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Roger Moore: "It's all a bit of a joke"

Copyright © Sunday Stars Time - 16 November 2008

As an actor, Roger Moore always made a pretty good menswear model. Have a look on YouTube: remind yourself of the creaking, eyebrow-raising introduction to each episode of 1960s' TV series The Saint. Behold the clunky seduction patter and even more ardent eyebrow-wiggling of his first James Bond movie, 1973's Live and Let Die.

 

Occasionally, he would spread his wings: he could do a deep resonant chuckle, a bemused double-take, and a faintly concerned look while at the wheel of a speeding car/snowmobile/jetski/helicopter. In Moonraker, they used a wind machine to make his face wobble with rocket lift-off, pseudo g-forces.

On the phone from London's Sheraton Hotel, where he has just begun a marathon globetrotting publicity tour for his autobiography, My Word Is My Bond, Moore claims damning descriptions of his acting have always amused rather than upset him.

He is 81. He is very, very rich, and lives in Monaco and Switzerland because he didn't like paying high taxes in England. And he's had half a century to get used to bad reviews. He claims his favourite is from 1956, for his first big Hollywood role, when he played a moustachioed prince opposite Lana Turner in the almost-entirely-forgotten costume drama Diana.

As he recalls it, the review went something like: "`Lana Turner as Diane de Poitiers came on the screen with a clattering of high heels and fluttering eyelashes, followed by a lump of English roast beef'.

"I found that hysterically funny."

His voice is very deep, and only a little gravelly with age. The accent is posh, all traces of a working-class, South London accent extinguished by a "very well-spoken" mother who would scold her son for saying "ain't", and the six months Moore spent learning how to act and talk proper at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

He doesn't mind that he was seldom required to do more than wiggle his eyebrows and look handsome. After all, he had done a little knitwear catalogue modelling work between his early British theatre roles (leading Michael Caine to nickname him the "big knit".)

"I didn't find any talent was being stretched by any manner of means, but those were the kind of parts I played.

"Every actor's got an ego, thinking `God, I could have played that' or `I would have loved to have been Lear', but I've been very satisfied with what I've had."

Which is seven movies as James Bond between 1973 and 1985; long stints in the action adventure TV series The Persuaders with Tony Curtis in the early 1970s, and seven years as The Saint in the 1960s.

Before full-blown fame there were 20 years of middling theatre, film and TV roles in the UK and US. It is this section of Moore's memoir that is most entertaining, a succession of gossipy anecdotes starring Moore and the many famous and funny people he worked and played with: David Niven, Noel Coward, Lew Grade, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Lana Turner, Debbie Reynolds, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and on and name-droppingly on.

The book is as relentlessly lightweight as the roles that made him famous. It rattles through his pleasant conkers-and-cigarette-cards upbringing, son of a policeman and a cashier, and breezes with little explanation over the failure of his first three marriages to an actress then a singer then an actress. He fails to dish much dirt on anyone, admitting to a deep loathing of Grace Jones and Jean-Claude van Damme, but coyly drawing a veil over exactly why. There is a rather funny story about the time Tony Curtis called Joan Collins a c---, though, and he gets in a dig at his third wife (and mother of his three children) by revealing that when they went on a cruise he won a shipboard award for most henpecked husband.

Filmmaking seems effortless: all jolly japes and dropping snakes in co-stars' shoes for a laugh. "My Bond was a lover and a giggler," he writes.

The overwhelming impression is of someone unable to take anything seriously, or even take much responsibility for his actions. He emigrated to avoid the Labour government's 1974 wealth taxes because "my accountants said I could no longer afford to live in Britain". He bought a Rolls even though he thought them pretentious because "my financial advisers said, `You've earned it'." He appeared in cigarette ads despite being anti-smoking and limply writes, "but I was never shown smoking a cigarette, if that mitigates me slightly".

According to the UK Mail, when Moore left his second wife, Dorothy Squires for Italian actress Luisa Mattioli, it was left to the Moores' local GP, Dr Plunkett, to break the news to Dorothy that the marriage was over. Was Roger Moore a cad?

"Maybe I was. They're so easy to play," says Moore. "I think you become aware from reading the book that I'm a person that doesn't like confrontation. I walk away from an argument."

And that's why he walked out on threemarriages?

"Yep. Absolutely."

His fourth marriage in 2002, to his neighbour Kristina Tholstrup, a wealthy Swedish socialite, is still going strong. The secret? "Having the last word. Saying `yes, darling'."

Ba-da-boom. But wait, there's more: "We have a wonderful relationship. She loves me and I love me."

Do you ever take life seriously? "The times you take it seriously are when you're screaming for morphine because you're having a bout of renal colic."

Ah yes, the illnesses. Off-screen, the man who played Bond always had something wrong with him: mumps, tonsils, adenoids and pneumonia in his youth; recurrent kidney stones and on-set injuries during filming ("There I was," he writes, "a fearless 007, hobbling on a cane to my boat then pretending to be indestructible for the cameras. Who says I can't act?"); and in recent years prostate cancer and a pacemaker. Plus the hypochondria: Moore thanks 17 doctors in the acknowledgements.

Moore has become serious about one thing in the years since his film career went off the boil. In 1991, Moore's neighbour in Switzerland, Audrey Hepburn, roped him into supporting Unicef, the United Nations children's charity, and he has been involved since, lending his face to fundraisers and conferences. It has opened his eyes.

"Once I got out into the field and saw it for myself, that was it. I realised that if there was something where I could be any use whatsoever, it would be in helping to change the way things are for young people in the developing world."

Like US presidents, becoming James Bond is for life. "Drivers always seem to think that I want to be driven fast `I'll show James Bond how to drive' and all that. Even though it's a hundred years since I played Bond."

For a time Moore avoided his successors' movies. "If I didn't like it, and I said I thought it was crap, I would be deemed a miserable jealous bastard." He has seen a few though, including Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's first Bond movie. "I thought he was terrific," he says, with what sounds like sincerity.

"But all the actors who have done it have been good. They're not required to play more than an extension of their own personality."

Which explains, perhaps why Moore's James Bond was humorous, handsome and shallow as a biscuit-tin lid a prime lump of English roast beef.

"My contention about my light portrayal of Bond is this," he says. "How can he be a spy, yet walk into any bar in the world and have the bartender recognise him and serve him his favourite drink? Come on, it's all a bit of a joke."

 

 

 
 
 

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