I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited and scared to do press for anything in my life more than Becoming Bond. When someone tells you that you’ll get to sit down with a former Bond, that’s just as exciting as its scary. I grew up on the 007 films, and I continue to be a fan of the franchise to this day. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service always had a special place in my heart, which is why Josh Greenbaum’s Becoming Bond is as compelling and funny as it could’ve been. The documentary based on George Lazenby’s life was one of the highlights of this year’s SXSW, and I was privileged to talk with Mr. Lazenby, Josh Greenbaum, and Josh Lawson (who plays Lazenby in flashbacks).
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get you the full interview with all of them. There was far too much material covered that would spoil the film. I’m going to give you some of the highlights from each talk, just so that it’s a smoother reading process for you and it’s smoother for me to transcribe.
I began with Josh Greenbaum and George Lazenby. They had just arrived in Austin and they were leaving after the first weekend of the festival. This was the first time that George had ever been to Austin.
So how did this film come together? Was this George’s idea or was this your (Josh Greenbaum) idea?
JOSH: In a funny way, it was very much not George’s idea. A mutual friend of ours and my producers [Chris Leggett and Rafael Marmor]. Rafi and I had lunch with George because somebody had told me about his story and it sounded like a pretty interesting idea for a doc, but I said I don’t know, let me go meet this guy, and I was intrigued. But we go to lunch and he starts telling me stories and instantly I could tell that he’s an incredible storyteller, as you see in the film. But I got really excited by the idea of reenacting them, because they are so crazy and funny. But the trick was that George wasn’t necessaarily ready to go. He wasn’t saying ‘Yes! Let’s go make this movie!’, and to me as a director in doc space that’s actually a good sign when your subject’s a bit reticent. They’re a bit more exciting and interesting than the subjects of a doc who are like, ‘Let me tell my story, point the cameras at me’, who often gravitate towards reality T.V.
George, why were you a little reluctant at first to do this film?
GEORGE: Well, I don’t know the guys, and I don’t know what their angle is. It might be to make me look like an asshole. (Laughs) You can really turn things upside down just pointing the camera at a different angle, and they can use whatever dialogue that I say in different settings, and it could make me look like a fool, and I don’t particularly want at this stage of my life to look like a fool. (Laughs).
No, I understand.
GEORGE: I can’t recuperate! (Laughs). Anyway, that was it. And then David, he’s connected with us-
JOSH: He’s our mutual friend.
GEORGE: Yeah. He talked me into it, he said ‘Go on. You gotta do it.’ So, he’s been a good friend of mine for 20 years or so, and I fell for it. Here I am. (Laughs).
Josh, when you were envisioning this project, were you considering wanting to do reenactments and interview George at the same time or were you considering doing a standard documentary format of interviewing people around George and so forth?
JOSH: I think it was the former because I soon as I met George and we started hearing these stories, and the specificity of which he tells them. He can dive into any moment and remembers all the dialogue and he just kind of has one of those memories. It instantly clicked into me that this is a really fun opprotunity to do something very different in the doc space. It’s as much a narrative in a way as it’s a doc and so I was just very excited by the opprotunity to do something new and unique and different playing with the format, so that was always there in the beginning, and shooting the interview using an interatron (a documentary filmmaking setup where an image/video of the interviewer/interviewee is projected so that the illusion of the interviewee is talking to the interviewer while looking directly into the camera). That has a really cool effect of giving the audience the feeling that George is looking right at you and telling his stories. It started from there, we storyboarded the entire film, so we cut the whole film prior to shooting the reenactments, so you could watch the whole film with just storyboards, because we didn’t quite have the money to go out and shoot for months on end. We had a very fine set of dates.
This segways into my next question. Did you have a screenplay for the film or was it more just storyboards and off of what George was telling you?
JOSH: We had a screenplay, but we edited together George’s stories, we had to leave some of them out because otherwise it would’ve been a ten-hour anthology. I then turned that into a screenplay and added little bits but the bulk of the dialogue is either from George directly or slight embellishments here and there, but it’s mostly George’s story being told, by George.
George, what did James Bond mean to you at that time, and what did the impact of the Connery films have on you?
GEORGE: I was always the first one in the door when a new Bond film came out, and I wasn’t for any other, just this particular character. I liked him because he could get any girl he wanted, shoot people who got in his way. You know every man who is unconscious would love that. If he was conscious he wouldn’t have death on his mind (Laughs). I was the opposite [of Bond], I was uneducated, car salesman turned mechanic, although I had to have an advanced mathematics education to make parts for cars because we couldn’t get them in those days. I was unsophisticated, I came from a very poor background. And to me, that was my hero, Sean Connery. So it wasn’t hard for me to imitate him in a way and to the best I could, because I had never met an actor, let alone spoken in-front of a camera.
Any particular Connery Bond film that stood out to you?
GEORGE: Oh, all of them. Dr. No was the first I saw and that girl coming out of the water. Mmmm. (Laughs). I haven’t had anything quite as good looking as that yet! (Laughs). I was a horny little bastard. (Laughs). I really wanted to have that opprotunity, and I thought ‘get out of my way guys, I’m coming in.’
This is where I’ll stop our conversation with Josh and George. George started to give away some of the funniest parts of the film, and it wouldn’t be fair to you if I had spoiled some of those moments. It was an unbelievably fun interview, and I hope to publish the full thing in its entirety someday.
Here’s some snippets with my talk with Josh Lawson. Let it be stated for the record that Josh Lawson is a really super guy, and I appreciate him for nerding about about James Bond movies with me. This was Josh’s third time in Austin, as he had been here for Fantastic Fest and then for SXSW a few years back for his film The Little Death, which he wrote-directed and starred in that won the Audience Award at that year’s SXSW.
How did you find out about this project?
JOSH LAWSON: It came through my agent, and it was an unusual film because it didn’t have a script, it was more like a project. And my agent told me that there’s there’s this guy, Josh Greenbaum, and I knew Josh’s work on The Short Game [Josh’s doc that won the Audience Award at SXSW a few years back] and I loved that and thought, ‘yeah this guy’s great.’ I had known of George Lazenby, but I didn’t really know the story, and then when I had a few storyboards sent my way and I was like ‘shit, this is a really interesting story. I’d be curious to know more about this.’ So Josh and I met up and I just thought that his vision for it was so original. I remember thinking to myself if he can pull this off, this is gonna be amazing. The idea of jumping back and forth between this storyteller and he’s such a storyteller-
I then tell Josh about how George went off telling stories during our interview that forced us to go over time, which the publicists were running on a tight schedule.
JOSH L.: That’s George, right?! He is a raconteur, where if you don’t stop him, he’ll tell you stories forever, it’s incredible. I’m just amazed by him. So, it’s part of the film is like a look at this amazing storyteller, and part of it is looking at his stories. And I think Josh was really smart enough to recognize that those are the two films, and if you could put those together, you’d have something. So anyways, after Josh and I met, I love him as person and as a director. He’s such a great guy. And then on set, I remember thinking, ‘shit, he’s really doing something original here.’ I don’t know of any films quite like this. And I thought John Rutland (the film’s DP) was really creating something visually awesome. I loved the whole damn thing, I was so proud to be apart of it. And so George is really quite the character.
Did you meet with George either before or after the project?
JOSH L.: No, I didn’t. We could have, but I think Josh did that deliberately. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but my feeling is Josh did that because he still had interviews to do with George, and I don’t think he wanted an image of me tainting- I think he wanted George to be as forthright and honest and open with his storytelling as possible, and I felt like if he had met me, that might have tainted-you know, knowing that someone was playing your stories, I wonder if you know that there’s certain people playing you do you start to push the stories in that direction, do you start to embellish them? I don’t know. I think he wanted George to just be as uncensored as possible, but we met after we shot. Which is fine, because my job was really to make sure I was sort of acting George’s stories, which is so weird because usually you just have a script, you know you get the script and ‘I’m trying to tell this story as best I can.’ There’s words and the writer’s words, but the writer in this case was George. So I sort of looking at his interviews going, ‘Okay, I guess I just act that out to the best I can.’ Sometimes mimic him and sometimes lip-sync what he saying and stuff.
This segways into my next question, which is how did you prep for this role? I was it a little bit of looking at the interviews, a little bit of archival footage, etc.?
JOSH L: It was a little bit of looking at the archival footage but more looking at George’s stories. So I’d listen to him, and occasionally Josh would say, ‘Look, we want to get George’s audio over you here so make sure you get that lip syncing right.’ We listened to a little, and I’m good at that, I sort of have a musical brain. We played the audio back and I’d sort of act in the same, making sure that I do his voice at the same time. And there would be scenes where we would embellish entirely. One of those examples is the airport scene where I say goodbye to Belinda. We sort of had that big dialogue scene there, and that was nothing George said, we just kind of fattened that out. So it was a mix of things, everything was so different. But, it was a study of I was watching George now really more than anything, but then of course going back and there wasn’t really any pre-Bond footage of George because as you know in the film, he didn’t do much.
Yeah, just a little bit of modeling.
JOSH L: A little bit of modeling, yeah, and that was really it. And before that, he was never in-front of the camera so there’s nothing really to study. You just kind of have to take his word for it (Laughs), which is great. He’s amazing.
What was your introduction to James Bond? Who was the Bond that you grew up with?
JOSH L: I’m an 80s kid, so my Bond that I remember more vividly than the others was Roger Moore. And some people hate Roger Moore because he’s a bit campy-
I liked Roger Moore.
JOSH L: I liked him too! I liked him too because I felt like he had a lot more comedy in his James Bond.
And The Spy Who Loved Me is a great movie.
JOSH L: Great film, yeah. Live and Let Die, Octopussy, you know. So then I went back and once I had been introduced to Bond through Roger Moore I went back and revisited Sean Connery and Lazenby. I rewatched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before doing the film, and I realized how I think it holds up so much.
It’s a brilliant movie.
JOSH L: It really is a great Bond film.
Not just as a Bond film, but a great movie in general.
JOSH L: It is a great movie!
I was watching it the other night before doing all this.
JOSH L: Yeah, it’s a helluva good film. And I think a lot of people skip past it because they’re like ‘Oh, he’s not one of the Bond’s we know and love’, but they give him a lot of meat on that story, you know the wife storyline?
It’s pretty heavy stuff.
JOSH L: It’s pretty heavy shit! Yeah, absolutely. And rewatching it I had forgotten how much Austin Powers had borrowed from it. Dr. Evil, the fem-bots, etc. I loved that and I had forgotten that.
I’ll leave my conversation with Josh there. Thanks again to the good people at Hulu for setting all of this up. Becoming Bond premieres on Hulu on May 20th.