughing director offered him the James Bond role on the spot: "He said, 'You've fooled two of the most ruthless people I've met in my life, and they made me fly back from Switzerland to see you. Stick to that story and I'll make you the next James Bond.'"
Lazenby quickly began to chafe: He couldn't be Connery; nobody could. More than that, he felt hemmed in by the traditions and rules associated with it all. They wouldn't let him be himself either.
Watch a Trailer for 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'
Broccoli later told the Los Angeles Times that casting Lazenby was his "biggest mistake in 16 years. He just couldn't deal with success. He was so arrogant. There was the stature and looks of a Bond, but Lazenby couldn't get along with the other performers and technicians."
After filming was over, Lazenby grew a beard – again drawing the ire of Broccoli, who wanted the actor to look the part for a subsequent promotional tour. When Lazenby refused to shave, the producer sent Rigg out alone for the overseas publicity stops. Ever the iconoclast, Lazenby was unfazed.
"I arranged my own tour, which was fun and games because I'd never been to America,” Lazenby told the Telegraph in 2018. "I was more or less going up to television companies and knocking on the door and saying, 'Hey, excuse me, can I go on your television show?'"
Despite all of the behind-the-scenes turmoil, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was a respectable box-office hit. It opened at No. 1 in North America, and reigned as the highest-grossing film of the year in the U.K. Over time, it's also become one of the franchise's more critically appreciated entries.
Still, when producers tried to woo Lazenby back to play James Bond again, he declined. "They offered me millions of dollars under the table to do another one," Lazenby told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. There was talk of a seven-film contract.
His friend Ronan O'Rahilly, an Irish businessman, is credited with talking Lazenby out of it. "He said, 'If you want a good career as an actor, you have to get away from Bond,'" Lazenby told the Times. "'That's Sean Connery's gig. It's hippie time now; it's make love, not war.' He convinced me."
Instead, Lazenby said he wanted to work with outsider types like John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) and Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider). He hoped his ideas would be better received outside of the James Bond camp.
Watch the Shocking Final Scene From 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'
"They made me feel like I was mindless," Lazenby said back then. "They disregarded everything I suggested, simply because I hadn't been in the film business like them for about a thousand years. What I'm going to do is look for a great director first, a good screenplay second. Meanwhile, no more Bond. I make better money doing commercials."
Unfortunately, that's not what happened. Lazenby ended up acting in obscure Hong Kong-based action movies then made-for-TV fare in his native Australia. "George took some bad advice," future 007 successor Roger Moore said in his autobiography, My Word Is My Bond. "I knew George then and have met him many times since. He admits he made a mistake."
By 1978, Lazenby was reduced to placing a full-page ad in Variety begging for a job. He ended up playing only bit parts in forgettable fare like the softcore Emmanuelle movies and Never Too Young to Die, an awful sci-fi B movie starring rocker Gene Simmons as a deranged hermaphrodite.
"Poor old George," Rigg told the BBC in 2011. "I don't know what he's doing now, but he was definitely the architect of his own demise as a film star. I think he needed help, not in the acting – he was really quite good, wasn't he? And attractive and sexy. He was just difficult offstage. He kind of thought he was a film star immediately and started throwing his weight around."
In 2017, Lazenby revealed that he hadn't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service in three decades. He'd decided to focus on his family.
"When I wouldn't sign the contract, they put out the word that I was difficult to handle – and no film company wants to know about that, so I couldn't get a job for years. So, I gave up looking," Lazenby told the Sydney Morning Herald. "There's an element of me that thinks I should have done two Bond films to prove that they didn't get rid of me. On the other hand, I wouldn't have the life I've had. I have beautiful kids, which I may not have had if I continued with Bond. Instead, I was Bond-ing with my children."