Desmond Llewelyn is still armoring & disarming a certain superspy.
By IAN SPELLING
Desmond Llewelyn as Q is the Merlin of the Bond series. He’s almost a mythical character. Everyone loves to see Q in a Bond movie. People wait for the Q scene. So, just to stand there opposite Desmond and remember when I saw the other Bond films and the other Bonds as a kid growing up was fascinating. I remember when Sean Connery was shown the Aston-Martin by Q in Goldfinger. For me, shooting the Q scene in Goldeneye was like being in a time capsule” enthuses Pierce Brosnan, the latest Bond, of sharing the screen with Llewelyn, who has portrayed Bond’s huffy and desperate-for-respect MI6 gadget provider in all but two of the 17 official United Artists 007 films (Dr. No, Live And Let Die,). “Standing there with Desmond made me realize I’m now part of that time capsule, that we really have done the film, and that I’m now playing James Bond. I think Desmond felt that way, too. Here he was, in another Bond film, with another Bond, and he’s still an important part of that time capsule”
At age 81, Llewelyn still has what it takes to do the job in Goldeneye. This time out, Q offers Bond a BMW that gives new meaning to the term "fully loaded", a ballpoint pen that turns into a grenade, and a belt buckle which holds 75 feet of wire strong enough to bear Bond’s weight. Along the way, Q proudly shows off several new weapons in development, including an explosive foot cast and a claustrophobic phone booth. All of the various gadgets, off course, elicit groaner quips from both Llewelyn and Brosnan. Should Goldeneye prove successful enough, chances are that six years won’t pass between 007 adventures, as happened with the releases of Licence To Kill and Goldeneye. And, should the fates be kind, look for Llewelyn to return with more gizmos and groaners.
Except for the Bond films, Llewelyn is basically in semi-retirement these days, popping up occasionally in British stage or television productions. Llewellyn (previously profiled in STARLOG #72) spends much of his time at his home outside London, where he lives with his wife and enjoys frequent visits from the couple’s two sons and four grandchildren. On this particular day, an eager Llewelyn is in Los Angeles to do his port discussing the latest 007 mission. So it is then, that the gentlemanly, silver-haired actor reflects on Q, Goldeneye and Bond outings past.
Photos: For more than 30 years, Desmond Llewelyn has served as the head of Q-Branch. / Providing weaponry for the British Secret Service, Q sometimes has great notions, sometimes not. Take the Indian rope trick.
Photo: He's no gadget expert, Llewelyn is quick to confess. He’s just an actor, able to put up wallpaper, but not much else.
STARLOG: Where is the strangest place You've ever been recognized as Q?
DESMOND LLEWELYN: I was in Italy with my wife. We were in Pompeii in March 1995. No one was to be found there at all. One man suddenly came up to me and said. You're Q!’ He was practically the only man in Pompeii! I was rather amazed.
STARLOG: To what do you attribute the longevity of Bond’s popularity?
LLEWELYN: Ian Fleming, when asked ibout writing his books, said to a successful novel add the elements of expensive living.
Describe everything in minute detail. Describe beautiful people. Hide the idiosyncracies. Make everything move quickly. I asked [Bond film producer] Cubby Broccoli if he agreed and he said yes, but he went the Alfred Hitchcock route, adding exciting scene after exciting scene, and laughs to maintain the tension. I think the fact that the films are larger than life and that they are pure escapism is why they’re so popular. Everything is bigger and larger than life.
STARLOG: You’ve always said that From Russia With Love is your favorite Bond film. Are you pleased with the way Goldeneye came out?
LLEWELYN: I think Goldeneye is a marvelous Bond movie. It’s got the humor. It’s got the explosions. It’s got the women. Pierce Brosnan, I think, is terrific. I think Goldeneye will bring the Bond series right back [to its former heights of popularity].
STARLOG: OK, so who is the best Agent 007, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan?
LLEWELYN: My answer is always whoever you saw first is the best Bond. I think that’s quite true. People who saw Connery first did not like Moore. They think Roger was too jokey. Moore fans think Connery is too tough. Connery was Bond. Moore was the Saint. Roger was able to turn the character around. All this nonsense about Roger not being able to act was, well, nonsense. He could act. He was a terrific technician, regarding how acting a scene worked. He was great at helping me get through lines that made no sense to me at all. He himself started that joke that he only had two expressions, but he was far better than that. Roger was also great fun to work with, always fun on the set.
Lazenby? Poor old George Lazenby. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was such an underrated film. He wasn’t an actor. It wasn’t his fault, you see. He was a car salesman who did some modeling because he was broke. He said to me when I met him again a few years ago (at a gathering of Bond fans in England), “I searched for an actor [to talk to] after I got the Bond role.” The bigger problem was that he behaved badly on the set. He thought that’s how an actor was supposed to behave after reading about what people like Frank Sinatra were getting away with. He could have been a very good Bond, I think.
Timothy Dalton is a very good stage actor. Many people complained about his Bond, but he was actually the closest to the Bond that Ian Fleming wrote in his novels. Now we have Pierce Brosnan and I think he’ll be one of the top Bonds. Comparing Sean to Pierce is interesting. There’s really no comparison. Sean was good in his debut as Bond, but Pierce has had so much acting experience and he’s actually better in his first Bond film than Sean was in his. Sean was great by his third film, but Pierce is quite good the first time out. I’m sure he'll be around a while.
Photo: It wouldn't be a Bond film without a Q scene—and the chance for a bit of repartee with 007 about exploding bolos or other infernal devices.
STARLOG: Do you believe that James Bond is still relevant in the 1990s?
LLEWELYN: Yes, I do. As long as they keep to the Bond formula, Bond will remain relevant. The further away you get from the formula, which they did in Licence To Kill, for example, the bigger the difficulties you’ll face. The villain in that film [Robert Davi as a brutal drug lord] didn’t work within the Bond formula. He wasn't from SPECTRE or SMERSH. If they had at least said that he was part of one of those organizations, he might have been acceptable. He was a real nasty piece of work from South America, but he just wasn’t connected to some Bond-like group or place. Licence to Kill was a marvelous film, but other than having James Bond in it, it wasn’t really a Bond film. I, of course, liked that film a great deal, because I had more to do in that one than in just about any other Bond film, which was nice. Most of my scenes were with Carey Lowell, who was easy to work with and extremely nice.
STARLOG: Let’s talk about Q himself for a few minutes. Have you ever devised a back-story for him? What do you think he was up to before he joined MI6?
LLEWELYN: I always saw Q as a man who had been in the Guard's Armor Division during the war. In the Fleming novels there was no Q. There was a Major Boothroyd [who was first introduced in the novel Dr. No], And Boothroyd. I believe, was based on a real man named Fraser Smith. He did exactly what my character does, but he did it for real during World War II. I think he was a farmer at one time, but he was pulled into the intelligence realm during the war. Boothroyd, or Q, doesn't really invent anything. He collects things and improves upon them, or puts them to new uses.
STARLOG: Is it true that you are as entirely hopeless with any kind of gadget as Q is nimble?
LLEWELYN: Unfortunately, yes. I’m no expert. I'm just an actor, you see. I can put up wallpaper, but I can't do too much beyond that. I just have to know my lines to play Q. My talking to you now has nothing to do with my acting ability, but everything to do with the gadgets in the movies. The gadgets in the movies are great. They're prototypes of what the inventor would really like them to do. So, I like the gadgets. It's quite interesting, actually, because people assume I'm good with gadgets. But almost every gadget goes wrong with me. I can’t get into a hotel with those plastic keys. They never work for me the first time.
STARLOG: In this sometimes unforgiving era of “Out with the old and in with the new,” are you surprised that your phone rang with the offer to appear in Goldeneye?
LLEWELYN: To be honest, I was very surprised. They’re not using Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny anymore. Bernard Lee is gone [he died in 1980] and Dame Judi Dench, who is a marvelous actress, is playing M now. They probably should have replaced me, years ago. Q has certainly passed his retirement age. But I’m thrilled that they did call me for GoldenEye, and I’m happy that I got to work with Pierce in it.
Photo: Greeting the series’ new cast member, Llewelyn is certain that Pierce Brosnan will be around for awhile as James Bond.
STARLOG: Other than your salary, what are you still getting out of playing Q in the the Bond films?
LLEWELYN: I think he’s great fun. In a way, Q is a very insignificant part of the films, from the point-of-view of the production people and the screenwriters. That was especially so early on, when Q was less well regarded than he is now and not popular yet with audiences. What’s nice is that people now seem to feel you can't have a Bond film without Q and a Q scene. That’s quite nice for me, of course.
STARLOG: If Goldeneye is enough of a hit, the word is that the next Bond movie could begin filming as early as this summer. Would it be safe to assume that you would like to be a part of that project?
LLEWELYN: It would be very safe. I would like to be in the next one and, if I am, I would especially love to have a scene, a few moments with Judi Dench. She’s such a brilliant actress. Still, I’ve got to talk to the producers. I think we have to prepare the public for the next Q eventually. I think Goldeneye will take off and bring Bond all the way back. That could mean several more films. But I am 81. I’ve got a dickey heart. I can’t live forever, you know. So, there may come a day when I will pass the torch onto the next Q.
Photo: According to Llewelyn, Timothy Dalton was closest to the secret agent envisioned by creator Ian Fleming in the original novels.
STARLOG: Aside from the Bond films, what else would you like to be known for as an actor?
LLEWELYN: I’ve done nothing, really, worth speaking of. I wouldn’t call myself unsuccessful, however. I’ve done a lot of television roles and some films. I’m a small part actor. You [Americans] might call me, what is the phrase...a character actor. I did masses of films playing just one line. I was in Cleopatra. I had a decent part in They Were Not Divided. I did a children’s series I called Follyfoot for several years. But if it hadn’t been for Bond, I don’t know if I would still be getting any work at all. So, you will not hear me complain about playing Q for all these years. Why am I flown all across the world [on behalf of GoldenEye] to talk about an imaginary character? It’s quite incredible. I’ve been in 15 of the films. That’s about 32 hours of film. I have been on screen as Q about 32 minutes of that time. Yet. here we are talking. Quite incredible, I think.
Photo: Far past retirement age, Llewelyn believes there will come a day to pass the torch (and the gizmos) on to another Q.
[Source: Starlog #223, February 1996, P36-39. Copyright © 1996 O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Starlog is a registered trademark of O'Quinn Studios, Inc.]