Liam Neeson turned down the opportunity to play James Bond in the '90s because his wife forbade him from taking the role.
When Liam Neeson first began starring in the Taken movies, it was a tad jarring to see this unassuming Star Wars actor transformed into an action badass who effortlessly takes out anyone who threatens his family. However, it turns out that this legendary actor turned down the opportunity to show us his “particular set of skills” far earlier because James Bond was very nearly played by Liam Neeson instead of Pierce Brosnan. This came out during an interview with Rolling Stone in which Neeson revealed he turned down the opportunity because his late wife Natasha Richardson “gave me a James Bond ultimatum” and threatened to divorce him if he took the role.
While it may be difficult now to imagine a James Bond played by Liam Neeson, he showed off some of the iconic spy’s humor and charm in the interview. For example, he mentioned that while he obviously didn’t take the role out of respect for his wife, he also never turned down an opportunity to tease her about the dramatic ultimatum. When her back was turned, he would mime holding a gun while humming the James Bond theme just to get a rise out of her.
All joking about James Bond aside, Liam Neeson also revealed that he was sympathetic to his wife’s desires in this matter. Bond is arguably known as a ladies’ man first and foremost, and as Neeson notes, “there’s all those gorgeous girls in various countries getting into bed and getting out of bed” in the various films. He assumed that his wife’s ultimatum was likely a result of not wanting to see her husband onscreen with all these different women, which is why, even though he expressed interest when James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli contacted him, he eventually told her he was no longer interested (strictly speaking, he was never officially offered the role, and this was all informal discussion between the two parties).
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this James Bond drama bomb Liam Neeson dropped on all of us is that it would have dramatically reshaped the franchise as we know it, especially since he was offered the role after Schindler’s List came out, meaning he would have been Bond instead of the charming and romantic Pierce Brosnan. While his Bond movies were decidedly mixed, many fans of the popular superspy agree that Brosnan was the perfect casting choice to help bring Bond into the 1990s with Goldeneye. That movie became an entire pop culture moment unto itself (complete with an unforgettably awesome video game adaptation), and it’s downright difficult to imagine Neeson (gifted as he is) having the same chemistry with the other actors in that film that Brosnan clearly did.
Ultimately, the knowledge that James Bond was very nearly played by Liam Neeson makes for great trivia, but like the English spy himself, it’s important for us to look forward instead of backward. Neeson has no regrets about not taking the role, and most Bond fans have no regrets about Brosnan ultimately getting the part. Of course, if they were to bring an older Neeson back now to replace Daniel Craig for a new film, let’s be honest: we’d all be both shaken and stirred by such a bold casting choice.