Ask your average person to name all the James Bonds and they can probably list Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, maybe Timothy Dalton. They may know there was one other guy who only made one movie… But only die-hard Bond fans know George Lazenby by name. Many consider his single Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the best: It’s the most intimate and emotional — it features Bond falling in love, and marrying Tracy (“Game of Thrones” Diana Rigg) — and of course, the most tragic.
A new Hulu documentary about Lazenby, “Becoming Bond,” premiered at the 2017 SXSW Film festival. In it, Lazenby tells his life story, while Josh Lawson plays Lazenby in reenactments from his life, the making of “On Her Majesty’s” and beyond. In Austin, we joined Lazenby, Lawson and “Becoming Bond” director Josh Greenbaum to learn more about Lazenby — and the making of this quirky documentary — to share before the Hulu premiere on May 20.
In “Becoming Bond,” George Lazenby opens up about his greatest regret: He was in love with a woman named Belinda, and promised to come back to her after filming “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
He never did — and by the time he saw her again, she’d married.
Josh Greenbaum: He doesn’t put it on, but you see in the film, there’s a big romantic in there… You can just hear it when George talks about her. We’ve all had that experience, that true love, but this was really unique — actually, that was probably the only time that I played him a little bit of the reenactments we had shot. I showed George that scene he described at the airport, saying goodbye to her. That moment in the film was right after he had watched it, and relived it.
George Lazenby: I haven’t fallen in love that many times. The strongest were Sandra and Belinda. Sandra, I never mentioned in the film. I was engaged to Sandra before I met Belinda — but the mother said to me one day, “What do you want? A big wedding, or a deposit on a house?” …I cried. I remember driving into the woods into this park and just crying that I had to make the decision: Did I want to get married or not? I realized I didn’t. I was 21 years old.
Then Belinda came along. She was the first one after that that I had the same feelings for. Every man that’s been in love must know what it is: You just can’t wait to see them again. I don’t know what it is, some chemistry — you love the touch, taste, smell, everything about it, attitude. You’ll do anything she says. You want to please her all the time.
“Becoming Bond” shows how Lazenby sweet-talked his way into producer Harry Saltzman’s office — and eventually faked his way into the legendary role of James Bond. Famous Bond producer Cubby Broccoli is not represented in the film.
Greenbaum: I don’t think Cubby ever really showed himself in George’s story. Harry was really the main guy.
Lazenby: Harry was the man behind it. He bought the Fleming books and then he ran out of money. He was a gambler. He needed $50,000 to re-establish himself as the James Bond owner, and Cubby Broccoli came in and gave him 50 grand for 50%.
Josh Lawson: Seems like not a lot of money — but I suppose in that time it was quite a lot.
Lazenby: Then Harry tried to buy Technicolor, and it went under the carpet. He lost all his money. Cubby said, Sign the f***ing contract. That’s all I remember him saying…
This reminded Lazenby of another Cubby story he doesn’t tell in “Becoming Bond.”
Lazenby: Funny story, Cubby had this obnoxious-looking watch and I was staring at it at a ball when they were announcing me. He said, “Oh, do you like my watch?” I said, “Oh yeah.” “Dana gave it to me for my birthday. When we go to Switzerland, I’ll get you one.” I was like f***, I gotta have one of those. We get to Switzerland and Telly Savalas has bought himself one. I said, “Telly, Cubby promised me one of those when we got to Switzerland but I never got it.” So Telly goes over and tells Cubby that I’m p*ssed off… Cubby comes over and says, “I just asked Dana, and she said I can give it to you.”
Lawson: And you didn’t even want the watch!
Lazenby: No! But what can I say? I’ve still got it in a safety deposit box. It’s an amazing watch… That’s how things went.
Cubby called me one day, he said my chauffeur was drunk and he couldn’t drive, so I was driving the Cadillac up this icy road, going sideways, and Cubby’s coming down and he sees me — there were days like that — and then Cubby says, “We’ve got to stop him driving.” Then other days, he’s coming down the lift in the car and I’m going downhill, sliding around on skis. The insurance company said, “The one thing he can’t do is ski.” Because they saw the movie is all about skiing…
Greenbaum: Right, if you get injured, they’re in trouble.
Lazenby: So the one thing I couldn’t do my own stunts was the skiing.
Greenbaum: ..So he did it. He just does what he wants to do.
“On Her Majesty’s” was the first Bond movie to establish the longstanding tradition of skiing sequences, perfected in the pre-title ski jump of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and appearing again in “For Your Eyes Only,” “A View To A Kill,” “The World Is Not Enough,” and even in “Spectre.” Lazenby’s film has a thrilling bobsled sequence, too…
Lazenby: Oh yeah, I did the bobsledding — but they didn’t say that, they didn’t say, “No bobsledding.” They didn’t say, “No climbing, no swinging off the bloody cables…”
Lawson: — He finds loopholes.
Lazenby: — They didn’t say, “You can’t jump out of helicopters…”
Lawson: There are certain things that should be common sense though, George. [Laughter]
It remains a point of pride, that Lazenby did his own stunts.
Lazenby: I don’t know how many fights there were in that, but there were a lot. You know the one in the bell room? They were all cardboard gold-painted bells. We started doing the fight and the bells were flying everywhere. Peter says, “They don’t look real. Put the real ones back in.” So my head had bumps all over it.
Another harrowing sequence has Bond try to escape Blofeld’s mountaintop hideout via ski lift.
Lazenby: Oh yeah, that was me. They actually gave me a cable that went up under my shirt and hooked onto the cables, because I was like 3000 feet in the air. I used to let go of my hands, like this, and the cables were holding me. I got bumped around a lot because Connery wouldn’t do his own stunts. If he had a step that wasn’t legal he’d say, “Stuntman.” That was his way of having a rest I guess…
Lazenby says he’s never seen the subsequent films, not even the more recent Daniel Craig trilogy. Would the next Lazenby Bond have still been “Diamonds Are Forever”? We’ll never know.
Lazenby: Don’t know. I lost complete interest and just stayed away from them.
After Lazenby turned down a six picture contract for Bond films, the producers blacklisted him: He could not get work, and since “Majesty‘s” was his first movie, he couldn’t be expected to understand Hollywood politics. But he did find work in parodies, like “Kentucky Fried Movie.”
Lazenby: This is how I could get a job: If they saw me on the day that they were making the movie, and they took me in on the same day before anybody could get to me.
He says he was even supposed to be TV’s “The Equalizer” — until producers got wind of his falling out with Saltzman and Broccoli, over a decade later.
Lazenby: “Equalizer” the series was my idea. I gave it to a guy named Mike Sloane. He wrote it. I was wardrobed. I was waiting for the limo to pick me up for the first episode… And it didn’t show up. I rang Mike and said, “What’s going on?” “I don’t know. They got a phone call upstairs.” That was the first TV thing that they blacklisted me on. It was my idea, everything.
Lazenby even went to Singapore and Hong Kong tracking down the roles he wanted…
Lazenby: Bruce Lee didn’t like the industry. I was in London asking, “What’s hot?” They go, “Well, Bruce Lee’s the hottest thing.” I said, “Where is he?”
I’m having lunch [after arriving in Singapore], they all have big grins on their face meeting the new James Bond. So I said, “Can you get me a ticket to Hong Kong and back?”
They look at each other, “Oh, George. We can give you a ticket up. How’s that?” I said, “No, I need one back as well.” They all lost respect for me. You could see it going down. “This guy’s got no money.” It went down, down, down and they said, “Okay, we can get you a ticket.” I got a ticket up there. On the way out, a typhoon starts…
Greenbaum: See how many stories there are that aren’t in the film? A lot.
Lazenby: I get to Bruce Lee’s studio. I haven’t told him I’m coming, haven’t rang him, anything. I know if I rang him there’s a chance he’d say no — but if I confront him, there I am. So I get through the gate and I go into Raymond Chow’s office. I say, “I’m George Lazenby, James Bond. I’d like to meet Bruce.” “Wow,” he says, “Bruce, George Lazenby’s here. He’d love to meet you. You wanna meet him?” “No.”
He did eventually meet Bruce Lee — just days before the world lost him:
Lazenby: I was outside when Bruce pulled up in his little Mercedes and said, “Get in.” That’s how I met him. That’s how it started. Bruce died three days later, after he’d given me money — that’s how I came back to make “The Man From Hong Kong.”
In recent years, Lazenby has become more public again. He appears at screenings of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” to give Q&As, and selling autographs on the convention circuit.
Lazenby: That’s all people want to talk about with me. Might as well — and I’m getting paid for it. You can always use a few bucks.
Greenbaum: My hope when I first met George and started to hear his incredible storytelling and the specifics — which we’ve already gotten to hear a little bit of just now — was to have comedic and unique, fun reenactments — as opposed to most documentaries, where they’re done in a very heavy, dramatic way. I think it’s a unique hybrid of a doc and a narrative film.
Lawson: I also think it’s a hybrid of two films: It’s George’s story, and also the story of a raconteur, of a great storyteller. It’s looking at George himself, and the stories that he tells. I think you have to tell those two stories in different ways.
The result is a creative, interesting work — about a unique individual with many more stories to tell.
The Hulu Original “Becoming Bond” debuts May 20. Edited for length and clarity.