The Big Picture
- Pierce Brosnan originally auditioned for the role of James Bond in 1987 but had to wait until the mid-’90s to step into the super spy’s shoes.
- Timothy Dalton’s James Bond films in the late ’80s were a fresh start for the franchise, bringing the character back to a more grounded and serious tone.
- Brosnan’s era as Bond returned to the camp and silliness of Roger Moore’s years, leading to the need for a reinvention that ultimately brought us Daniel Craig’s iconic era.
Pierce Brosnan is the perfect James Bond to have come from the mid-’90s and run through the early 2000s, but did you know that he originally auditioned for 1987’s The Living Daylights? Almost an entire decade before he debuted in Goldeneye, Brosnan was in the running to snatch up one of the most coveted roles of all time but would have to wait a while before he could actually step into the super spy’s shoes. Instead, Timothy Dalton would take the reins in Roger Moore‘s wake, taking the franchise in a darker and grittier direction than it had been in since the late 1960s. Had Brosnan stepped into the franchise in the ’80s, there’s a chance that we might have ended up in Die Another Day territory earlier than 2002. So while this direction in history would have been interesting, it’s ultimately great that Dalton had his time in the light while he did.
By the time A View to a Kill was released in 1985, Roger Moore had been playing James Bond for 12 years. While Roger Moore’s James Bond run initially rode the line between being charming and retaining the original Bond swagger of Sean Connery‘s era, his movies ended up falling hardcore into camp territory. While the later Moore movies aren’t miserable watching experiences (they’re actually still a ton of fun), they definitely took Bond too far from his tonal roots. Gadgets were all the rage, cheesy one-liners popped up around every corner, an aging Moore grossly continued to score Bond girls who were more than half his age, and plot synopsis became more and more ridiculous (Bond in space — do I really need to say anything else?). Needless to say, when it came time for Bond to be re-casted, if EON Productions wanted the series to retain any chances of longevity, the character would have to be reinvented to some degree.
The Living Daylights
James Bond is sent to investigate a KGB policy to kill all enemy spies and uncovers an arms deal that potentially has major global ramifications.
- Release Date
- July 31, 1987
- John Glen
- Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Jeroen Krabbé
Why Didn’t Pierce Brosnan Play James Bond in ‘The Living Daylights’?
With the turn of the ’80s came time for a new Bond, meaning plenty of up-and-coming actors’ hats would be thrown in the ring, with the role coming down to three actors. Future Jurassic Park star Sam Neill would audition for the part, but things didn’t quite line up for him. Instead, it came down to future franchise leaders Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. The two would screen test for the role, with both proving to be fantastic choices for the part. Initially, producers wanted Dalton for the part, but because of a scheduling issue, he had to turn down the offer.
This ended up putting the role in Brosnan’s court, an offer that would have to be impossible to turn down. Unfortunately for him, he was dead in the middle of a contract to continue acting in the TV show Remington Steele, so he had to turn down the offer for Bond. The disappointment that man must have felt is unfathomable. Soon after this, Remington Steele was canceled, and Brosnan was free to play the part. All of this drama around Brosnan and his potential casting as Bond brought enough attention back to the show though that NBC decided not to cancel Steele, and once again, Brosnan had to turn the part down. Brosnan has been open about this stretch of his career leaving him “heartbroken,” but thankfully for him, he would go on to become one of the most beloved actors to play the part. This whole period of casting-limbo gave Dalton enough time to free up his schedule again, opening the opportunity for him to finally say yes to the part. The fourth Bond of the official franchise had been cast, and The Living Daylights could finally move forward.
Timothy Dalton’s James Bond Movies Were Ahead of Their Time
The fifteenth EON-produced Bond film would prove to be exactly what the franchise needed, even if audiences didn’t know it at the time. The Living Daylights was not only a fresh start with a new actor, but it also brought the character back to basics… mostly. Timothy Dalton’s first Bond film would be a much grittier take than his predecessor’s. Sure, there are some gags and one-liners, as well as a few over-the-top gadget moves, but by and large, Dalton’s first outing championed a more grounded, serious take on the character than audiences had seen in years. The film follows 007 as he uncovers and makes moves to dismantle an arms deal that could lead to catastrophic repercussions. Yes, a much more reasonable hurdle for the world’s most famous spy to take on than an outer space-based threat, or a massive assassin with super strength and metal teeth. These are fun elements in the classic Bond movies, but elements that went too far. The Living Daylights, literally, brought Bond back down to Earth.
While the late ’80s and early ’90s would leave Brosnan Bond-less, Dalton’s hold on the franchise would only last for two films, ending with License to Kill. The actor walked away from the role after the weight of years of commitment truly settled in for him. By the time Goldeneye was coming into the picture, Dalton was told by series producer Albert R. Broccoli “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. You’d have to plan on four or five.” The amount of time that his life would be consumed by the Bond franchise became real, so Dalton respectfully declined the option to take on a third film. By now, Brosnan was readily available, and the rest is history.
When Did Pierce Brosnan Finally Become James Bond?
What would come to pass is one of the very best Bond films… as well as a thematic and tonal undoing of Dalton’s years in the role. With Brosnan’s 1995 GoldenEye, the franchise would return to the camp that it retained in Moore’s years in the role, with the character being goofier, armed with more extravagant gadgets, and facing more over-the-top villains and evil plots than he had in years. These movies are still a lot of fun, with Die Another Day being particularly underrated (and dumber than ever), but took the series into full Austin Powers territory. Literally, the Mike Myers series began at the height of Brosnan’s era. This led to another desperate need for the series to be reinvented, leading to Daniel Craig‘s iconic James Bond era (one that Dalton’s films thematically pre-dated, big time).
The James Bond movies come in different flavors for fans everywhere. If you want silly and bombastic Bond movies, the Moore and Brosnan entries are there for you. Feeling super serious and dark? Maybe go more for the movies of Dalton and Craig, or even George Lazenby’s killer one-off On Her Majesty’s Secret Service! If you need the perfect balance though, there’s always our boy Sean Connery. That’s what’s fun about the character — there are so many different ways that he can be taken. The close call in almost casting Brosnan in the late 80s is a fascinating “sliding doors” moment for the character. Who knows if we still would have had the types of movies that we did with Living Daylights or License, or if the series would have returned to its campy corner sooner than it did. Either way, we’re lucky to have had both Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan in the role, two equally fascinating and influential James Bonds in their own rights.
The Living Daylights is available to stream on Prime Video in the U.S.
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