Roger Moore: ‘I was too smooth, before time rolled its evil tracks across my gob’
The ex-007 talks movies, marriages and how Aidan Turner would look good as Bond
Sir Roger Moore: Why does he always insist he wasn’t a great actor when people ask about his films? “Well, I’ve seen them, you see.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Roger Moore in “Octopussy” (1983), his sixth out of seven as James Bond: “It’s nice to be associated with something that’s successful. It’s better than being associated with a murder that went wrong.”
“This man is very important,” says Sir Roger Moore, inaccurately, as he shakes my hand. The former Bond, Saint, Maverick and Persuader is 89 years old, dressed in a blazer and a pink tie. His voice is deep and smooth. His famous eyebrows are ever-expressive. He is very funny and very charming.
When getting a photo taken together, I raise my hand awkwardly to wave. “Oh, are you a fascist?” he inquires politely.
Moore is in Dublin promoting An Evening with Sir Roger Moore, during which he will talk about his long and storied career on front of a live audience.
“It’s very good because it improves my memory,” he says. “It’s the wonderful thing about memory, how it can be jogged by a word or a picture that brings a thought that brings another thought. They have a terrible time shutting me up.’”
An only child from Stockwell, in south London, Moore was the son of Lillian, a kindly woman “who animals would follow home” and George, a police draughtsman who was also an amateur actor and magician. “He went by the name Haphazard the Hazy Wizard,” says Moore.
Where did he get that posh accent? He adopts an even deeper, posher voice. “In the womb,” he says. “Hello. I’m speaking to you from the navel. This is a womb with a view . . . At Rada we had to speak with what is called a West End actor’s voice. They iron out all of your imperfections, but I think it probably takes away people’s individuality.”
His acting career didn’t take too long to take off, but he worked for a while as a knitwear model. “I called myself Knit One, Drop One, Purl One, Plain. All I wanted was enough money on Friday to buy Passing Cloud cigarettes.”
More depth would be nice
Despite what he insists was a lack of ambition, Moore was put on contract with MGM and then Warner Brothers, and became a go-to heroic type. He’d have loved to have played something with a bit more depth, he says, but he was too good looking. “I was too smooth,” he says and laughs, “before time rolled its evil tracks across my gob.”
Because of his looks, he says he didn’t get his bigger roles until his 30s. “When I started The Saint I was 35 and Lew Grade suggested I grey up my temples. And [when I started Bond] I was 45, so it was hard work. A lot of gymnastics.”
Why does he always insist he wasn’t a great actor when people ask about his films? “Well, I’ve seen them, you see.”
His skill was doing nothing, he says, and he talks about tricks he learned from other actors. Glenn Ford told him that to get more of your face on screen, point your downstage toe at the camera. He recalls Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr holding a dinner at the New York Friars’ Club in his honour.
“Hollywood is a bit like a street car,” Grant told him. “You get on at one end and you work your way up the front and then you get off as somebody else is getting on.”
Did Moore have any doubts about taking over James Bond after Sean Connery quit the role? “No,” he says firmly. He only ever got nervous on the day of the first press screening.
“I was 20 minutes away and thought: ‘Supposing they don’t like it?’ But it’s a bit like having a baby. You’re on the way to the delivery room, your waters have broken, you’re getting contractions every two minutes, the baby’s going to come out good, bad or indifferent. And if they don’t like it, as Tony Curtis would say, ‘f**k ’em and feed ’em fish’.”
Shaken not stirred
In seven films between 1973-1985, Moore’s Bond had an eyebrow perpetually raised in ironic detachment. “My feeling was what sort of spy is this?” (He sings that bit.) “How can you be a spy when everyone knows who you are? You walk into a bar. ‘Ah, Mr Bond. Martini, shaken not stirred?’”
He enjoyed the fame the part brought, he says. “It’s nice to be associated with something that’s successful. It’s better than being associated with a murder that went wrong.”
How does he feel about how Bond has changed? “Well, nothing stays still. Taxis change shape. Policemen get younger. Everything changes for good, bad or indifferent. I think Bond has had to change, because there have been the Jason Bournes and the Avengers things – Superman, Spider-Man, Penisman and God knows what. Bond is catering to an audience who have seen all those films.”
He thinks Aidan Turner would be a good candidate for the job, incidentally. “He would look good as Bond, I think.”
Twice during our conversation, Moore’s phone rings (his ringtone is jaunty organ music). The first time it’s his daughter calling to thank him for a birthday present. “I was 36 when she was born, my first child,” he says, “and I just sat everywhere with this stupid smile on my face . . . as though no one had ever had a child before.”
When it rings again it’s his son. “Oh God, sorry, another enfant,” he says, and then tells me all about each of his three children and many grandchildren.
One of his sons lives in Monaco, as does Moore himself. He originally moved to the south of France in the late 1970s in order to avoid the British taxman and save money for leaner years ahead: “But I didn’t save that much.”
Moore acquired a house in France, two houses in California, an apartment in London, a house in Italy, an apartment in Monaco and a house in Switzerland. “They’re gone with the wind,” he says after listing them. “That’s the penalty you pay for being a bad boy.”
Was he a bad boy? “Well, I sort of left the family home,” he says. (Moore is talking about leaving his third wife, Luisa Mattioli, for his current wife, her friend Kristina Tholstrup. ) “So you had to make an adjustment. But it was worth it because I have a wonderful wife.”
Things you don’t talk about
Moore’s marriage to Tholstrup is his fourth. His earliest two were tumultuous and troubled, though he reportedly paid for second wife Dorothy Squires’s cancer treatment when she was dying. “We don’t talk about things like that,” he says. Then he’s silent for a moment. “Life is a funny old thing, isn’t it?”
Moore himself battled prostate cancer himself in the 1990s and just this year he lost his stepdaughter, Christina Knudson, to cancer.
“I didn’t know people could cry as much as her mother,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to stop. Every day something makes her think of Christina. How deep is that well where the tears are coming from? The last couple of days have been a little better. Anyway, that’s my problem.”
He goes on to talk about the guilt he felt shooting Bond movies while “surrounded by abject poverty in places like India”. This ultimately led him to becoming a goodwill ambassador for Unicef, through which he learned about dehydration and iodine deficiencies and “life and death in the favelas”.
When Moore was 30, he says, he had a conversation that changed his life. The studio didn’t think he sounded American enough for a role as the Duke of Wellington’s nephew (he laughs as he tells me this) and asked him to work with a dialogue coach, Joe Graham. Graham’s first question was: “Do you believe in God?” .
Moore said they talked about “faith, credulity and acceptance of certain barriers in life. It changed my attitude to acting and to life. Graham said: ‘You’re born geographically in a good place, you’re born healthy, you’re born with even features, you’re born tall. This is just given to you. It’s loaned to you.’”
And then a press person informs us that the interview is nearly over. I’m sad it’s ending. So is Moore, apparently. “I’m talking about myself,” he protests. “And it’s very interesting.”
An Evening with Sir Roger Moore will take place on Sunday, November 20th at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.