Sunday, April 25, 2010

Will there be a new James Bond?

Came the news from BBC last week of speculation that Daniel Craig may not repeat as James Bond, the suave British superagent and walking movie franchise. Financial troubles at the constantly beleaguered MGM studio have forced the Bond 007 production team to shelve work on the 23rd James Bond film indefinitely while the suits at the studio do what Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger and Ernst Stavro Blofeld couldn’t: keep James Bond in a state of suspended animation.

While Craig himself said he expects work to resume, this kind of thing has happened before. “A six-year gap between 1989 and 1995 saw the departure of one Bond — Welsh actor Timothy Dalton — and the installation of another, Irish-born Pierce Brosnan,” BBC reports. “A four-year break between 2002 and 2006, meanwhile, saw Brosnan leave the series and Craig take over.”

Not missing an opportunity to place a seductive wager, Brit bookmaker William Hill says “Avatar” star Sam Worthington could be next. William Hill makes the Australian Worthington (who reportedly tested for the 007 role before Craig was secured) a 5/2 favorite to take over if Craig moves on.

But even more interesting is one who got honorable mention. William Hill thinks Christian Bale is 7/1 for the role — the same odds the bookmaker gives for … Will Smith.

Nope, not a typo. Not a wager from the bizzarro world. Even if it’s destined to never be more than idle speculation and fodder for conversation in the break room, it’s interesting nonetheless. Of all the actors on the planet William Hill could speculate on as a 007 successor, they picked Will Smith to be, uh, a dark horse candidate.

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This kind of thing has happened before. In December 2008, Sean (Diddy) Combs, hip-hop artist, producer, fashion and fragrances mogul and Broadway-seasoned actor, went public on YouTube with a video intended to push his I Am King men’s fragrance, and an “audition tape” to promote himself as … the next James Bond.

“I am best suited to be the next James Bond, OK?” Diddy says in the Dec. 7, 2008 video. “We got a black president, you know, it’s time for a black Bond.”

The Bond brain trust — longtime producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson — would likely be shaken and stirred by that genre-rattling prospect. Setting aside Diddy’s flimsy reasoning for making such a profound change in a storied film franchise, a black Bond would no doubt upset the legions of fans frankly accustomed to seeing Bond kick ass as a white guy. And there’s also the little matter of satisfying the minders of the Ian Fleming estate, who could be expected to have some … reaction.

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But look at it another way. There are two constants in Hollywood. (1) Things Change. (2) That Which Puts Asses in Theater Seats, Rules. On that basis, Will Smith’s odds might not be so long after all. As a reflection of changes in society for which the election of President Obama was an indicator and not a catalyst, Will Smith as 007 would be a striking departure from the past. He has the acting chops, and the range: from comedy to sci-fi, action films to straight historical roles.

If William Hill wants to place a handsome bet, they could wager on how well a Bond film with Smith at the helm would do in its first weekend. The Bond team could count on a killer opening; the curiosity factor alone would make for huge box-office.

On that score, Smith’s reputation for fulfilling Constant (2) precedes him handsomely. In April 2007, Newsweek coronated him as the most powerful actor on the planet, with more than $4.4 billion in box office. And that was before “Hancock” and “Seven Pounds,” both released in 2008, padded his total to more than $5.1 billion.

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He’s the only actor in history to have eight straight films each gross more than $100 million in U.S. box office, and he’s the only actor to have eight consecutive films he starred in open as No. 1 in U.S. box-office receipts.

"Will Smith is the only thing in this business — the only thing — that represents a guaranteed opening weekend," one “industry insider” told the magazine.

Ironically, the one thing that will probably keep this from ever happening is Smith’s stunning success. The IMDb Web site has reported that Smith has a variety of projects already lined up through 2014, including sequels of “Men in Black,” “Hancock,” “I, Robot” and “Independence Day.”

But you never know. Don’t forget Constant (1). With the global punch of the similarly powerful 007 brand and his own phenomenal track record, such a merger of equals could mean another triumph of the Will.

Image credits: Craig: Via Worthington: Warner Bros. Sean (Diddy) Combs: Lisa O'Connor/Zuma Press. Will Smith: Paul Stanley; republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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