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"The Saint and ... The Sinner"

Copyright © The Mail Online - 17 Oct. 2008

 

An interviewer, I know, should be impartial, but I think I am in love with Roger Moore.

Most film stars I have met either behave like RAF pilots being interrogated by the Nazis, and will only divulge their name and serial number, or arrive while you are on your sixth cup of coffee, before launching into a tedious series of self-indulgent recollections.

Sir Roger - he was knighted in 2003 for his services to UNICEF - formerly James Bond and the longest-running 007 to date, (beating Sean Connery by one film) is a dream.

He arrives at our rendez-vous in a Cheltenham hotel (where he is promoting his autobiography My Word Is My Bond) five minutes early. He looks even more suave and elegant than he did in his films.

He is wearing a navy blazer with gold buttons, a crisp white shirt, a red and white striped tie and a mischievous twinkle in his lucent blue eyes.

Connery wouldn't have worn this Riviera-style get-up, but the famously natty Ian Fleming might. 'It's so nice of you to come and see me,' Moore says in his chiffon baritone.

He is 81, but the nubile waitress serving us is already looking as though she is about to mouth: 'Oh, James!' It is like watching a film about the world's most famous spy in retirement.

The news has just broken that the gun used by Christopher Lee's three-nippled villain in The Man With The Golden Gun has been stolen. It's worth an estimated £80,000. 'Stolen was it? Search Lee's house!' exclaims Moore, raising what are, along with Denis Healey's, the world's most famous eyebrows.

He chuckles. Moore chuckles a lot. Indeed he is so good-tempered that spending time with him is a pleasure, like eating an expensively wrapped box of champagne truffles.

'Was the gun really made of gold?' I ask. 'Oh, no,' he replies, stirring his espresso (his fingers are tanned and tapered). 'It's worth so much because of its value as Bond memorabilia.'

I ask him what history will judge to be the most famous piece of Bond memorabilia. Moore doesn't miss a beat. 'Daniel Craig's jock strap.' He chuckles again.

There is no malevolence in his words even though, according to a recent survey, his Bond wasn't 'gritty' enough for modern audiences. I ask him what he thinks of Craig's interpretation, which is so gritty it could pave the streets.

Quantum Of Solace, Craig's much anticipated follow-up to his first Bond film, Casino Royale, is released at the end of this month.

'I bought the DVD of Casino Royale. I was curious because before the film came out the Press had been quite unkind to Craig because he was blond and short.'

Moore pauses, before delivering a deliciously naughty verdict: 'Daniel Craig, I think, will be remembered along with Ursula Andress - for coming out of the sea with more than Ursula had!'

He continues, charmingly: 'I thought Craig's physical ability was amazing. But I don't know. I'm just a lover.' He chortles again. It is becoming a case of the Moore the merrier.

Despite churlish critics carping at his debonair interpretation of Bond, Moore was one of the world's top box office stars for most of the 1970s. His first three Bond films, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me, are classics.

He is so iconic that Amy Winehouse refers to him on her latest album: 'You tear men down like Roger Moore.' He has no idea why. 'I probably just rhymed with door. Or she couldn't find anything to rhyme with Connery.'

Ah, Connery. His nemesis. He must be sick of people saying the burly Scotsman was the better Bond. Moore is too polite to attack Connery. 'I only skimmed through the actual Bond books by Fleming because I prefer Doctor In The House novels!' Then from where did he take his lead?

'Actually, I did read the books. I took my lead from a line in one of them. Bond had come back from Mexico where he had eliminated somebody.

The line went like this: 'He didn't like killing, but he took a pride in doing his job properly.' So I thought this is what I will do. I will not seem to enjoy violence. The line indicated that he derived no pleasure from killing.'

I mention Sean Connery's cat-like satisfaction after he had pumped someone full of bullets. 'Hmm. The hero must not be seen to enjoy killing or he becomes the villain.
I liked to dispose of people through wit or love - I'd squeeze them to death!' It seems that Moore wanted to get as far away from Connery's 007 as possible.

'We dropped Sean's catchphrases, most notably, "a Martini. Shaken, not stirred." But we had to keep, "the name's Bond. James Bond." I was always frightened that I would say it with a Scottish accent.' 'Shems,' he burrs and we burst into gales of laughter.

Moore's book, My Word Is My Bond, charts his childhood as the son of a Stockwell policeman, his year at RADA, his time in Hollywood in the Fifties, through his big break, when he was cast as The Saint in the classic TV series, and his four marriages.

It is full of anecdotes, many of them involving what he quaintly refers to as his 'wee man', which when he was eight a doctor recommended be circumcised.

'They made me wear these hospital bed socks. They were so scratchy and horrible.' He then announces: 'When I was in bed with Jane Seymour [his Bond girl in Live And Let Die] I wore socks.'

Er, why? Is it an idiosyncrasy of his? I ask tentatively. 'We were on a cold stage, so I wore socks. There were no heaters, just cables and the crew saying, 'Go on Rog!'

Jane, who was just 22, was almost virginal. Well, actually, she can't have been virginal as she was married at the time!'

Moore's autobiography is the funniest film memoir since David Niven's The Moon's A Balloon.

In 1954 Moore was cast in his first big Hollywood film, The Last Time I Saw Paris. It starred a luscious Elizabeth Taylor. Moore played a gigolo with whom Taylor nearly has an affair.

I have seen the film and Moore looked about 18, far too young to play a gigolo. He beams delightedly, rocking on his chair. 'I was 27 at the time, but I always looked like a baby. I looked like a baby until last week!'

I point out that most of his roles have been as smooth seducers. After his success as Simon Templar in The Saint, he joined forces with Tony Curtis in The Persuaders.

The pair played charming, wealthy womanisers. In a sense there was an inevitability about his progression to James Bond.

'Yes, I never played characters,' he jokes. 'I never played down and outs or drunks or people with psychological problems - only off screen! There I was a drunk with the biggest problems you've ever seen in your life.'

The Persuaders was a huge hit and now has a cult following but Tony Curtis, as Moore puts it, was 'excitable'.

'Walter Matthau told me a great story about Tony. He and Tony started out at the same time at the same drama school in New York and they had a wager as to who would 'make it' in Hollywood first.

'A year or so later, Walter was walking down the street when a stretch limo pulled up opposite. 'Hey, Walter! It's me! Bernie, Bernie Schwartz!' (Curtis's real name.) "I've made it in Hollywood! I f****d Yvonne de Carlo!'

'Tony didn't really get on with women,' ruminates Moore.

Curtis was also a bit of a wheeler dealer. Moore tells me that actors 'usually steal their clothes at the end of films.

After we finished The Persuaders I took what I wanted. Tony was given his clothes and the next morning he was on the set selling them all to the crew!'

After originally turning down the role of James Bond because of his TV commitments, Moore enjoyed his first outing as 007 in 1973 in Live And Let Die. He finally handed back his Walther PPK in 1985, aged 58.

Moore's leading ladies are certainly impressively beautiful: Jane Seymour, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Lois Chiles, Barbara Bach and the inimitable Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.

I wonder if this put a strain on his multiple marriages. Moore's first wife was an English ice skater and actress who adopted the exotic name of Doorn van Steyn.

He left her for the popular singer Dorothy Squires, who was 12 years his senior. The marriage was childless. After Moore found fame as Simon Templar he met his third wife Luisa Mattioli while filming in Italy.

He tells me, disarmingly, that 'Dorothy was very p****d off. She didn't give me a divorce for a long time.' Their marriage had been stormy.

When Dorothy found out about Luisa she tried to climb through the window of the flat where the lovers were trysting, announcing she was 'going to kill an Italian!' The police were called and Moore yelled: 'Take her to the nut-house.'

I ask if the age difference was too great. 'If the ladies in my life had not been older, they were old by the time the honeymoon was over!' he jests.

I am beginning to discern that Moore is uncomfortable talking about his personal life, especially when he was not very saintly, and turns the tables with a quip. 'I did feel guilty about Dorothy.' He spoils this a bit by adding with a grin: 'It goes away.'

I tell him to be serious for a moment. 'I had no joy in any of these things. I am an emotional coward. I can't stand a fight. I either shut up like a clam or leave.'

Moore shudders at confessional celebrities. 'No, I don't do navelgazing. It's me and my psychiatrist. I try to entertain. These people obviously hope to get a publicist or a newspaper deal. It's boring.'

He did shock some of his friends, however, when he left Luisa after 25 years of marriage and three children for her close friend Swedish socialite Kiki Tholstrup.

There is an uncomfortable silence. 'I don't want to...' he trails off. Eventually, he decides to go into jest-mode again. 'I wanted more of a quiet life. Luisa rightly got angry with me from time to time. I'm a sensitive sort!'

Now, Moore lives in retirement in Monte Carlo and Switzerland, mainly for tax reasons. 'I left when Labour was in power. The taxes were just too high.'

Would he come back? He shakes his head. 'I don't trust politicians.' At least Moore hasn't trodden the hypocritical path of Connery who makes an issue out of being Scottish and calls for Scottish independence although he is also a tax exile.

Sir Roger grimaces. So what of the Bond franchise? Will there always be 007 as long as England's here? Moore has grumbled about the improbability of some of the later films, including the increasingly unbelievable gadgets, such as the invisible car driven by Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day.

'We did get a bit improbable in Moonraker, shooting off into space,' he reflects. 'Things like invisible cars are kid-ult stuff. The fight is always to get a 12 certificate so kids can go and see it six times.'

How will Bond and his expensive gadgets cope with the recession, I wonder. 'Interesting. During the American Depression they made these wonderful, escapist films with nice sets and optimism.'

He doesn't go to the cinema very much now. 'Films today,' he trails off. 'Guy Ritchie... I never liked graphic violence or pornographic violence.' He adds: 'I can't understand anything contemporary actors say.'

I say that I sympathise and he rewards me with another wicked grin. 'I want to interview you!' he declares. I feel myself mouthing: 'Oh, James!'

Interview : Petronella Wyatt


 

 
 
 

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