Life after Bond: Daniel Craig and the legacy of 007

As he hangs up his Walther PPK in ‘No Time To Die’, we look at how actors who play the Secret Service agent chart their careers after the franchise

From left: Pierce Brosnan; Roger Moore; Daniel Craig; Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton have all portrayed the legendary British spy, James Bond, with the role leaving different career legacies for each. Getty Images; Rex
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Since his debut as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, Daniel Craig was tasked, and credited, with bringing the super-spy with his famously Cold War origins, firmly into the 21st-century. The quips remained, although with a deadpan – and dead-eyed – delivery in opposition to the eyebrow-cocked wryness of Roger Moore. The girls remained, although Eva Green ushered in the concept of “the Bond woman” as opposed to girl for her turn as Vesper Lynd.

But out were the shark-jumping gadgets (Bond’s invisible car in Die Another Day, anyone?) in favour of grittier and more realistic portrayals of the weapons of the tradecraft, namely a gun and a tiny radio transmitter as handed to Bond by Q in Skyfall.

“I got a nice piece of advice from Pierce Brosnan, who just said: ‘Enjoy it, it’s a ride,’” Daniel Craig told NME entertainment magazine of taking on the role of 007. “And he was right, it’s all you can do. Cling on by your fingernails!” Occasionally taking Brosnan’s advice, Craig has both embraced and been dismissive of the role which has made him a multimillionaire.

Now as his final outing as the Secret Service agent in No Time To Die is finally out, we look at the pitfalls and successes for Craig, as well as Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore and Sean Connery, in a post-Bond world …

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig's portrayal of James Bond is credited with making the character more grittier and also emotional. Photo: MGM

A cursory search through Google throws up a myriad results relating to the supposed “Bond curse”. There’s the “Bond girl curse”, the “final James Bond movie curse” and the “Bond theme curse” to name but a few. All are centered around the notion that actors connected with the franchise never again achieve the success in their careers as they did with Bond.

Craig’s final turn as 007 certainly played into the idea that certain nefarious forces were at work on the No Time To Die set. Firstly, British director Danny Boyle quit the film citing “creative differences.” Then Craig broke his ankle. A controlled blast went wrong, damaging the Pinewood Studio set, and, of course, a global pandemic arrived that delayed the film’s release date by 18 months.

Luckily for Craig, 53, the curse of type-casting that has plagued few previous Bonds is not something he's had to worry about.

Careful to maintain a steady career and onscreen presence outside of Bond, the English actor told GQ men's magazine: “I’m pretty sure I can play just about anything. Yeah. I’m pretty sure I can or at least I can make a good fist of it.”

From the alien-battling outlaw Jake Lonergan in Cowboys & Aliens (2011), to investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), plus an uncredited turn as a Stormtrooper in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), Craig has shown himself to have broad tastes when it comes to his career.

The star has also pivoted to a new franchise, the whodunnit hit, Knives Out. Playing Southern sleuth Benoit Blanc in the star-studded 2019 film, two sequels have been announced in a Netflix deal that will net Craig about $100 million. Set to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, beside Moore, no less, Craig’s next venture is one beloved of Hollywood stars looking to flex their talents. He’ll be treading the boards as Macbeth on Broadway, opposite Ruth Negga’s Lady Macbeth.

Pierce Brosnan

Irish actor Pierce Brosnan's Bond, although often overshadowed by his gadgets, allowed the actor to parlay his success into a varied post-007 career. Moviestore / Shutterstock

Taking over from Dalton, Brosnan, 68, breathed new life into the franchise with 1995’s acclaimed GoldenEye. Starring in four Bond films between 1995 and 2002, while the Irish actor brought the steely-eyed coldness at the heart of the spy, his outings were overshadowed by increasingly outlandish gadgets.

Sources, including Brosnan himself still seem unsure as to why he was abruptly let go from the franchise, when he expected to make his fifth outing in Casino Royale. With everything from salary disagreements to the darker, grittier direction producers wanted to take the character in cited.

“I was in the Bahamas, working on a movie called After the Sunset and my agents called me up and said, ‘Negotiations have stopped. [Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson] are not quite sure what they want to do,’” Brosnan said in the book Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films by Ajay Chowdhury and Matthew Field.

“Barbara and Michael were on the line. ‘We’re so sorry.’ She was crying, Michael was stoic and he said, ‘You were a great James Bond. Thank you very much,’ and I said, ‘Thank you very much. Goodbye.’ That was it. I was utterly shocked and just kicked to the kerb with the way it went down.”

Brosnan parlayed his tenure as Bond into roles which played off his portrayal of the famous suave agent. Taking on the title role in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair, playing the smooth-talking charismatic art thief was particularly Bond-esque. As was his turn as MI6 agent Andy Osnard in 2001’s John Le Carre-adaptation of The Tailor of Panama. And fans will find a familiar-sounding man in a disillusioned hitman Julian Noble, Brosnan's character in 2005's The Matador.

Brosnan also made sure to branch out after Bond, trying his hand at a musical in the hit Mamma Mia! trilogy, comedy in The World’s End and turning to the streaming platform as King Rowan in Amazon Prime Video’s recent Cinderella.

“Bond is the gift that keeps giving and has allowed me to have a wonderful career,” he told The Guardian newspaper. “Once you’re branded as a Bond, it’s with you for ever, so you better make peace with it and you’d better understand that when you walk through those doors and pick up the mantle of playing James Bond.”

Timothy Dalton

Timothy Dalton's tenure lasted for only two Bond films - 'The Living Daylights' and 'Licence to Kill'. Getty Images

Following in Moore’s footsteps was always going to be a tricky balancing act, and unfortunately for Welsh-born Dalton, 75, his time as Bond is often overlooked. The actor appeared in only two Bond films, The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).

After Dalton’s second outing, it would be another six years before James Bond appeared onscreen again when Brosnan took up the mantle in 1995’s GoldenEye. However, things were not supposed to work out that way. Dalton was in fact slated to star in his third Bond film, with pre-production work starting in May 1990 and the 17th film set for release the following year.

A complicated legal matter put paid to the franchise, which remained dormant for six years. Dalton told The Week news magazine, “[Broccoli] said, quite rightly, ‘Look, Tim. You can’t do one. There's no way, after a five-year gap between movies, that you can come back and just do one’.” He “respectfully declined” to continue in the role, resigning in April 1994.

A stage actor who cut his teeth at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Dalton made the leap into film and had played celebrated roles including Marc Anthony and Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester. Between Bonds, Dalton took on a lot of TV work, including as Rhett Butler in a miniseries of Gone with the Wind, and as Julius Caesar in a limited series about Cleopatra. Roles in recent years include Doctor Who, voicing Mr Pricklepants in Toy Story and as Sir Malcolm Murray in TV noir Penny Dreadful.

Retrospectives have reframed Dalton’s Bond as having had a great impact on Craig’s portrayal. “They want Bond to be closer to the original Ian Fleming character,” wrote The Guardian. “They want him to be grittier, darker and less jokey. What they really want, it seems, is to have Dalton back.”

Roger Moore

Roger Moore played James Bond more than any other actor, a total of seven times. Getty Images

Taking over from the Bond no-one talks about, the one-and-done George Lazenby, Moore was already an established television star when 007 came knocking. Appearing in seven Bond films, the actor portrayed the super-spy from 1973’s Live and Let Die up until 1985’s A View to a Kill.

A former knitwear and toothpaste model, Moore worked consistently throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s opposite the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner. It was television series The Saint, in which he played the eternally cool Simon Templar, and as Lord Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders that laid the groundwork for Moore to step effortlessly into Bond’s shoes.

“I tried to find out what Bond was all about,” he told the Entertainment Weekly magazine, “but you can't tell much from the books. There's the line that says: ‘He didn't take pleasure in killing, but took pride in doing it well.’ So that’s what I did. But the other side of me was saying: ‘This is a famous spy, everyone knows his name, and every bartender in the world knows he likes martinis shaken, not stirred. Come on, it’s all a big joke!’ So, most of the time, I played it tongue-in-cheek.”

Moore parlayed his “tongue-in-cheek” approach to roles in Curse of the Pink Panther and Canonball Run in between his 007 outings, as well as a cameo in 1997’s Spice World, but tellingly he didn’t appear onscreen for five years after his final Bond outing.

“Listen, if I say I’m **** as an actor, then the critic can’t, because I've already said it,” he said to EW. “For years my agents would tell me: ‘You've got to stop saying these things about yourself. People will believe you.’ So? They may also be pleasantly surprised.”

The actor died in 2017 aged 89.

Sean Connery

The original James Bond Sean Connery's post-007 career won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and many acclaimed and beloved roles, including as Harrison Ford's father, Professor Henry Jones in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. Getty Images

His death last year at the age of 90 resulted in a deluge of retrospectives for the man considered by many to have been the ultimate Bond. Starring in six Bond films, discounting that disputed seventh outing in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, Connery was the first actor to portray Bond onscreen in Dr. No in 1962, a role he returned to again and again until You Only Live Twice in 1967.

After David Niven and Lazenby’s attempts to capture the charisma of Ian Fleming’s creation failed in 1967 and 1969, respectively, Connery returned in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever. The Scottish former bodybuilder’s post-Bond career was encapsulated by Craig who said after the actor's death: "Sir Sean Connery will be remembered as Bond and so much more.”

After hanging up his Walther PPK, Connery was rarely off the big screen. Anti-heroes became his stock in trade and he starred as Robin Hood in Robin and Marian (1976); the Green Knight in Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984) – a role recently revisited by rumoured Bond contender Dev Patel – King Arthur in First Knight (1995); Robert MacDougall in Entrapment (1999); and John Patrick Mason in The Rock (1996).

Undeniably, it was his role as Professor Henry Jones in 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that remains one of his most memorable outside of Bond canon. He is also, so far, the only Bond actor to win an Oscar, in 1988 for The Untouchables.

“A complete sensualist. Senses highly tuned, awake to everything, quite amoral. I particularly like him because he thrives on conflict,” Connery has said of his cinematic alter-ego. Later encapsulating one of cinema’s greatest and most enduring legends thus: “Bond is important: this invincible superman that every man would like to copy, that every woman would like to conquer, this dream we all have of survival. And then one can’t help liking him.”

Updated: October 12, 2021, 1:00 PM