Did you know there’s a class about James Bond? I didn’t either until I spent the second semester of my junior year abroad in England at the Syracuse University London campus sitting in “James Bond and British Masculinity.” With the newest Bond flick hitting theaters today, Nov. 6 (the 24th in the series), I’m finding myself nostalgic for the class but also excited to see what Spectre has in store for one of my favorite characters.
The 15-week course was set up so we would meet twice a week: once on Tuesday nights for movie screenings and once again on Friday mornings for follow-up discussion. Until then, I had never even seen a Bond film; so when I say all I knew about James Bond was his name, I mean it. We watched 12 films over the course of the semester. Needless to say, I know a lot more about James Bond than I ever thought I would.
The author of the James Bond series, Ian Fleming, named the famous character after a Caribbean birdwatcher. Well, technically this birdwatcher was an ornithologist who wrote Birds of the West Indies, a guidebook that sat on fellow bird connoisseur Fleming’s shelf when he caught sight of the author’s name: James Bond, the dullest name he’d ever heard. That’s right. The suave secret agent, known for his fast car-driving, hard-drinking, and lady-loving tendencies was named after a perfectly average Joe. That literary character, partly inspired by Fleming’s time as a British spy, would go on to be played by seven actors.
Fleming had a lot of influence in the early Bond films, but he lost out when it came to selecting who would play the spy on screen. Scottish actor Sean Connery nabbed the role despite not making it on Fleming’s own long list of actors he wanted to portray his character. The author once reportedly called Connery an “overdeveloped stuntman.” But the actor was tan, brusque, and muscular–how the production company imagined Bond would be–and audiences (and I!) fell in love. Connery’s performance eventually won Fleming over, to the point that the author added a Scottish ancestry to Bond’s lineage in later books.
While Connery’s Bond was well-known for his over cartoonish charm, Daniel Craig’s interpretation reflects Fleming’s much darker literary model most closely. In Craig’s first appearance as Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, he kills two men with his bare hands and chugs a glass of Scotch while he changes out of blood-soaked clothing. Before this, the movie character had been toned down to create a more relatable version of the spy. In the book, Bond is a borderline alcoholic and actually suffers hangovers. In the movies, he can down a few shaken martinis, kick some ass, and wake up the next morning clear-headed enough to do it again. Even the violence in the novels was simmered down to fist fighting and some distant gunshots in the movies. Nothing close to the darkness that appears to inhabit Craig’s Bond. I bet Ian Fleming never imagined that his average Joe would turn out quite so extraordinary.