The British actor takes a very personal view of his role as superspy with a "Licence To Kill”
By DAN YAKIR
Photos by Keith Hamshere & George Whitear
All Licence To Kill Photos Copyright © 1989 Danjaq S.A.
Timothy Dalton is wearing a bathrobe over his tux, to protect himself from the chilly Mexican evening. He’s relaxing in the lobby of the grandiose Gran Hotel, which serves as the setting for a Central American casino and headquarters of drug czar Sanchez—the man he will pursue to the bitter end in Licence To Kill, the new chapter in the James Bond saga.
In this $36 million production, directed by Bond veteran John Glen, the indomitable 007 embarks on a personal mission to avenge the maiming of his friend, ex-CIA agent Felix Leiter, and the brutal murder of Leiter’s wife-to-be during their wedding. Bond becomes so obsessed with punishing the culprit, Sanchez, that he is dismissed from Her Majesty’s Secret Service by “M,” and his Licence To Kill is revoked.
At 41, Dalton (who discussed 007’s past in STARLOG #123) seems to have made his screen character very much his own, but he refuses to become complacent. This is one actor who takes his job very seriously.
STARLOG: Let’s talk about Bond as he appears in this film; it seems he reveals a private side that he hasn’t shown before.
TIMOTHY DALTON: Mmm.. You surprise me. How does this happen?
STARLOG: Well, maybe we’ve seen the public Bond before—the man on a mission—without dwelling on his inner motivation and the private pain.
DALTON: I think the story is based on something personal. I mean, he’s still the same man, of course, and I would like to think that you saw quite a few glimpses of the man himself in the last film, for example, because I believe that’s important. I wouldn’t say the private Bond. It’s still the same man, only here he’s driven less objectively and professionally than he might be if he was working on a mission or a job. It comes from a personal source, but of course he’s still Bond.
STARLOG: What was the special challenge for you doing the character in this particular film, given the plot and motivation?
DALTON: [Laughs.] I don’t know that I could give a comprehensive answer to that. Almost every scene you do is difficult; every scene you do has a challenge, which is finding all the right bits of the jigsaw so that when you finish the movie, they will fit together and you’ll have a proper picture of the man that fits with the film.
STARLOG: How different is Licence To Kill from The Living Daylights?
DALTON: It’s a different kind of film—more straightforward in its motive. Daylights operated on quite a few levels of deception and intrigue, which I don’t think we’ve got in this story. There’s a fundamental course for aggression here and lots of blocks to the fulfillment of that. Licence To Kill is about vengeance, retribution, setting a wrong—a personal grievance—right, but it broadens and expands and takes on a larger perspective. Ultimately, as in all good Bond films, good does triumph over evil on a better basis than just one of personal revenge. I mean, one’s own scope, one’s own awareness of how he’s behaving is enlarged and is brought back to something that is much more calculating and striving for a good end.
It’s very difficult for me to talk about it, because when you’re in the beginning of the film, it’s one thing to have broad strokes and outlines in your head, but day by day, through the process of work with your colleagues, influences change, colors change, textures change. It’s difficult to judge until it’s finished.
Photo: Modern woman Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) picks up Bond (Dalton).
STARLOG: What kind of relationship does Bond have with Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell)? Is he still as monogamous as in The Living Daylights?
DALTON: Yeah, I would pretty much say so. In general, it’s faithful to the spirit of Ian Fleming’s books, as I think are most of the Bond films. It usually starts with a woman giving him some trouble or problem or he’s getting tangled with some woman he perhaps doesn’t want to be tangled up with, but through the story, getting to know her better and perhaps either endangering himself in order to protect her or finding that she sometimes protects him and through their [eventual] mutual knowledge of each other, coming much closer, which I think is classic Bond.
STARLOG: In this case, what is the nature of the relationship?
DALTON: She’s sort of a freelance out-of-jobber for either American government agencies and/or drug smugglers, whatever; at this moment in time, she happens to be on our side and we both end up together going for this man Sanchez, who’s our villain, a drug baron.
STARLOG: Would you say Bond has more of a partnership with her than with the females in the previous movies?
DALTON: I wouldn’t say there’s more of a partnership, no! I mean, I think there was quite a good partnership between Ursula Andress and Sean Connery in Dr. No or with Diana Rigg [and George Lazenby] in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Certainly, you could say in The Living Daylights, although the girl wasn’t innocent, they developed into being — however haphazardly—partners; she certainly helped him. I don’t want to give the story away; there are complexities to it that shouldn’t be revealed.
Photo: Unlike The Living Daylights, Licence To Kill has been tailored to Dalton’s strengths, producing a gritty brutal reality as in this clash with Robert Davi.
Photo: We both end up together going for this man Sanchez,” says Dalton. His relationship with Lowell’s character starts out stormy and then grows hotter.
STARLOG: How did you get along with Carey Lowell?
DALTON: Carey is a lovely person. She’s extremely bright, responsive, very believable, and very good to work with. I think she has all the potential to be right up there in the forefront of the Bond leading ladies. Also, Talisa Soto, who is—
STARLOG: The “Bad Girl?”
DALTON: She’s not a bad girl, just a tangled girl, very attractive, very nice, something of a victim caught up in this affair.
STARLOG: What kind of an opponent is Sanchez, as played by Robert Davi? What kind of a Bond villain is he?
DALTON: Before I speak about Davi, I would like to mention that this movie will be a harder, grittier, darker, and perhaps more realistic film than we’ve seen before. Alec Mills, who’s lighting it, and the very texture of the story, both guarantee that. It’s certainly much together. And Davi as a villain is not among the “pantomime villains.” He’s an actor of a very deep and real power and the work that I’ve seen him do so far is filled with a sense of danger—it’s being played realistically. Much of the film looks very moody and strong and dirty, which I like. One of my three favorite villains anyway was Gert Frobe in Goldfinger. I thought his performance was magnificent in a very wonderful film. Davi, too, is moving towards something fairly unique in the Bond films, and I hope it works.
STARLOG: He’s a worthy opponent?
DALTON: Oh hell, yes—and it goes beyond the nature of the character or the actor playing the character. I don’t want to give the impression that one is moving away from tradition. He is still quite a monster and a villain in a world scale—his operation is global and destructive [Laughs heartily.]. Well, sometimes one would prefer to be playing the villain!
STARLOG: Since fans have responded favorably to your portrayal of Bond, do you feel a greater ease playing him?
DALTON: No. I was gratified that so many people did enjoy The Living Daylights, but the responsive has not been 100 percent, because everybody has their preconceptions of how James Bond should be. But overall, there has been an overwhelming sense of pleasure at the direction the last movie took and how it was received by the audience. But it doesn’t give one greater ease at all!
STARLOG: You don’t see Bond as an old friend you can just slip on?
DALTON: Not really, because it’s not quite as simple as that. One has to make it work again and again every day. I have to shoot new scenes and new plotlines and make every moment feel right. That’s the problem. It has nothing to do with whether you feel happy, content and relaxed. It has to do with what your imagination is telling you, what your responses are telling you. However good your previous work has been, the new one is always the new one—it has its own demands.
STARLOG: Perhaps you face a bigger challenge than the previous Bonds, because they set the mold for themselves and then stayed with it. But you’ve already made a change from The Living Daylights to Licence To Kill.
DALTON: Yes, definitely. But you can’t expect every story to be the same. When people talk to me about Roger Moore and Sean Connery, you can’t compare the two; you can only say which films you prefer.
STARLOG: But they stayed as themselves within the movies that they made; there was no dramatic evolution.
DALTON: I know, but the movies themselves had the evolution. You could see the evolution between Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. You could see development, but they were still within a similar area. But even Connery’s last film was completely different from, say, From Russia With Love. They were two different entities and therefore perhaps required different kinds of performances. The more the films developed into technological extravaganzas and light-hearted comedy spoofs, the more removed they became from the early Bonds. In Licence To Kill, too, I hope you see a different Bond.
Photo: Bond (Dalton) fuels his vendetta with Sanchez.
Photo: They don't expect Mr. Bond (Dalton) to talk. They expect him to die.
STARLOG: Do you feel you’re taking a risk that way?
DALTON: I suppose so. But it would be boring to be the same all the time, to have the same story. I don’t wish to abuse the word, but there is a.. .formula, which has to do with Bond versus the villain, with good vs. evil also in Bond himself. That’s all formula, but within it, there’s scope for variety and the more the better.
STARLOG: Are the Bond movies moving toward a more classical, neater, cleaner structure? They seem to trim all the extras.
DALTON: I think so. I would like to think that, because my favorite Bond movies were the early ones, and they did capture the spirit of the Bond books well. I can read those books today and still get totally involved and keep turning the pages and I can look at those early films and really enjoy them. I don’t know if you could ever call Ian Fleming’s works classics, but in the sense you intend, yes. I would like that.
STARLOG: How bound are you to Bond?
DALTON: No more than Harrison Ford is to Indiana Jones. One must remember that for all the pleasure and entertainment and success it can bring, and for all the hard work that goes into making it for 18 weeks, a Bond movie is only two hours every two years! That’s not much in the scale of things! There have to be other things in between. How could I be an actor, how could I be the actor I am, if I did nothing else?
STARLOG: So, you make unusual choices, like Hawks'!
DALTON: It’s probably the most enjoyable experience I’ve had making a film. Hawks is about two men who are facing a premature death, since they have cancer—and that puts life into focus. It’s provocative, a serious comedy, a black comedy. It deals with ordinary people who are going slightly crazy because of the situation they’re in—it’s somewhat life-affirming, challenging, aggressive. And it says: Fight for your life; don’t give in!
STARLOG: Has it affected you in any way?
DALTON: It’s certainly the kind of film that can make you realize that survival can be up to you—up to a point. It certainly reminds us how we take life for granted, and how we shouldn’t, because it’s precious.
STARLOG: What motivates you to act in the first place?
DALTON: That’s something I think about constantly, because it has to be for a purpose, it’s not just self-indulgence. People often say, “Well, it’s just the way I express myself.” That’s no good, that's narcissistic, juvenile. You work to express the piece, because you believe the piece has value and that it can be communicated to other people who will see something new of life because of it. You must believe that it will in some small or big way make a difference to their lives.
Shakespeare, perhaps more than any playwright, explored the ultimate reaches of the human emotion. Eugene O’Neill is, to me, the greatest playwright of the 20th century, but when you enter the back of a dark theater in Sydney or London or New York and see the way people react to Bond, that counts, too. Perhaps it’s not on the same scale of things, but it’s definitely worthwhile!
DAN YAKIR has contributed to Us, Film Comment, Heavy Metal and The New York Times. This is his first article for STARLOG
[Source: Starlog August 1989 P.23-26, 50. Copyright © 1989 O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Starlog is a registered trademark of O'Quinn Studios, Inc.]