With the James Bond HD season kicking off on Sky Movies, IGN recently had the chance to sit down with actor Christopher Lee to discuss the many villainous characters he has portrayed throughout his career.
In addition to being a cousin of 007 creator Ian Fleming, Lee also acted opposite Roger Moore in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun as lead villain Francisco Scaramanga. Before this however, he mentions that Fleming had thought him suitable for the role of Dr. No.
Lee states: ‘Most of the time I saw Ian on the golf course at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, which he immortalised in Goldfinger. I said congratulations on your book Casino Royale and he said: “I’ve written another one: Dr. No, have you read it?” And I said “Yes. Great characters. Wonderful.” Dr. No was this immensely tall Chinese man with contact lenses which he taps with his steel claws. Ian said, “Well, you’ve played Chinese haven’t you? You are very tall and of course you’ll have to be taller, but would you be interested in playing Dr. No?” I said “My god, I certainly would.” He said he’d talk to the producers. And he did, but too late. By the time he got around to talking to Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman they’d already cast Joseph Wiseman, a very fine actor who is, as far as I know, still alive.’
Flash forward about 10 years and Lee, who had made a very successful career portraying various iconic villains, including Count Dracula, was finally given the opportunity to add Bond villain to his resume.
‘It’s not all that rare y’know? I asked my doctor and he said “It’s not at all weird”. It’s anything but.’ –Lee on Scaramanga’s third nipple
‘I got a call from Guy Hamilton, whom I’d known for many years, inviting me to lunch at The White Elephant, a showbiz restaurant in Curzon Street,’ Lee said. ‘I had no idea he was going to make The Man with the Golden Gun. He said, “I’m going to give you a script for a James Bond movie”. I thought, “Oh, at last”. He continued: “We’d like you to play Scaramanga”. And I said: “Wasn’t this man a West Indian and kind of a thug? A brute who went around bars where there were caged birds blowing them apart and things like that?” To which he replied: “No, he’s not like that at all. Read the script. It’s much more interesting.” And I did! The answer is of course I liked it very much.
Like several of the villains featured in Fleming’s 007 novels, the character of Scaramanga was in fact based on an fellow student at Eton. Lee explains: ‘There was a real Scaramanga. It’s a real name. He was at Eton with Ian who disliked him intensely, so of course, he made him the heavy.’
‘[The character I play] is a great improvement on the character in the book. He’s attractive to women. He has a sense of humour. He’s the dark side of Bond and yet he could be amusing. He was almost like a child in some ways. The way he shoots the cork out of the Champagne bottle, “Aha, this toy!”
To many Bond fans, probably the most famous location featured in The Man with the Golden Gun was the tiny Phuket island, or ‘James Bond Island’, a southern province of Thailand.
‘Now it’s like Miami. I went back to the island with my wife and it’s covered with stalls and people selling souvenirs.’ –Lee on revisiting Phuket island
Discussing the filming conditions here, Lee said: ‘We weren’t allowed to take wives or anything like that. There was only one woman on the production, the continuity lady. It was pretty primitive to say the least. A very small village which they tried to do up with polished granite floors and so on. Phuket was nothing in those days.’
He continues: ‘Now it’s like Miami. I went back to the island with my wife and it’s covered with stalls and people selling souvenirs. You could hardly see the sand. I was pointing things out to her when a tourist suddenly said: “Aren’t you?”. And I said “No, no, no, I’ve never been here before,” and fled. Otherwise I’d probably still be there signing autographs.’
Head over to IGN for the complete interview, including details on working alongside Hervé Villechaize (Nick Nack) as well as whether or not he’ll resprise his role as Saruman for the forthcoming The Hobbit.
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