Did you know that Sam Neill came incredibly close to playing James Bond?
After 21 years of originating the part, it’s hard to imagine someone other than Sean Connery donning the tailored Bespoke suits and playing James Bond. But fact goes, there have been other Bonds, and after them, likely hundreds more. Like the Kingsman, Mark Millar and Matthew Vaughn’s contemporary parody of Ian Fleming’s spy epic, the position of 007 is as replaceable as it is iconic. Just as anyone can be Galahad or Lancelot, any suave, good-looking schmuck could be Bond. In 1987, Bond movie The Living Daylights was released, with Doom Patrol’s Timothy Dalton top billing as the courtly, sophisticated M16 agent. But Dalton wasn’t MGM’s only choice for the role, as Sam Neill (of Jurassic Park fame) and Pierce Brosnan were also considered. Brosnan was tied up due to scheduling conflicts but was eventually cast 8 years later in GoldenEye, 6 years after Dalton’s last outing as Bond in Licence to Kill. Brosnan was the last actor to play James Bond before Daniel Craig took over in 2006. Sam Neill, on the other hand, distanced from the role for good and describes his one screen test as “a bad dream.”
But is it truly as abominable and cringeworthy as he makes it seem? Well, we have Sam Neill’s 17-second screen test for The Living Daylights right here and quite frankly, it is nothing short of sultry, not to mention glorious:
This was plucked right out of From Russia With Love, released in 1963 — 24 years before The Living Daylights — and still starring Connery as James Bond. It featured the aforementioned Tatiana Romanova, a Soviet cipher clerk played to perfection by Italian actress Daniela Bianchi. The clip depicts Sam Neill as James Bond in a state of undress, inching toward the blonde beauty with a pistol in hand, only to coolly introduce himself in standard Bond fashion. It’s a short scene, but if those few lines are anything to go by on, it’s clear Neill’s Bond exudes the same sense of calm and overwhelming charisma as his predecessors, more Connery than Dalton, Roger Moore, and one-time Bond George Lazenby. It really is outrageous he wasn’t considered for even one movie in the years after. Though it’s probably obvious why.
Sam Neill spoke to The Telegraph 31 years after the fact, explaining he never wanted to become a movie star — a life being James Bond would have afforded him, easy — and that the role felt like a mismatch. He brushes off the inquiry, seemingly mortified: “No. Don’t ask! It was all a bad dream. The lesson I learnt that day was never be bullied by your agent into going along to something you don’t want to do ever again. That was the last time.”
Sam Neill continues: “It’s been really interesting being here at the film festival – my friend and I Bryan Brown, we can go into Venice and do whatever we want. We can live a life. And without naming names, some of the people who have been our hotel for the last couple of days, there is no money on earth that could compensate me for the lives they have to live. There are guests on my corridor with six security guards outside their door. Six! And those are the people they now live with. When you get there, you’ve lost all semblance of life. So I’m very comfortable with whatever career that I have. Because it’s permitted me great privilege with very little loss.”
And he’s right. Sam Neill eventually enjoyed a storied, albeit modest, career playing iconic parts of his own, roles as inarguably fundamental to culture — and the future of cinema — as James Bond. The New Zealander has proven himself time and again a leading man in his own right, and has portrayed characters as competent, nuanced, and chivalrous as 007. And he holds the great distinction of being the one and only Dr. Alan Grant, maiasaur extraordinaire, from one of the greatest Hollywood franchises in recent history.
Much like Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was a technological marvel. It depicted monsters on the silver screen in masterful and terrifying detail, long before the use of CGI and green screen. Sam Neill has carved his own path apart from James Bond, and as much as he would have been a great fit for the role, he has done even better for himself in the many years since. Perhaps he would have made a phenomenal James Bond. But that was another life, and in all intents and purposes probably a needless, albeit fancy, distraction. Now, Sam Neill — that’s a name to die for.