Thursday, June 11, 2009

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Casting Coup: Live and Let Die

Ian Fleming was a man who enjoyed the Caribbean. He wrote all the Bond books in his island home GoldenEye (sound familiar?), and a large majority of 007's adventures are set in -- or involve -- Jamaica, Nassau, Haiti, etc. His first novel, Casino Royale, focused on the French gambling scene, which is all very European and snooty and whatever. The follow-up, though, was set in the good ol' US of A and involved Haitian smugglers and crimelords financing the Russians. Great fun, as it blends swashbuckling adventure, American locales, and island imagery.

Live and Let Die is...odd, to say the least. Fleming takes a weird, semi-Imperialist view towards black people that is not atypical of the time period in which he wrote (after all, this is 1954). Most are simple-minded, everyone speaks jive, reference is made to their "sweet, feral smell" (!!!), and it is noted that they think like animals, whereas the white people think with logic. It's just bizarre and uncomfortable. Even the "good ones" are, t quote Bond, "pretty law-abiding chaps...except when they've drunk too much."

And yet it's a pretty suspenseful story, though I can never remember what the McGuffin is. Mr. Big is apparently after pirate treasure to finance the operations of the Russians, and Bond goes after him partly as payback for the events in Casino Royale. So, despite the treasure hunt being unmemorable and the racism being there at all and the sex scene in the train feeling...awkward -- it's got some great moments. Leiter is fed to sharks, Bond gets his finger broken, every chapter has a henchman get killed horrifyingly. Good stuff, overall. And can we talk about Mr. Big tying Bond and Solitaire to the back of his boat so he can drag them over the reef in shark-infested waters? DAMN!

Now, it is true that race does play an important role in the villain's interactions with Bond. So, how do I face this when I've cast a black Bond? Well, if anything, it builds a more complicated character. For one, it makes more sense to send a black agent into the field on this mission than a white one. For another, here we could explore racial identity and the American idea of "race traitors". Also, it could add some tension between Bond and the FBI man he's assigned to work with. My God, such a detail could only make a so-so storyline into something powerful and amazing!

Featured in Live and Let Die: James Bond, M, Felix Leiter, Bill Tanner, Miss Moneypenny, Loelia Ponsonby (more on these characters).

Who is He: The FBI man who meets Bond in New York. He is essentially running the show and briefs Bond on the particulars. It is also he that sets Bond up with CIA agent Felix Leiter, who he met at Casino Royale.

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Visitor), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Visitor)

Richard Jenkins (Hannah and Her Sisters, Intolerable Cruelty)
I know I've previously cast him as a captain of law. So I typecast. His no-nonsense demeanor could serve well the tension between him and Bond, as would be expected when one man allows another in his turf. And Jenkins in a Bond flick! Could you imagine?

Who is He: The switchboard operator for Mr. Big's operator in Harlem. A collapsed lung prevents him from raising his voice above a whisper, so... I mean, you get it, right? Appears briefly in the novel, becomes one of the lead henchmen in the original film. My version would stay true to the novel.

Originally played by:

Earl Jolly Brown

My Choice:

Leslie David Baker (TV's The Office)
Baker has a low voice, one that would suit the character. As does his physicality. He is a character actor whose presence would not be too distracting, though it would be quite exciting for Bond fans.

Who is He: One of Mr. Big's henchmen. So named because of his eerie, high-pitched laugh, Tee-Hee is the man who breaks Bond's finger during an interrogation in Harlem. Bond responds by throwing him down a flight of stairs and breaking his neck. Because that's how 007 rolls.

Originally played by:

Julis W. Harris (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three [original], the episode of The Golden Girls wherein Sophia runs the recreational activities at a senior center, but in reality she's being watched over by Don Lake so that Dorothy doesn't have to worry about her)

My Choice:

Seydou Boro (Paris, je t'aime)
His brief performance in Paris, je t'aime earned him "best in show" honors in my head. To see him as a worhty adversary to Ejiofor's Bond would be thrilling. Plus he'd be smiling, and that would be cool.

Who is He: The man who lures Felix Leiter to a warehouse, only to feed him to the sharks. It is he who leaves the mangled body of the Langley man in Bond's room with the note "He disagreed with something that ate him." Bond exacts his revenge soon after, giving him the same fate Leiter suffered, but without the hope of recovery.

My Choice:

L: Warner Miller (American Gangster)
Miller stood out to me in American Gangster. At least I think it's Miller -- he played the informant, if memory serves correctly. Anyway, I like him, so he gets the honor of being one of the most infamous characters in Bond mythos.

Who is He: Head of Station J in Jamaica, where the climax takes place.

My Choice:

Tom Riley (Marple: Ordeal by Innocence, Return to House on Haunted Hill)
Too young for Bond. Also too pouty-lipped. But I admire him as an actor and do believe that he could pull off the whole secret agent thing, so as a cameo with some importance, he's perfect.

Who is He: Strangways' friend and assistant, a joyful fisherman who teaches Bond how to dive.

My Choice:

Tituss Burgess
Strictly a Broadway actor (The Little Mermaid and the the recent revival of Guys 'n' Dolls), Burgess has the look, the joviality, the cojones for Quarrel. It is one of the most important roles in Bond lore, as we will learn later on.

Who is She: The Girl. A virgin with telepathic powers, she is named "Solitaire" because she will have nothing to do with men. Mr. Big keeps her on hand so she can tell him the "truth" about people he comes into contact with. Solitaire lies upon meeting Bond, then tries to run off with him in St. Petersburg, Florida. They do it, she's kidnapped, he follows, and they are tied to Mr. Big's ship so that they may be pulled over a coral reef. Ouch. Anyway, after all is over, she stays with Bond for a little holiday in Jamaica.

Originally played by:

Jane Seymour (Wedding Crashers, Somewhere in Time)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Hotel Rwanda), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Hotel Rwanda) and Best Ensemble (Hotel Rwanda)

Sophie Okonedo (Martian Child, The Secret Life of Bees)
Can you believe she's forty?! Damn! Anyway, the beautiful Sophie Okonedo meets my two requirements for Perfect Bond Girl: (1) she must be one of the most beautiful women you've ever seen, and (2) she must be a great actress. She also fixes one aspect of Live and Let Die that I found odd: why would Mr. Big have an all-black gang except for his voodoo priestess? What, is it because white girls are more desirable or something? FUHGEDDABOUTIT! Okonedo is the perfect kind of gal for both the Bond universe and this specific adaptation. God, she's sexy.

Who is He: The Villain. Half-French, half-African. Mr. Big has an unblinking gaze and a boredom with the world, one that may explain his curious hobby. Loves the ladies, and so he owns a number of nightclubs and brothels. Mr. Big is an intense son of a bitch. When Solitaire betrays him, he comes up with the keelhauling punishment (that's the coral reef thing). Little does he know that there is a limpet mine strapped to his yacht. Before he can get them to the reef, the yacht explodes, leaving an injured Mr. Big at the mercy of the sharks and barracuda.

Originally played by:

Yaphet Kotto (Alien, the episode of Murder, She Wrote in which Jessica is suspected of murdering a TV producer)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (In America, Blood Diamond), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Drama (Amistad), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Blood Diamond) and Best Ensemble (Gladiator, In America)

Djimon Hounsou (The Island, Eragon)
Bonafide badass. More fit and much sexier than the Mr. Big of the novel, Hounsou could actually pose a real threat to Bond. That he has never been cast in a Bond flick before is, to me, inexcusable. Now, he won't be saying lines like "Names is for tombstones, baby." But he would say, I don't know, "It was a displeasure knowing you, Mr Bond." Or something. The point is, he would rock.


Caleb said...

You realize Chewy and Okonedo played a married couple in Tsunami: The Aftermath... right?

Unknown said...

I just want Titus Burgess to sit in my room and flash that smile at me whenever I'm in a bad mood. It just makes my day. He can bring the crab hat too.

Also, I would listen to Djimon Hounsou read the dictionary.