In 1969, a former used car salesman turned male model inexplicably became James Bond… for one film. His name was George Lazenby – and for years, he’s been nothing more than a trivia question, or worse a joke, known less for playing Bond than for walking away from the franchise. It’s only recently that Lazenby’s single Bond entry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, has even begun to get its due, nowadays reappraised as one of the great Bond features. Becoming Bond, a documentary premiering on Hulu Saturday, doubles down on this newfound reappraisal, finally giving the star his due.
Told exclusively from Lazenby’s perspective, Becoming Bond, despite the title, doesn’t exclusively focus on the car salesman’s transformation into Bond; instead –the film’s a meditation on his life, the ascent and fall from Bond merely a chapter in a larger story. The doc is actually far more concerned with Lazenby’s romantic travails through puberty and onwards, painting a picture of the dashing actor as a lothario who loved and lost ‘the one’ – basically a real life ‘James Bond’.
There’s always a risk that by telling the story from a single source, the resulting film could become myopic (a fate – which the so-so De Palma suffered from); but Lazenby has such a gift for storytelling (he can recollect even his car’s license plate), that the documentary never lacks for insight or feels like we’re getting an incomplete picture. There’s an interesting undercurrent here – as you watch Lazenby recount how he charmed and conned his way through life, bullshitting from one job to the next, you begin to wonder if this story Lazenby’s been telling, this documentary itself, is also a fabrication. Is Lazenby lying to us about how he lied to everybody else?
That push-and-pull manifests in the dramatizations director Josh Greenbaum peppers throughout Lazenby’s narration. A host of familiar actors (Josh Lawson, Dana Carvey, Jane Seymour, Jeff Garlin & Jake Johnson) reenact the Bond actor’s tales, adding an element of artificiality – which is exactly the point. Often even the tone of these re-enactments will contradict Lazenby, a seriously narrated moment becoming a farcical scene or vice versa. Becoming Bond’s not quite ‘F is For Fake’ level meta-commentary, but it’s there nonetheless.
This dichotomy extends to the film’s biggest question: why in the hell did Lazenby walk away from over a million dollars to reprise his role as James Bond? The actor, of course, provides his own detailed explanation of the circumstances and reasons surrounding his departure, but the reenactments hints at various other potential motives (pride, greed, naiveté…). If this all sounds awfully schizophrenic, rest assured the film ably balances these two tones, adding complexity to the mechanic/car salesman/model/actor/real estate agent/racer’s story (and yes, Lazenby really did dabble in all those professions).
Ultimately Becoming Bond rests on George Lazenby – and the actor, cantankerous, witty, gregarious and just a little sad, ably shoulders the responsibility. The documentary by expanding its focus beyond James Bond becomes all the richer as a result – a celebration of a life fully lived, of choices made (some good, some bad), of regret (not the one you think), and of the people, not roles, that help define you.
I’d always loved On Your Majesty’s Secret Service, but it wasn’t until Becoming Bond, that I fully appreciated George Lazenby as both Bond and something more.
Becoming Bond premieres Saturday on Hulu.