LONDON (Reuters) - It may have been 007 years since Roger Moore’s last appearance in a full-length film, but if the standing ovation that welcomed him to the British Film Institute on Thursday evening was anything to judge by, his absence from the big screen has done little to dim his audience appeal.
The London-born actor and star of seven Bond movies and “The Saint” television series appeared in conversation with David Walliams as part of a celebration of the career of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at the BFI, the British Film Institute.
Broccoli died at his home in Beverly Hills in 1996 at the age of 87.
Still tall and elegant at 81, Moore shrugged off a series of technical hitches to regale the audience with a string of anecdotes from the Bond years.
Asked by Walliams at what point he felt he had stopped being an actor and become a star, he replied: “Well, I was never an ‘actor.’”
His relations with Broccoli, with whom he used to play backgammon on the Bond set during breaks in filming, were warm to the last. He first met Broccoli and fellow producer Harry Salzman in 1962 in a London gaming club, the White Elephant.
“Where else is a potential Bond going to meet the producers, except over a gaming table?” he asked.
At the time, Sean Connery was established as Bond, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Moore was seriously considered for the role. Plans for an early film set in Cambodia were shelved after war broke out there, and Moore went on to work on “The Persuaders!” with Tony Curtis in the early 1970s.
Moore says his introduction to the Bond character was a late one. “I knew nothing really about Bond,” he said.
“I came back to England and started making the Saint series, there was a competition in the Daily Express over who should play James Bond — I really had no idea who James Bond was. Then I started reading some of the books.”
Though he had been a successful television actor and had appeared on film in “The Man Who Haunted Himself” and others, his first appearance as Bond, in 1973’s “Live and Let Die,” introduced him to a new level of fame.
“Looking at Sean, I realize how damn good he was,” he said. “I can’t believe I had the ego, when I took over, to think I could replace him.”
The two men had appeared in neighboring theatres in their early years as actors and had socialized in the same places — including the young actors’ hang out, the Duke of Wellington pub on Wardour Street — but didn’t meet until the early 1960s.
“Sean felt he was getting a bit long in the tooth for the (Bond) role,” Moore said, recalling his introduction to the part. “I was actually older than Sean when I started. But I did look younger.”
His Bond was also a very different animal, and with his trademark raised eyebrow accompanying every quip, he carved out a lighter, more tongue-in-cheek character than his predecessor.
“I couldn’t be the tough Bond that Sean was,” said Moore.
On his departure from the role, he deliberately avoided watching his successor Timothy Dalton on the screen to deflect journalists’ questions on how suitable he felt the casting to be. He has high praise for the subsequent Bonds, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.
Of all the Bond films he didn’t make, Moore said “Diamonds are Forever,” which Connery made in 1971, was the one he would most like to have appeared in.
Moore said he had no plans to return to the stage, having collapsed due to circulatory problems in his final live theater appearance in 2003, of “The Play What I Wrote” in New York.
He is still, however, angling for a return to the small screen. His final comment to Walliams was a tongue-in-cheek request for a role in the host’s hit comedy Little Britain. “Only if you drag up,” Walliams replied.
If he does, Moore’s next performance on screen may finally be enough to eclipse James Bond.
Editing by Steve Addison