“I can remember after my first orgasm,” offers George Lazenby, mere moments after meeting me, “that I woke up the next day after doing it several times, and I thought I’d discovered something that nobody else knew. I wasn’t educated about sex, so I was discovering life as it went on, and I’ve found to this day that’s the best approach.”
Lazenby’s is a story that has to be seen—or heard—to be believed. A former car mechanic from Australia, he was, a few modeling gigs notwithstanding, plucked from relative obscurity to succeed Sean Connery as James Bond in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. After earning a Golden Globe nod for the effort, producer Albert Broccoli offered the towering ladies’ man $1 million upfront to sign a seven-picture deal as 007. He turned him down flat.
The actor’s journey from anonymity to instant screen icon and back again is chronicled in Becoming Bond, a documentary by Josh Greenbaum (Behind the Mask) that made its world premiere at SXSW, and will debut later this year on Hulu.
I’m seated across from Lazenby, now 77, at a hotel in downtown Austin. To say that the old-timer has sex on his mind is an understatement: He’s had lots of sex, and appears to enjoy nothing more than regaling those around him with tales of his conquests. One such yarn involves a German model who was engaged to a powerful German industrialist and ends with: “By 4 in the morning, I won’t tell you what she was doing—but it wasn’t with my penis, because it was shot.” Another concerns his Majesty’s co-star Diana Rigg. Lazenby claims that the woman who sent hearts racing as Emma Peel told him on set, “If you don’t mess with any other girls, you and I could get to know each other a lot better.”
The sexpot screwed it up, of course. “One day, she’s walking up to the hotel reception, and the stuntmen had a tent right outside the hotel with all the mattresses and stunt gear in there. I’m in there screwing the receptionist, and the bastards lifted up the side of the tent as Diana was coming past, so that was the end of that!” he exclaims.
An alternate title for the doc could have been There Will Be Threeways. And, despite his lascivious past, convincing Lazenby to partake in the doc wasn’t easy. Greenbaum recalls courting his notoriously headstrong subject over many a candlelit dinner before he finally gave in.
“I think I’m getting to the end of my time as a human being,” Lazenby tells me. “I figured, what the hell? I had a documentary being made seven years ago in Australia that’s not finished yet, so I want to see something in my lifetime, and just see what it does.” He pauses, before unleashing a devilish grin: “I’m a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Certain things scare me, like… wives. But other than that, I have no fear.”
Greenbaum’s film recreates the highs and lows of Lazenby’s life via flashbacks featuring a host of actors. The effect is a bit jarring at first, but eventually settles into focus.
Lazenby describes his younger self as a “wild larrikin,” boosting his first car at the age of 6 and regularly finding himself caned for bringing snakes and bats to class. At 15, the lad recalls losing his virginity to his striking 23-year-old neighbor—on her kitchen floor. After working as a mechanic and then car salesman in Queanbeyan, Australia, he joined the army before getting into modeling. It was while working as a model in London and Europe that Lazenby embraced his carnal side, regaling the camera with stories of three-ways galore during the freewheeling ’60s.
“You go along with that Australian swagger and Australian accent, and the women, what have they got to lose?” he tells me. “They’re engaged and everything. They were just having a quickie on the side. They had the pill, there was no AIDS. It was great. You have no idea how fun it was in those times.”
When Sean Connery abruptly hung up his tux and Walther PPK in 1968, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli embarked on a frantic search for the next Bond. As the story goes, he spotted Lazenby in a Big Fry Chocolate commercial and offered him a screen test. During the test, the rowdy Aussie accidentally knocked out a stuntman—much to the delight of Broccoli, who subsequently offered him the role.
“I knocked him out,” Lazenby says of the audition. “Well, he stuck his chin out. I was supposed to miss. [Broccoli] stepped over him, grabbed my arm, took me over to the wall, and said, ‘It’s about bloody time.’”
Despite becoming the only Bond to earn a Golden Globe nod, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service received mediocre reviews at the time of its release, with most of the blame falling on Lazenby’s broad shoulders. If that weren’t enough, prior to its release Lazenby had turned down Broccoli’s offer of a seven-picture deal—including $1 million upfront—in favor of hippiedom. To make matters worse for the studio, he showed up to the film’s London premiere sporting a beard and long, greasy hair.
“Becoming a hippie played a big role in leaving Bond,” he shares. “I got laid then—and more. When you’re James Bond you get the sophisticated housewife, but when you’re a hippie, everybody’s a target. It didn’t take me long to figure out that’s the way I had to look if I wanted to be successful. And along came Broccoli and Saltzman offering me a million dollars to come back. I had [agent] Ronan O’Rahilly with me at the time, and Ronan says, ‘Clint Eastwood is making $500,000 a Western in Italy. You can do two of those and make a million. Forget about it.’”
Lazenby’s career never quite recovered, with the actor popping up in a series of mostly foreign duds, as well as the occasional television appearance. His turn in OHMSS, however, has come to be respected with time. Connery was paid a then-record $1.25 million salary to return as Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, the third-highest grossing film of 1971, taking in $116 million worldwide.
“Do I have any regrets?” says Lazenby. “Only when I was broke. But I did a Bond film, and that’s all you have to do. After that, when I was broke a couple of times, I thought, shit, I should have done another Bond movie. But I thought about how my life would be like if it continued, and I’d have had three wives in Beverly Hills, mansions, and been a drug addict. I thought, well, I think I did the right thing.”