He’s far more than a raised eyebrow, you know. Sir Roger Moore has played the iconic part of James Bond on seven occasions—more than any other actor. Though not considered as serious as predecessor Sean Connery, Moore had a blast as Bond, with 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me often considered one of the finest of the 23 Bond films to date. With the latest installment of the franchise, Skyfall, in theaters on Nov. 9, TIME spoke with Moore—who recently released a book, Bond on Bond—about how he got the role, all those Bond girls and why he’s just changed his mind about his favorite Bond actor.
TIME : Tell me how the book “Bond on Bond” came about ?
Sir Roger Moore: Just by chance. It happened because it’s the 50th anniversary of Bond and the publishers in England thought it might be a good idea to do this idea of me talking because I’ve never spoken about the other Bonds and I have my opinions. It seemed appropriate, and Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson [co-producers of the Bond films] are two of my best friends so it helps promote the film [Skyfall] and also may promote sales for me!
How did you get the role of Bond?
Before I really knew what Bond was, I knew that the English newspaper, the Daily Express, was running a competition to find a James Bond. I had no idea what it was. I hadn’t read the books. I’d started The Saint but around the same time, I’d developed a nasty habit, or continued a nasty habit, of gambling. I found myself playing at least once a week, across the table, with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. What better way for a potential Bond to meet the producers! They told me about it all and invited me to see Dr. No which, considering the low budget, was a great effort. It was a new style of editing in that genre of film and I thought Sean [Connery] was marvelous.
How did you go about taking over from an icon like Sean Connery?
You don’t really think about that. How many millions of actors during the last 400 years have played Hamlet? They don’t worry about how the other fella did it—they just get on with doing it their way. And everything I do comes out exactly the same! I always sound like me.
It seems like it was meant to be that you would get the role considering your phone number at the time.
That was the most extraordinary coincidence, wasn’t it? In the old days, when you moved house in England, you’d inherit their phone number. And this was Denham 2007. I don’t think I ever answered “2007.” All I ever say on the phone is “hello!”
After your good self, is Sean Connery still your favorite Bond?
Well, I finished the book three or four months ago, but since then, I went to a screening of Skyfall and I’ve changed my opinion. I think that he [Daniel Craig] is the Bond. He’s quite brilliant. I wrote to Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [Wilson] and said…they’ve guaranteed Bond another 50 years of life.
Presumably you’d seen the other two Daniel Craig Bond movies?
Yes, I thought Casino Royale was tremendous. I thought his action was quite extraordinary—he did more action in the first 30 seconds of the film than I did in 14 years of playing Bond. To me, he looks like a killer. He looks as though he knows what he’s doing. I look as though I might cheat at backgammon.
I think you’re underselling yourself, but I’m sure he’ll be delighted to hear that. It’s really a remarkable franchise, isn’t it? Over half the world has seen at least one James Bond movie, and more people have walked on the moon than played Bond.
I felt a tremendous pride when I saw Daniel Craig and the Queen for the opening sequence of the Olympics. I thought, my lord, what other series of films would be able to get the Queen of England to agree to appear?
You’ve mentioned Daniel Craig and Sean Connery. Any thoughts on the other Bonds?
Different styles of actors. Timothy Dalton was a beautifully trained, classical actor, always gives very interesting performances. Pierce Brosnan is a more popular style of actor. In fact, when I was leaving, I suggested to Cubby that there were three: I said there’s Sam Neill, the Australian, whom I thought would be great, there’s Pierce Brosnan and there’s Timothy Dalton. Those are the three I would have chosen.
I still get such a kick out of the opening sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me, with the skiing and the big reveal at the end with your Union Flag parachute. Do you have a favorite moment?
Well it certainly was that sequence. It was quite extraordinary seeing it with an audience for the first time and hearing that gasp. First of all, it’s an incredibly long fall and then when the Union Flag opens, well, it doesn’t matter what country it’s in, or what language, it always gathered applause. It was the first time I worked with Lewis Gilbert, just a wonderful director. We introduced Jaws, and Barbara Bach isn’t exactly a terrible strain to look at. I thought it was a first class script, great fun to do and had wonderful locations.
And I still think it’s followed by the greatest Bond theme ever, “Nobody Does It Better,” sung by Carly Simon.
Oh it certainly was. Marvin Hamlisch just did a sensational job.
There’s talk that Adele might get an Oscar nomination for her “Skyfall” theme song. Do you think that would be merited?
Yes, I think it’s very close to the feeling of the late John Barry—it’s completely original, and yet it smacks of Bond.
Is it true that you don’t like heights, guns or explosions? That seems problematic when it comes to a role such as Bond.
Ah, well that’s where the acting comes in you see! I look incredibly brave, but I’m very, very good at getting people to look like me.
You’ve also said that you wanted to play a Bond villain?
Oh yeah, they’re the best part! Poor old Jim, all he does is stand around and say, “My name is Bond, James Bond,” whereas a villain says “this is the end of the world, this is the end of civilization as you know it, Mr Bond!”.I think they’ve [the Bond villains] all been very, very good. I particularly liked some I worked with such as Michael Lonsdale (Hugo Drax), Curt Jurgens (Karl Stromberg) and Christopher Walken (Max Zorin). Some very, very good actors.
And that inevitably leads me to ask about the best Bond Girls—though I’m sure you have a stock answer for this highly original question.
I enjoyed working with Maud Adams—and Britt Ekland.
Some people are saying that the real Bond Girl in Skyfall is Judi Dench’s M because she gets to sink her teeth into the role.
Judi Dench is quite marvelous, and there are surprises in the film, but I won’t ruin it for you. But the villain, my God, now there’s a villain. I think I’ve seen every one of his [Javier Bardem’s] performances. He’s a marvelous, marvelous actor. A very different style of villain.
And now that he’s made it to 50 years on the silver screen, do you think Bond will get to a century?
Yes, I’m quite sure of it. For 50 years it’s gone on and people go back because it’s an old friend. Their fathers may have taken them to see it the first time, and then they take their grandfathers. And Christmas never seems to be Christmas without a Bond movie showing on a television screen somewhere.
Glen Levy – Time, Nov. 09, 2012