Could David Bowie have made a good Bond villain? Roger Moore’s final James Bond movie was 1985’s A View To A Kill, in which 007 battled the fiendish Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken. Walken is certainly a distinctive presence, but wasn’t the first choice. Producers had another unique talent in mind for the role — David Bowie.
The chameleonic performer accepted the part at first, then backed out. His reasoning was quoted in The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (2004 edition), where he quipped, “I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off cliffs.”
It was a fair excuse. Filming isn’t the most exciting of activities, even on a Bond movie. Yet Bowie may have had another factor in mind when weighing up his decision. Because he and Moore had encountered each other before, several years previously among the mountains of Switzerland.
In the late Seventies Bowie had moved there, reportedly to escape some personal demons. According to an interview with author Dylan Jones in The Telegraph to promote his book David Bowie: A Life (2017), he went to Switzerland to “escape tax and drug dealers, he didn’t know anybody there. He was in this huge house on the outskirts of Geneva – he knew nobody.”
Website The Local looked back on his time in the country, for a piece published shortly after his death in 2016. They say he “first came to Switzerland after adopting the ‘Thin White Duke’ persona… Bowie moved to Blonay, a municipality near Montreux in the canton of Vaud … ‘In Switzerland, they leave me alone,’ Bowie was quoted as frequently saying, while avoiding questions about taxes.”
One individual who didn’t leave him alone was Moore, who unbeknownst to Bowie was a neighbor. Details of their friendship were revealed to Dylan Jones by writer Hanif Kureishi. Bowie wrote the soundtrack to a BBC adaptation of Kureishi’s novel The Buddha of Suburbia in 1993.
As relayed by Jones in The Telegraph, “Roger Moore comes in, and they had a cup of tea. He stays for drinks, and then dinner, and tells lots of stories about the James Bond films.”
Moore was as famous for his wit as his acting. He often disparaged his own performances, believing his eyebrows did most of the work. A 2016 opinion piece for the Guardian mentions that “The last person to know how good Roger Moore was, was often Roger Moore himself… the big screen loved him, and he instinctively knew how to tease and work the camera and the audiences behind it.”
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Bowie was also a humorous and sharp character and by all accounts the first encounter between them went swimmingly. However the singer should have remembered the maxim behind the 007 franchise — namely that “James Bond Will Return.”
And return Moore did. He regaled Bowie night after night with his entertaining stories. Unfortunately they were the same stories. It all became too much for the recuperating rock star.
Jones says that “After two weeks [of Moore turning up] at 5.25 pm – literally every day – David Bowie could be found underneath the kitchen table pretending not to be in.”
Many would have liked to be a fly on the wall for that first sparkling conversation — and perhaps later when Bowie crawled on his hands and knees across the kitchen floor — so they could witness the meeting of two British icons.
Though the relationship turned a little sour, it didn’t do Bowie any lasting damage. He went on to reinvent himself multiple times and was always at the forefront of the music scene, even when cancer caught up with him.
Later in life Moore wrote some enjoyable accounts of his on and off-screen adventures, before passing away nearly a year and a half after his reluctant drinking buddy.
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Who knows what would have happened had they met up again on the set of A View To A Kill. But it’s clear that the Swiss interaction left Bowie both shaken and stirred.